In three weeks, more than 20,000 people in the Lowcountry and across the nation have signed a petition seeking to return a 2-year-old girl to her adoptive parents on James Island.
On Tuesday, their names arrived in imposing, 350-page stacks at the offices of the governor and federal lawmakers, asking those leaders to "Save Veronica."
Matt and Melanie Capobianco tried in-vitro fertilization seven times before consulting an adoption attorney and connecting with their daughter's biological mother in Oklahoma. They developed a close relationship with the woman and adopted Veronica at birth in 2009.
Four months later, Veronica's biological father, a 30-year-old Oklahoma man named Dusten Brown, filed for paternity and custody after learning of the adoption. Brown is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and a family court judge ruled in his favor under the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law designed to preserve Native American families.
The judge ordered the Capobiancos to turn over custody of Veronica in late December.
The couple brought their daughter to the downtown office of Brown's attorney on New Year's Eve. Brown and his parents drove back to Oklahoma that night, and the Capobiancos returned to an empty house.
The case now rests in S.C. Supreme
Court, where the Capobiancos filed a brief last week.
The "Save Veronica" petition aims to preserve the girl's rights and also to draw a fresh look at the 1978 law that determined the outcome of her custody case.
Jessica Munday, a family friend, and Stephanie Brinkley, a Charleston adoption attorney and interested party in the case, carried 5-inch-thick petitions into the Charleston offices of Rep. Tim Scott and Sen. Jim DeMint. Then they headed to Columbia and caught Gov. Nikki Haley speaking to another group in the Statehouse lobby.
The governor knew the case and the Capobiancos by first names, saying, "My heart breaks for Matt and Melanie.
"Because it's a federal issue doesn't mean I can't say, 'What are y'all doing about this?' " Haley said.
Kathy Crawford, district director for Scott, said the Capobiancos first reached out to her office in October. Crawford said Scott's staffer contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"Until the Supreme Court makes its ruling, nobody's going to be able to get involved," Crawford said. "We just all are waiting to see what happens in the Supreme Court."
Staffers in DeMint's downtown Charleston office and in Sen. Lindsey Graham's Mount Pleasant office declined to discuss the case but promised to forward the petitions to Washington.
Graham's spokesman issued a statement later Tuesday stating his office "continues to monitor the situation and has reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs."
The Cherokee Nation is involved in about 1,100 Indian Child Welfare Act cases involving approximately 1,500 children.
"Please help ensure what has happened with Veronica doesn't happen to these other children," the petition states. "While we understand you are unable to interfere in court proceedings, we ask you to speak out on this issue and let your constituents clearly know where you stand."
Returning to Charleston after delivering the final petition Tuesday, Munday and Brinkley called the day a success.
"I'm a firm believer everything happens for a reason," Munday said. "I believe there was a reason the governor was there in the lobby."
If you go
What: "An Evening for Veronica: Community, Caring and Candlelight." Family friendly event with live music, food and drinks, and a silent auction, followed by a candlelight gathering.When: 4-8 p.m. SaturdayWhere: Local Market + Coffee Bar, 1331 Ashley River Road, from 4-6 p.m. Colonial Lake downtown from 7-8 p.m.How much: Suggested $10 donations to help with the Capobiancos' legal fees.To learn more: Call Caitlin Ramsey at 216-0442.
Attorney Stephanie Brinkley (center left) and Capobianco family spokeswoman Jessica Munday (right) deliver a “Save Veronica” petition to Rep. Tim Scott staff members Daniel Bostic and Kathy Crawford in West Ashley. The document requesting the return of the 2-year-old girl to her adoptive parents on James Island has more than 20,000 signatures.×