The journey from Korea to his ‘forever home’ and tragic death less than four months later at the hands of his adoptive father, came full circle with the dedication of hauntingly beautiful statue carved by Korean adoptee Thomas Park Clement and his artist wife, Wonsook Kim. Three-year old Hyunsu O’Callaghan was remembered by a loving group of Korean post-war adoptees of all ages in an emotional ceremony. They came to Maryland from across the USA, many meeting for the first time in-person, to remember Hyunsu and recalled their own stories of abuse and neglect in their ‘forever’ homes. They have since healed and want to help others do the same.
This is The Monday Line
by Denis G. Campbell
The one meter tall bronze statue of a boy releasing a butterfly from his outstretched hand stands in the Garden of the Linwood Center, a school for autistic children in Ellicott City, Maryland. A matching statue sits in the Daniel School in South Korea which serves children with disabilities.
Hauntingly simple, yet profoundly moving, the nearly featureless statue, captures the innocence of Hyunsu and all adopted Korean children, many of whom are now adults. After the war ended in 1953, more than 100,000 came to the USA following the Korean War. Many were shunned by their Korean families as the half and half offspring of US soldiers. Too, an unmarried Korean woman could not raise these shunned mixed-race children and many were abandoned and died. Many of the luckier ones grew up as mixed-race children in America during the less than tolerant 60s and 70s, often suffering abuse from their American families, schools and communities.
Yet they remain a remarkably focused and resilient community. They have used Hyunsu’s tragedy to gather together to raise awareness of the plight of too many Korean adoptees. Nanleigh Yi, President of the Hyunsu Legacy of Hope charity told NBC News about Hynusu’s Butterfly that, “the symbolism is the butterfly represents hope, new life and new beginnings and that something beautiful can come out of tragedy.” The Hyunsu Legacy of Hope charity was represented by Thomas Park Clement, sculpture creator and Nancy Cho Auvil, Vice President.
Hyunsu O’Callaghan was brutally beaten by his adoptive father Brian, a former NSA department chief who focused on Korea. Hyunsu died from complications from numerous beatings. O’Callaghan’s attorney claimed in court that the former Iraq War vet suffered from PTSD. While he was sentenced by the court to twelve years in prison, he could be free in as few as four yet sentencing guidelines indicate he could have received a sentence of up to forty years. Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Fenton called the case, “An absolutely horrific crime on an absolutely innocent young victim. Basically, this child was beaten to death from head to toe.” The ridiculously light sentence was an insult and continues to outrage the Korean American adoptive community.
Hyunsu was buried in an all but unmarked grave. The original plan of the Hyunsu Legacy of Hope was to purchase a tombstone to mark the grave. Hyunsu’s Mom though privately moved his remains from the area post trial and reinterred his body in a secret family plot.
Said Nanleigh Yi, president of Hyunsu legacy of hope about the entire incident, “Hyunsu’s death is completely unacceptable. It could have been prevented on many levels. Everyone accountable for this child’s welfare utterly failed him.” She added, “Sending children away for adoption is a global lottery with no guarantees that the unregulated adoption agencies will ensure the child a safe and loving family.”
Emotions remain open and raw in the KAD. One thing is certain, this group that will remain active reaching out to the thousands of other children and now adults who were placed in troubling home situations to help them heal and find solace within their community.
Perhaps that is the only silver lining in the dark cloud of Hyunsu’s tragic murder.
If you would like to help Hyunsu Legacy of Hope and their ongoing mission to help end the cycle of abused adopted Korean children, you can contribute on their GoFundMe page here.