GUATEMALA CITY — Loyda Rodriguez Morales felt someone tug at her daughter as she tried to enter her simple home with three young children in tow. She turned to see a woman whisk the 2-year-old away in a waiting taxi.
After nearly five years of searching, posting fliers, being turned away at orphanages and even staging a hunger strike, Rodriguez now holds what's believed to be an unprecedented Guatemalan court order declaring the child stolen and ordering the U.S. couple who eventually adopted her to give her back.
If U.S. authorities intervene to return the child, now 6, as the Guatemalan court has asked, it would be a first for any international adoption case, experts say.
A construction-paper sign taped Friday to the door of the girl's U.S. address, a two-story suburban Kansas City home, read: "Please respect our families (sic) privacy during this difficult and confusing time. We ask that you not trespass on our property for the sake of our children. Thank you."
The U.S. State Department referred all questions about the court ruling to the Justice Department, which would not comment on the case.
Rodriguez, 26, cried when she saw the July 29 court order made public this past week. She's already planning how to fix up her daughter's bedroom.
"I want it with a lot of decorations. I'm going to buy dolls and clothes so she's not lacking anything," she told The Associated Press. "If she wants to sleep alone, she'll have her room. If not, she can be with her brothers."
U.S. officials might simply try to ignore the order, said David Smolin, a law professor at the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama, and an expert in international adoption.
Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the Virginia-based National Council For Adoption, said he has never heard of the U.S. carrying out a foreign court order to return adopted children to their home country.
But the leading advocate in the Guatemala case said the U.S. government is obligated under international treaties to return victims of human trafficking or irregular adoptions that have occurred within five years.
The girl left the country on Dec. 9, 2008, according to court records.
"We're within the margin of time," said Norma Cruz, director of the Survivors Foundation, a human rights group that filed the court case for Rodriguez. "We don't have to contact the (adoption) family. The judge's order says authorities have to find the child, wherever she is."
The foundation doesn't allege the U.S. couple knew the girl they adopted had been kidnapped, only that the girl was snatched by a child trafficking ring and put up for adoption with a new name. The couple was identified in the court ruling as Timothy James Monahan and Jennifer Lyn Vanhorn Monahan of Liberty, Missouri.
Guatemala's quick adoptions once made this Central American nation of 13 million people a top source of children for the U.S., leading or ranking second only to China with about 4,000 adoptions a year. But the Guatemalan government suspended adoptions in late 2007 after widespread cases of fraud, including falsified paperwork, fake birth certificates and charges of baby theft – though they still allowed many already in process.
The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, a U.N.-created agency prosecuting organized crime cases in Guatemala, has reviewed more than 3,000 adoptions completed or in process and found nearly 100 grave irregularities.
The U.S. still does not allow adoptions from Guatemala, though the State Department is currently assisting with 397 children whose adoptions were in process at the time of the ban.
The court ruling signed by Judge Angelica Noemi Tellez Hernandez canceled the girl's passport and ordered her returned in two months, asking the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala for help in locating the child. The court says it will file an order with the international police agency, Interpol, if she is not returned.
Smolin said this is the first case he knows of a foreign judge ordering an American family to return an adopted child to her native country. He adopted two children from India who he later discovered were stolen, a situation he resolved by allowing the birth parents regular visits.
"This is the scenario that has made everybody afraid for years, the knock on the door from the reporter or whoever," Smolin said.
Anyeli Liseth Hernandez Rodriguez was born Oct. 1, 2004, the second child of Rodriguez, a housewife, and her bricklayer husband, Dayner Orlando Hernandez, who came as teenagers to Guatemala City looking for work. The girl disappeared Nov. 3, 2006, as Rodriguez was distracted while opening the door to their house in a working class suburb, San Miguel Petapa.
They reported their daughter missing to various local and federal law enforcement, including authorities in charge of human rights violations and missing children, according to documents of the U.N.-backed corruption commission.
Rodriguez said she searched for more than a year on her own and was repeatedly refused court permission to search foster homes where kids awaited adoption.
She found Cruz and the Survivors Foundation through a court employee in January 2008, and the two women staged a short hunger strike when they were still denied access of government adoption records, Rodriguez said. Once they were given access, it still took nearly a year to find the child's photo at the National Adoptions Council, where Rodriguez sifted through records with her brother for four straight days in March 2009.
"I felt like my heart was going to leap out. I knew it was her," she said.
Rodriguez submitted to a DNA test that established her as the mother, the corruption commission says.
But the girl was already in the United States, according to court records.
Anyeli's identity had been changed in early 2007 by Felicita Antonia Lopez Garcia, a woman claiming to be her mother, who changed the child's name to Karen Abigail and offered her for adoption, according to the court order. Lopez left the girl with an adoption agency, the Spring Association, several months later after she failed a DNA test, according to the corruption commission. The adoption agency had the girl declared abandoned and put her up for adoption in 2008.
The office of Guatemala's solicitor general approved the adoption in July of that year, despite the fact that it had already received a missing person's report on the girl with photographs as early as February 2008, according to the corruption commission.
In December of that year, the girl left the country with the Monahans, named in her Guatemalan passport as Karen Abigail Monahan Vanhorn and listed as being born Jan. 14, 2005.
Prosecutors for the corruption commission used Rodriguez's case to bring charges against lawyers and brokers with the Spring Association for alleged human trafficking for illegal adoptions and for using false documents. They include the lawyer who notarized the Monahans' adoption, according to the court order.
Cruz said she has two other cases involving illegal international adoptions in the works.
The address given for the Monahans in the court order is a spacious house on a large, wooded lot with a carriage driveway and an orange soccer ball on the porch.
Earlier in the week, a woman came to the door and told an AP reporter she couldn't talk because she was on the phone. No one answered repeated calls for comment until the sign appeared Friday.
Rodriguez said she just wants her daughter back.
"They made a mistake taking my baby," Rodriguez said. "Perhaps they didn't know she was stolen."
Associated Press writer Larry Kaplow reported this story in Mexico City and Sonia Perez D. reported in Guatemala City. AP writers Maria Sudekum Fisher and Chris Clark in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.