In 2014, Rachel and Heidi McFarland were gearing up to adopt a baby they had affectionately named Gabriel.
However, after just 78 days in their care, Gabriel’s biological parents, Markeya Atkins and Drew James Weehler-Smith, decided to reclaim him.
The McFarlands had chosen the name “Gabriel” because it’s a “strong name,” from Rachel’s favorite biblical story.
The couple was by Atkins’s side throughout her labor and birth, wanting to be present for as much of Gabriel’s life as possible. Although adoption wasn’t their first choice, they were grateful for the opportunity to become parents.
Rachel told People:
“We didn’t know if we could do artificial insemination, and it seemed like a route we could afford. The birth mom didn’t care if we were a same-sex couple. It just seemed too good to be true — and it was too good to be true.”
However, at the time, the couple was just excited to grow its family. The McFarlands “thought it was destiny. [They] felt lucky.”
This sweet boy is the reason Rachel McFarland and I have fought so hard these last 4 years. We finally got some justice for you my angel.
Before the adoption was finalized for the McFarlands, Atkins decided to renege and raise her baby as her own. She was worried that by giving her baby up, he would “no longer be a part of her life.” Back in 2014, Atkins told The Des Moines Register:
“It’s like after I gave the baby to them, they didn’t care.”
Since the birth parents had never signed a release of custody, Gabriel went back to Atkins and Weehler-Smith.
Atkins professed her love for her son, saying his birth was the beginning of a new start for her.
Five weeks after losing Gabriel, the McFarlands were watching television when news of a baby being found dead was broadcasted across the screen.
Rachel recalled the moment to People:
“It didn’t say his name, but we had received a bill from the guardian ad litem and it had the address on it. It was this normal report that a baby was found dead at such-and-such address.”
“Heidi was screaming, and I looked at the paperwork and it was the address. I texted [Atkins’s mother], and she confirmed it was him.”
Gabriel died on April 22, 2014, due to head trauma.
Atkins told police that when she arrived home on April 22, she found baby Gabriel “alone, pale, wet, and foaming from his mouth and nose” after being left with his birth father.
According to The Register, Weehler-Smith, 20, pleaded guilty in 2015 to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.Screenshot/The Des Moines Register
Following Gabriel’s death, the McFarlands sued their former attorney, Jason Rieper, for acting “negligently in not getting the child’s biological parents to sever their parental rights.”
Rachel explained their reasoning behind the malpractice suit:
“The release-of-custody never got signed by either birth parent. Obviously our child and us weren’t a priority to [Rieper].”
Last week, the couple won the lawsuit and was awarded $3.25 million. The McFarlands are relieved. Rachel said:
“We are just happy he was found negligent. That was what our goal was. We will not see any money from this.”
David Brown, Rieper’s attorney, was disappointed with the court’s verdict, arguing that his client wasn’t negligent in the adoption, and that he was not responsible for Atkins’s decision to reclaim her child.
Brown alleged his client is not to blame for the murder:
“I don’t believe he did anything inappropriate at all, and I think if he forced the issue and forced her to sign away her rights, I think someone could make a case that it was inappropriate.”
The McFarlands have since been blessed with two children, London and Vienna. However, they will never quite get over the loss of baby Gabriel. Rachel said, “He was just a sweet and beautiful baby boy.”