Early in his teenage years, Deric Whittington's already fragile family fell to pieces. He was placed in a foster home with one of his sisters. His mother, a heavy drinker, gave up her parental rights to his younger half brother, Matthew, and half sister, Amber, he said in a recent interview.
In 2004, Matthew and Amber were adopted by a Longview couple, Jeffrey and Rebecca Trebilcock, who changed the children's names. Whittington said he never knew the new names or what had become of his younger siblings.
Last year, he learned that authorities believed the Trebilcocks were starving and abusing the children he'd known as Matthew and Amber. Last month, after months of investigation and a two-week trial that drew national attention, the Trebilcocks, both 45, were convicted in Cowlitz County Superior Court of first-degree criminal mistreatment against the boy and third-degree criminal mistreatment against his sister. The Trebilcocks are scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 23.
Whittington, 23, said he now intends to adopt both of his 14-year-old half brother and 12-year-old half sister.
"We want both of those kids with us," said Whittington, of Longview, who is married and works at Pacific Fibre Products. "I want to give them a safe environment that they know they will always have for years.... I want them to know that they'll always have someone who loves them and will always be there for them. I feel like I was robbed of that as a child."
Whittington said that, when he was around 10 or 11, before his family fell apart, he took care of the boy and girl. "I fed us, clothed us," he said. "I changed their diapers. I taught both of them how to walk."
The Daily News is not identifying the children by their adopted names to protect their identities.
Whittington, who has no children of his own, said he began reading about the abuse case in the newspaper after the Trebilcocks were arrested in May 2011. He didn't realize the children involved where his half-siblings until representatives of a an organization called the Court Appointed Special Advocate Association contacted him and explained that something had gone wrong with their adoption. The organization's representatives weren't specific, but Whittington said he and his wife put two and two together.
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The boy testified at trial that the Trebilcocks denied him food, made him drink his own urine, forced him to wash his clothes in a bucket in the rain and made him stand on the porch for long periods. Doctors said he was severely malnourished and near death when he was admitted to a Portland hospital last year. He has since recovered.
The girl testified to similar treatment. She, too, was underweight, although not as severely malnourished, authorities said.
"I just felt horrified" Whittington said of learning the children's fate. "I cried over it. It was just really hard to take in."
He said he and his wife immediately hired a lawyer and petitioned the court to intervene in the case. They also rented a bigger home and began preparing bedrooms for his siblings in case the court allowed them to take them in.
That hasn't happened yet. The children remain in foster homes. Whittington said he will ask the court to grant him temporary custody during a hearing next week while he pursues the adoption process.
He pointed out that the girl has been in five foster homes since she was taken from the Trebilcocks. The boy has been in at least two, he said.
"That's not stability," Whittington said. "That's not a chance to get loved. That's just going around from home to home, just getting by."