After years of failed fertility treatments, Tanya and Mike Mulligan warmed to the idea of foreign adoption after seeing an ad in the newspaper touting a Russian program.
The couple wanted to adopt older children who wouldn't require the late-night feedings, teething and potty training of an infant or toddler, and in July 2004 they traveled to a remote Russian orphanage to adopt two sisters, Margarita, then 11, and Elena, 8.
The adoption agency appeared to have found a perfect match for the couple, right down to the blond hair that the sisters had, just like the Mulligans.
"What we were told prior to the adoption was that they came from a loving family," said Tanya Mulligan, a nurse in Tampa, Fla., who was then in her early 40s.
Once in the United States, Elena quickly embraced her adopted country and culture, watching "Finding Nemo" dozens of times to learn English. But Margarita was a study in contrasts.
Less than a week after leaving Russia, the 11-year-old began to show troubling behaviors, losing herself in fits of rage for hours.
"She started having a meltdown and crying, and we couldn't figure out what was going on," Tanya Mulligan said. "She was running around the house and wailing."
Her adoptive parents didn't speak Russian and Margarita understood very little English. She was crying, out of control and because of the language barrier, there was little her parents could do, they said.
Eventually, Mike Mulligan picked up a video camera and began filming Margarita's behavior, wanting to show Margarita's therapist and other family members how chaotic their lives at home had become.
As the Mulligans learned more about their daughters' pasts, they say they learned the girls' upbringing was far from the description of a loving family.
The Mulligans said the sisters' biological mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute who left the girls and their baby brother with their grandmother, who, they say, routinely abused them.
"Elena apparently got the brunt of it," Tanya Mulligan said. "[The grandmother] used to take her and swing her around the room and smash her face into the wall."
Tanya Mulligan said the girls told her about one night when their grandmother kept hitting their baby brother with her cane until he stopped crying. The police came the next day and the girls were sent to the orphanage. They never saw their baby brother again and seemed traumatized by his disappearance.
Wanting to give their daughters a new brother like the one they missed so much, the Mulligans -- who always wanted a son -- adopted a 4-year-old Russian boy named Sasha shortly after adopting their girls.
Margarita and the boy, whom the Mulligans renamed Slater, were eventually diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, or RAD, a common diagnosis for many children adopted from foreign orphanages where they were sometimes neglected and abused. Children with RAD have difficulty bonding with their new families and often act out.
Over time, the Mulligans said, Slater was also diagnosed with the eating disorder pica, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, low IQ, Tourette's syndrome and dyslexia. Today, he's a third-grader only capable of doing kindergarten-level work.
"One of these diagnoses on their own would be a lot for a parent to handle," Tanya Mulligan said.