Jan. 7, 2009— -- A young boy who was not reported missing for nearly 10 years after he disappeared was abused by his adopted mother before he vanished, several relatives alleged on Tuesday.
Police in Kansas are searching for Adam Herrman, who was 11 or 12 when he was last seen in a mobile home park in Towanda in 1999. Authorities received a tip about a month ago that Herrman had not been seen in more than nine years.
Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy said Monday that his office was investigating the case as if it were a death investigation, but said it is possible Herrman is alive. He asked the public for help locating him.
Murphy said the boy's adopted parents, Doug and Valerie Herrman, were considered "people of interest" in the case, though they have not been arrested or charged with a crime.
Through their lawyer, the Herrmans have denied harming the boy. But several immediate family members claim Valerie Herrman mentally and physically abused the boy, at times hitting or slapping him, refusing to feed him and making him sleep in the bathtub without a pillow or blankets.
The Herrmans, who adopted Adam when he was about 2 years old, could not be immediately reached for comment. In an interview with the Wichita Eagle published Wednesday, Valerie Herrman denied that she hit Adam, refused to feed him or kept him chained to the tub, as some of her relatives have alleged.
"They make it sound like I tortured him, but I loved him," she told the newspaper.
On at least two occasions, in 1996 and 1998, police investigated allegations that Adam was abused. Relatives said suspected abuse was reported to child protection officials at least three times, though Adam Herrman continued to live with his adopted family.
"She would punch him, pull his hair, use wooden spoons to spank him, push him," said Justin Herrman, one of the Herrmans' biological children, who is now 29. "He wasn't allowed to play. She locked him up in the bathroom, made him do housework all day long."
"When she's not acting crazy, my mom is actually a good person," he said. "But when she's in a bad mood, she's a monster."
A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services said state privacy laws prevented her from disclosing whether any alleged abuse had been reported to the office. She said that extensive background checks are done on prospective adoptive parents and that the department investigates allegations of abuse or neglect.
According to local police, the police and Social Rehabilitation Services investigated a report of suspected abuse in 1996. The matter was referred for counseling through Social and Rehabilitative Services, according to the Derby police.
In 1998, police investigated a second suspected abuse call reported by Adam Herrman's school. The investigation showed that his injuries were from playing sports with his siblings, the police said.
The Herrmans' attorney, Warner Eisenbise, said his clients did not harm Adam and were not involved with his disappearance. He said they admitted that they failed to file a police report when Adam disappeared, which is illegal in Kansas, and that they continued to collect state adoption subsidy payments for Adam until he would have turned 18.
Lawyer: Adam Herrman a Frequent Runaway
Eisenbise said Adam Herrman, who was homeschooled at the time of his disappearance, frequently ran away from home and that the Herrmans searched for him after he disappeared. He said they were afraid to report Adam missing for fear that the state would take away their other children.
The lawyer said Valerie Herrman admitted to spanking Adam with a belt the night he disappeared. "That's probably the reason he left for the last time," Eisenbise said.
Police records show that the Herrmans called police at least once in 1998 to report that Adam Herrman had left home after being grounded. He returned an hour later, police said. Police were called on another occasion in 1994 when he was not on the school bus when it arrived home. He was located soon after.
Other family members said the Herrmans recently said they were afraid to call the police after Adam Herrman disappeared.
Justin Herrman and Valerie Herrman's brother, Sam Bush, said the couple told them in 1999 that he had been returned to state custody because they couldn't handle him anymore. When relatives asked about Adam Herrman as the years passed, the Herrmans would give updates on his whereabouts, at one point saying he was in a state mental hospital, Herrman and Bush said.
"It was all lies," Bush said.
Linda Bush, Valerie Herrman's former sister-in-law, said Adam Herrman was timid. He liked trucks and camping, said Justin Herrman.
"He reminded me of a forest creature who didn't know if he would be attacked," said Linda Bush.
They said Valerie Herrman was loving toward her biological children but not toward Adam Herrman. Linda Bush said Valerie Herrman told her on several occasions that she couldn't stand him and that the boy "gives me the creeps."
Sam Bush said he once walked into the bathroom and saw Adam Herrman sleeping in the bathtub without a pillow or blankets. When Sam Bush asked about it, Valerie Herrman said the boy was being punished because he wet the bed, Sam Bush said.
He claims she later told him Adam Herrman was sleeping in the bathroom because he was mentally disturbed. Sam Bush said she told him she had found a knife under the boy's bed and he said he was going to kill her in her sleep.
Eisenbise said the Herrmans admitted that Adam was forced to sleep in the tub sometimes, but only because the boy had told a psychiatrist that he wanted to kill his adopted parents. Eisenbise said the psychiatrist advised the Herrmans to keep Adam in a locked room at night.
Justin Herrman said his mother often would not feed the boy and would hit him, though he said his father never abused the boy. On one occasion when Adam Herrman was 4 or 5, he said, he called the police after his mother pulled his hair and threw him against a wall.
By the time the police had arrived, he said, his mother had persuaded him to tell the police that he had made the story up. The officers lectured him about lying, but did nothing else, he said. The Derby police say they do not have a record of an abuse call from Justin Herrman during the 1990s.
Reports to Child Protective Services
Sam Bush said he and Linda Bush, who is now his ex-wife, reported the Herrmans to Child Protective Services. He said the agency made the couple undergo counseling but did not take Adam Herrman away from them. Justin Herrman said his parents were reported, by relatives, the school or a counselor, at least three times.
Linda Bush said Valerie Herrman called her in late December and almost immediately her voice broke.
"She said she had to talk to me and said 'They [the police] think we murdered Adam,'" she said.
Linda Bush said Valerie Herrman asked her to call detectives and tell them she would never hurt the boy. Linda Bush said she didn't call.
"I'm a very honest person and I won't lie," she said.
Sam Bush and Justin Herrman said they regretted that they did not do more to protect Adam Herrman.
"If there are any other families that see this being done to a child, don't wait until you lay awake at night thinking I should have done more," Sam Bush said.