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Young survivor of killing spree has a home

Rob Amen
| Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2005

Judi Walters and her family took the first, albeit difficult, steps toward regaining a sense of normalcy Monday, when she officially adopted her grandson, Jesse.

Jesse Walters, who turns 2 years old March 31, was the lone survivor of a Hyde Park man's killing spree Jan. 12, 2004, that claimed the lives of Jesse's father, David, 27; mother, Rhonda, 35; and sister, Destini, 19 months.

Mysteriously, Jesse was found alive and unharmed under his crib in the family's Ash Road home in Parks, apparently saved by the fact that suspect Donald Barnhart, who later killed himself during a police chase, did not know he existed.

Armstrong County's Children and Youth Services took Jesse into custody, and almost immediately, Judi Walters, David's grief-stricken mother, began the process to adopt Jesse.

A heart-wrenching yet, at times, heart-warming year later, the adoption is complete.

"As of today, I'm morally and legally completely responsible for him, the same as I would be for my own children," Judi, 52, said shortly after the quiet, 20-minute proceeding at the Armstrong County Courthouse on Monday morning. "I'm responsible for every aspect of him, as if he were my birth child."

Judi, whose support system includes her sisters, daughters and husband, Carl, from whom she is separated, knew no other way than to accept Jesse into her Washington Township home as though she bore him.

This family's love for Jesse, who they call their Little Miracle, more than fills Judi's home, as do an assortment of colorful toys that preoccupy the blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesse.

Yet it hasn't been easy.

Aside from the obvious emotional aspect of burying your son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Judi did so while unable to escape the inexplicable manner in which they died, with the uncertainty of what's ahead for Jesse.

For the past 10 months, Judi spoke with such conviction, with such urgency, of her hope to ensure that Jesse grows up in a loving, supportive atmosphere.

She finished five weeks of foster-parenting classes, then completed a six-month probationary period -- a prerequisite to adoption -- in which Jesse lived with her at the house.

All that remained was a court date and a judge's ruling to make if official, both of which came Monday.

"I am very relieved that it's over," Judi said. "This morning, there were so many emotions involved. You would actually have to go through it to completely understand."

Which means no one, really, can.

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