February 16, 2014

Mother fights back

Says she won’t give up custody of daughter

Rachel Brown

— A former Dalton woman living in Mexico says that despite court orders she won’t come back to the United States to settle a custody and visitation dispute with the child’s father, a man she said wasn’t in the child’s life except for a tumultuous year or two.

Brandy Moorehead-Reyes said she’s been living in Mexico for more than a year now despite an order from Whitfield County Superior Court instructing her not to leave the country so a dispute between her and the child’s biological father, Dalton resident Shundy Hicks, could be settled. Hicks was given temporary custody of the child, Anjalayiah, now 8, in 2011 around the time Moorehead-Reyes left for Mexico and after the woman stopped allowing Hicks to see the child, court records show. Hicks had already been granted visitation rights and went through a legal process to have the child legitimized since he and Moorehead-Reyes were never married.

Moorehead-Reyes said she didn’t know about the court order before she left, an assertion that Hicks has disputed. Now, she said she knows about it but plans on staying in a place where Hicks can’t find her.

“I saw him a few times,” Moorehead-Reyes said of her relationship with Hicks after the child was born. “I even tried to get him to take care of Lay, but he never wanted to, and just the few times she was with him, I had to supply the clothes, diapers, formula, everything.”

Moorehead-Reyes said she’s concerned as a mother because Hicks has previously spent some time in prison and because of what she said was his failure to adequately help financially in previous years or stick around for her and his daughter.

It’s a completely different story than the one Hicks told two years ago — and since then — when Anjalayiah’s story first garnered media attention in January 2012. At that time Hicks told how Moorehead-Reyes’ husband, Mexican native Rigoberto Reyes-Rios, was allowed to adopt the little girl without Hicks’ consent, and, according to Hicks’ attorney, by lying to the court that she didn’t know where to find him. The court later stayed the adoption and granted Hicks temporary custody, but by then Anjalayiah was gone.

Hicks has since met with little success in getting local law enforcement to enlist outside help in finding the little girl he says was for a long time a missing person. Moorehead-Reyes, who recently contacted The Daily Citizen to tell her side of the ongoing saga, said that as a mother she doesn’t want to risk giving up her child to a man the little girl barely knows.

Moorehead-Reyes grandmother, Whitfield County resident Margaret Harmon, said she doesn’t blame her.

“She was given a raw deal, I mean very raw,” Harmon said of Moorehead-Reyes. “I’m not saying it because she’s my granddaughter because me and her have locked horns ain’t no telling how many times, but as far as being an excellent mother, they don’t come any better. She just could not bear the thought of giving Anjalayiah up, and that’s the reason she left.”

Moorehead-Reyes said she left the country after her husband was deported due to an arson charge on his record. Hicks has spoken with The Daily Citizen several times over the years about his struggles to have the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office investigate his daughter’s disappearance — something he said was never done to his satisfaction — and about his work with at least two organizations that help find missing children. Repeated efforts to reach Hicks by phone and email over the past two weeks were unsuccessful.

Several international missing child organizations have taken Hicks’ side, including The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which issued paperwork saying the girl was last seen Oct. 15, 2011. Lighting Their Way Home, a Wordpress blog devoted to drawing attention to missing children, lists Anjalayiah’s case as resolved as of a few months ago.

“Anjalayiah has been located in Mexico,” the blog post from late 2013 states. “Her father is currently in Mexico fighting to bring his little girl home, however, Mexican authorities are not cooperating, making it impossible to bring this beautiful little girl home.”

Hicks filed missing persons reports with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, but the girl remains in Mexico, according to her mother. District Attorney Bert Poston said in previous interviews that because the case was a dispute over the details of custody and visitation, it would likely remain a civil matter rather than one carrying criminal charges for Moorehead-Reyes — a status that could help enlist additional law enforcement aid in finding the girl and bringing her home.

Moorehead-Reyes said she did have to meet with Hicks through the equivalent of the Division of Family and Children Services in Mexico late last year when he came looking for his daughter, but those officials took her side, and the child was allowed to stay with her. Moorehead-Reyes denied claims Hicks has made that Anjalayiah was being mistreated and living in poor conditions.

Hicks said in earlier interviews that he’s worked to turn his life around in the several years he’s been out of prison. He has not faced felony charges since then, although arrest records show he was charged in December with some misdemeanor license- and registration-related crimes and giving a false name/address/date of birth to a law officer.

Hicks has since married and has other children. In earlier interviews, he said he was frustrated that the justice system didn’t seem to be working for him — despite going through all the legal requirements to be with his daughter and despite court orders stating he had visitation rights. Hicks said that in one of the last times he saw Anjalayiah, he told her he would do whatever he had to so they could have a regular father-daughter relationship.

“I’m going to keep that promise,” he said. “I know that I have a right to love her just as well. That’s half me and half (her mother).”

Hicks’ attorney, Nancy Burnett, testified at a hearing Hicks asked for Whitfield County Magistrate Court last March that a young woman — whom Hicks has said was Moorehead-Reyes — called from Harmon’s residence and attempted to negotiate with Hicks, saying Hicks could see the child if he dropped the custody order and a warrant she believed existed.

Both Hicks and Moorehead-Reyes have accused the other of having financial reasons for wanting custody of Anjalayiah. Moorehead-Reyes has said Hicks didn’t want to be a father when the child was a baby, and Hicks has said Moorehead-Reyes blocked his efforts. While a court order from Dec. 29, 2011, by then-Superior Court Judge Robert Adams concludes, “It is in the best interests of the child for this Court to award sole legal and physical custody of Anjalayiah to her father, Shundy Hicks,” Moorehead-Reyes said she just can’t risk coming back to court and giving up her daughter.

“Wouldn’t you want to keep your family together (rather) than just leave a child to a man she doesn’t know and have her leave her two siblings, mom and the only dad she ever knew?” Moorehead-Reyes said.