DES PLAINES, Ill. — In 16 years, Tony has been a son, an adopted son, a foster son--and a headline.
At age 5, Tony and his younger brother, Sam, were put up for adoption by their drug-abusing mother. By then, Tony had been in and out of foster homes, and there were suspicions that some relatives had sexually abused him.
At age 10, Tony made news. His adoptive parents, who had reared him nearly half his life, decided they could no longer handle his emotional problems. They also said he had struck, cut and tried to drown his 8-year-old brother.
So they made a decision: Sam would stay. Tony would go.
Patrick Murphy, the outspoken Cook County public guardian, made his outrage known in a familiar forum: the news media. The case became headline fodder as Murphy fought to win Tony visitation rights with Sam.
Five years later, Murphy is still angry.
"Of all the cases I have been involved in, the tortures, the sexual abuse, this may have been the worst," he said. "It's like Hansel and Gretel, taking a kid to the middle of the forest, leaving him by himself and walking away. . . . This was a clear message: 'We do not love you. We do not like you.' "
Over the next five years, Tony bounced around at least six more times, from orphanages to foster homes to locked psychiatric centers before arriving at Maryville Academy, a residential center in suburban Chicago.
"My childhood was rough," Tony said, sitting in a Maryville office, hands folded, his small, wiry frame dwarfed by an oversized black sports coat and bright pink tie. "I feel like I was a volleyball tossed over the net thousands of times. Everybody's hitting the ball. It's like nobody wants it on their side."
Tony said he had suicidal thoughts. With a friend, he set a fire at a foster father's house. He also said he began stealing.
All the time, he said, he pined for a family.
"I used to think, 'Why can't I have parents who want me and I could love them back?' " he said. "I used to blame myself for everything. Now, I know when something's my fault or it's not my fault. I got help. And that's helped me in the long run."
Tony, who rarely sees his brother but still visits Murphy, credits the child welfare system for not abandoning him.
"I've been everywhere," he said, running a hand through sandy-colored, slicked-back hair. "They kept trying. They found me something."
Tony is a sophomore at a suburban high school, and Maryville officials say he has adjusted well in his year there.
"He was an angry young man," said Father John Smyth, Maryville's director. "I think he has hit his stride. He did go through hell."
Even now, Tony isn't really at peace.
"It gets me angry I'm still here," he said. "It's not that it's a bad place. But it's a group home. . . . I can't be out late. I can't be with my friends."
And he worries what impression his pals could have because he lives at Maryville.
"They might think I'm crazy," he said. "I'm just like any other kid. I've had my share of problems. I still do. But it's nothing serious."