Iowa couple Rachel and Heidi McFarland were overjoyed at the prospect of raising their newly-adopted son. The proud parents were present at the little boy’s birth in 2013 and named him Gabriel.
“We coached [the biological mother] through labour,” Rachel told PEOPLE.
“I cut the umbilical cord. He was in our arms and care the second he was born. We both wanted a boy and both wanted to name him Gabriel. It is a strong name. It is my favourite story from the Bible.”
But when the birth mother changed her mind about the adoption process, she regained custody of the child.
The birth mother told local media that she had felt distanced from the child since giving birth and feared he would no longer be in her life.
But Rachel and Heidi were dealt another devastating blow when they learnt the news that Gabriel had been killed, just five weeks after he was removed from their care. They found out about the tragic death through a local news report.
“It didn’t say his name, but we had received a bill from the guardian ad litem and it had the address on it. It was this normal report that a baby was found dead at such-and-such address,” Rachel said. “Heidi was screaming, and I looked at the paperwork and it was the address. I texted [Atkin’s mother] and she confirmed it was him.”
According to KCCI Des Moines, the infant's father, Drew James Weehler-Smith, was found guilty of second-degree murder of Gabriel. Weehler-Smith was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Following on from the tragic news, Rachel and Heidi launched an adoption malpractice lawsuit against their lawyer.
The couple said their attorney, Jason Riepe, led them to believe the birth mother had signed release-of-custody paperwork. During the suit, Rieper’s lawyer argued he was not negligent during the adoption process and did not influence the birth mother's decision.
But Rachel and Heidi were successful in their legal battle and were awarded $3.25 million USD ($4.1M AUD) last week.
“We will not be millionaires; this wasn’t about money in the first place,” Rachel explained.
“What it was about for me, and I think I can say for Heidi, was having eight of his peers tell him that you were negligent.”