Abuse suffered as foster child haunts woman, inspires autobiography
GIFFORD — Mother Teresa called it the greatest disease in the West — to be unwanted, unloved and uncared for. Angie Fry and her twin brother David knew that and worse. Far worse.
The children were born in a London prison to parents who were addicted to heroin. They had to be weaned off the drug and were adopted as foster children at 5 months of age.
Things just got worse from there.
Now married to Ralph Cox and living in Gifford, the former Angie Fry said her foster mother, whom she calls Mrs. Lawrence, had a special hatred for the children for some reason.
In her book "Surviving the Devil (An Account of Adoption and Abuse)," Cox said living with Mrs. Lawrence was like living face to face with the devil.
"Some people say she must have been mentally ill, (but) I won't give her that excuse," Cox said. "She had three biological children. She was so nice to them. She was only abusive to David and I. I just think she was pure evil. I lived with them for 14 years."
An example of the woman's behavior is portrayed in an incident involving a couple of bunny rabbits. Mr. Lawrence — whom Cox said wasn't abusive but wouldn't stop his wife — had given them to the children.
Mrs. Lawrence told the kids to go outside and feed their rabbits. When they did, Cox writes, the children found that Mrs. Lawrence had cut their heads off and left them for the twins to see.
The woman stood at the back door and laughed, Cox said, telling Angie and her brother: "I told you I would get you."
The abuse came to light in England when Irwin Mitchell solicitors won a court case filed against Social Services there for its failure to correct neglect and mistreatment of the children that officials knew was going on, Cox said.
They were each awarded a substantial amount, which Angie said helped her brother a lot in dealing with what happened to them.
"He was in bad shape," she said. "He was a bad recluse, and people would have to go grocery shopping for him. His doctors would have to go to his house. Very sad.
"Since the court case, he's almost had a feeling of definite justice. It's released him. It's acknowledgment saying, 'Hey, I'm sorry.'"
While she has forgiven the Lawrences, Cox said she can never forget. And she doesn't want the same type of abuse happening to other children. That's why she decided to write the book, which details all she and her brother endured.
Twenty percent of the book's proceeds will go toward child abuse awareness, said Cody Crawford of Tate Publishing.
Cox's publisher has asked her to write a second book. Its title — "Broken Until Heaven" — reflects how she will always bear the emotional scars from the abuse.
She still has nightmares.
"It's awful," Cox said. "If someone comes up behind me abruptly, it scares the living daylights out of me. If someone yells, I literally have to leave."
Her 'bright light'
Telling her story comes with a price, Cox says.
"When people find out about your abuse, there are people in the world who like to use it against you," she said. "There's always a stigma.
"So many people have said to me, 'You've got to get over this; you've got to get over this.' That's easier said than done."
The children never were allowed to celebrate their birthdays. They were never allowed to celebrate Christmas. They were never given presents.
And while the rest of the family had Christmas dinner, the closest Cox said she and her brother got to the food was smelling the wonderful aroma.
"There, locked in our room, we could smell the smells of the sausage rolls, all the bacon and turkey," Cox said.
The children were able to break free from the Lawrences at age 14 after Angie was raped by a group of boys at Kingsbury Secondary School. The case went to court, and Mrs. Lawrence blamed it all on Angie, saying, "my biological mother and father knew that David and I would turn out to be bastards and that is why God is punishing us for these things."
After police took the children to a hospital, where their abuse was verified by all of the scars they bore, they went to live with their biological grandmother for a short time. But they soon fled, Angie said, when their stepgrandfather made advances toward her, so they lived for several years on the street.
Angie said they left England for a couple of reasons. For one, they needed to get away from the Lawrence children, who were tormenting them. Second, they went to see her biological mother, who had kicked heroin and moved to the United States. (Her father died a heroin addict.)
The children went on "The Trisha Show" in the UK to tell of their search for their real mother. Show officials tracked down their mother in Colorado.
The reunion initially went well, but soon hit the rocks when it became evident that their mother only wanted to have a relationship with Angie and not her brother.
"She didn't care that we were abused," Cox said.
After that, she said, Angie nearly gave up. But while in Colorado, she was set up on a blind date with Ralph Cox. They have been married for 11 years.
"It was a match made in heaven," she said.
Angie is unable to have children of her own, and she and her husband adopted a 1-year-old girl, Amber, who is now 7.
"She's my bright light. She keeps me breathing," Angie said.
Tornado hits home
It hasn't all been smooth sailing in Illinois, by any means. The Coxes were among those who lost their house in the Nov. 17 tornado that tore through Gifford.
But the loss was mitigated somewhat by the fact that they were in the process of moving to another home — just north of Gifford.
Cox said she remains close to her brother, calling him the most important person in her life outside of her daughter. They speak daily despite living on separate continents.
Cox said people don't seem to understand the emotional trauma that abuse causes. Just escaping the scene doesn't cure all ills.
She has undergone eight surgeries — one to repair damage caused by being sexually abused repeatedly by Mrs. Lawrence.
She has scars from cigarette burns all over her body.
"Half of David's body has been burned with scalding water, and he was slashed with a knife," Cox said.
She doesn't leave the house any more than she has to — she takes anti-anxiety medicine, and her husband does all the grocery shopping. It was difficult just to show up for a book signing last week in Gifford, which about 150 people attended.
Cox looks back on those years of abuse and said she knows that if it weren't for God, she would never have survived.
"I just know that He's been keeping me strong," she said. "There have been times when I would cry out, 'Why? Why? Why?' Now I know what His purpose was. He needed me to be strong so I could help other kids. He knew what His plan was for me. If I didn't have the love I have for God and Jesus, I wouldn't be here today."
Angie Cox said she has forgiven Mrs. Lawrence.
"My hope," she said, "is that she asks for forgiveness."