LAND O'LAKES — She bathed them, fed them, kept them in line.
When someone offered to adopt her separately, she declined. She and her three brothers were a family.
Since they were taken from their biological mother four years ago, Justice, now 14, has been the family's core.
On Friday, she and her brothers — Jeremy, 13, Randy, 11 and Max, 8 — became the adoptive children of a Land O'Lakes family.
This is what Justice wanted.
It means she gets her own room, gets time alone, gets to take care of herself.
But it also means turning over a role she's played for years.
"We never wanted her to feel like she's responsible for her brothers, because she's not anymore," said adoptive mother Lesley McGuills.
• • •
Lesley McGuill, 35, and her husband, Danny, 44, couldn't have children, so they decided to look into adoption.
They met Justice and Jeremy in 2011 at an event sponsored by Eckerd Community Alternatives, a child welfare agency.
They felt an immediate connection but knew they lacked space in their three-bedroom St. Petersburg home. As they looked for a bigger house, Lesley said, she pictured which rooms would go to Justice and her brothers.
The McGuills moved to Land O'Lakes early this year and emailed Eckerd soon after.
"There was never any hesitation on our part," Danny said.
The boys seemed open to them immediately. They spent weekends together and went to a Japanese steak house.
Justice took longer to come around. But once she saw her brothers happy, Danny said, she agreed.
The children have lived with the McGuills since June, but parents and children are still learning each other.
The kids are scarred, developmentally and physically, by abuse and years of constant upheaval, the McGuills said. They need attention and space.
Max loves to dance. Jeremy makes rubber band bracelets and give them to his dad. Randy buries his nose in Nintendo and dreams of taking over Apple.
Justice is the easiest. Sometimes they check with her before making parenting decisions. They want her to know her opinion matters. Usually, she agrees.
"You guys are doing it right," she tells them.
• • •
The children sat around a semicircular table Friday in Judge Tom Ramsberger's courtroom.
A clerk asked Danny and Lesley, who stood at the end of the table, a series of questions:
Did you want to be parents? Do you have a stable marriage? Would you support children as they grew to adulthood?
And, in a few words, why did they want to adopt?
"Because I love them," Lesley said.
Afterward, Danny and Lesley kissed. Danny's mother cried.
Jeremy fist-bumped a new cousin. Justice was quiet, slipping up to the front where the family gathered for a picture.
She slid in next to Lesley, winding her arm behind her back.
Lesley leaned over and kissed the side of her head.
"You're ours now," Lesley said.
Claire Wiseman can be reached at (727)-893-8804 or [email protected] On Twitter: @clairelwiseman.