Single and 46, John Tutay was certain he wanted to be a father, but the odds of that happening were narrowing. So it was with tears and a sense of triumph that he exited a Clearwater courtroom on Friday and donned a T-shirt made for the occasion. "Proud New Daddy," it read.
Two-year-old Michael rested in his arms and, by his side, stood freckled 7-year-old Hailey, her white tulle dress unusually glamorous for the county's Criminal Justice Center. Tutay, a dentist, was working at the county jail when he learned from the children's grandmother that they were placed up for adoption.
They, too, had special shirts that read: "This is what a Tutay looks like."
Adoption hearings are usually closed-door affairs, but on Friday, Pinellas officials brought together more than a dozen families to publicly celebrate the ninth annual Adoption Day. Families packed courtroom benches where they waited to make a brief appearance before a judge, the final step in what can be a years-long process.
Child-welfare workers from Eckerd Youth Alternatives and child advocates looked on, watching the adoption proceedings for children they have shepherded through years in the foster system.
Some found "forever families" in total strangers; some were going to live with relatives or neighbors; and some children had spent years with foster families who had never before been able to officially adopt them.
Across Florida, there are 750 children up for adoption. Of those, 120 are in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Terry Siegrist, 40, did not expect to recognize any of their faces when she scrolled through the pictures posted online of children available for adoption. But she did, and it startled her.
"I was just looking at the picture and thinking where did I know this kid from," she said. "And I'm just staring and staring and staring until I realized: 'Oh my god, it's our Anthony."
She had known Anthony as her son's elementary school playmate — a friend who came over to play Wii and Mario Kart and often stayed for sleepovers at her and her partner Jessica Maldonado's Clearwater home.
"We used to jokingly say to each other, if nobody is looking for him, we'll take him," Maldonado said.
After they moved, they lost touch with the boy and for five years they had no idea what became of him, unaware that in 2008 his parents' drug abuse led to his placement in the foster system.
When Siegrist spotted his face, the couple, who have been together for nine years, knew they had to adopt him even though they had planned to bring a younger child into the family.
Anthony has been living with them since June and, on Friday, Maldonado legally became his mother.
"Everything just kind of aligned," she said. "I love our story."