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Kim Mays runs away from home

Kim Mays, the young woman at the center of a famous baby swap case, ran away from home and was staying at a Sarasota County shelter for troubled teenagers Tuesday night.

"Kim has run away and is experiencing some pretty severe problems," said Judith Lee, the Mays family's legal assistant. "She just needed some space."

Lee said Kim, 15, and her parents are simply dealing with the wrenching pressures that built up during a five-year struggle over Kim's destiny.

Kim was switched at birth with another baby at a rural Florida hospital in 1978. The swap came to light in 1988, after the child raised by Ernest and Regina Twigg died of heart trouble. In the years that followed, the Twiggs tried to reclaim Kim as their own.

A judge put an end to that pursuit in August, ruling after ahighly publicized trial that Kim should remain with the only parents she knew, Bob and Darlena Mays. Even after that ruling, however, the Twiggs vowed to continue their fight to win some control over their biological daughter's life.

During the trial, Kim testified that she resented the Twiggs and wanted nothing to do with them. She was backed by an array of psychologists, who said that Kim had been scarred by the battle and should be allowed to pursue a normal life with the Mayses.

That hasn't been easy. Just days after a trial that was featured on front pages and television screens across the world, Kim began her first year in a public high school near her Englewood home. After problems surfaced, Lee said, she transferred around November to a private school. Although that change helped for a while, she said, it was not enough.

The psychologists who examined Kim said that she would probably need years of counseling to forget years of wondering since the age of 9 where her home would be. That process, combined with the normal pressures of adolescence, combined to create continuing problems at home, Lee said. Kim ran away from home, she said, "within the last week."

Kim is staying at a YMCA shelter in Sarasota County, in a program designed for troubled teens. Lee said that Kim and her parents have been in constant touch, and they are trying to work things out.

Dr. Jack Greer, director of the YMCA youth shelter, said he could not confirm whether Kim was one of 18 youths staying there late Tuesday. The shelter, which opened in June 1991, takes in youths between ages 10 and 17. Some have run away from home, some cannot be controlled by their parents and some skip from school.

Funded by the state, the dormitory-style setting gives youths a place to eat and sleep, a haven of sorts when they are not in school, Greer said. "Our goal is family reunification and family preservation," he said.

Lee said she fears the publicity surrounding Kim's running away may make that more difficult.

"She's acting out and Bob and Darlena are dealing with it as best they can," she said. "But now it's front-page news."

Lee said that somebody leaked the news to a television station, which began raising questions and aired a report Tuesday that said the Mays family was at the center of a "criminal investigation" by the Sarasota sheriff. That's not so, Lee said.

Lee said that she talked Tuesday afternoon with the Twiggs' lawyer, John Blakely. She said she asked Blakely to support the family's efforts to reconcile. However, Lee said she hopes that the Twiggs _ particularly Mrs. Twigg _ will not use this latest trouble to try and force their way into Kim's life again.

"This harm was pretty much imposed on Kim by her unceasing pursuit," Lee said.

Neither the Twiggs nor their attorney could be reached late Tuesday.

Lee said the family is addressing the issue now, but hopes the attention will fade away quickly so the family can get on with its private business. Kim, she said, doesn't need the spotlight right now. "She needs some privacy if at all possible," Lee said. "She needs some respect, and maybe some prayer."

_ Times Staff Writer Tim Roche contributed to this report.