Orphan Davion Only back in Florida; altercation ends dream of adoption (video)

Davion Only, then 15, follows along with the Sunday sermon at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg in September.
Davion Only, then 15, follows along with the Sunday sermon at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg in September.
Published July 3, 2014

He thought he had finally found a family.

After 16 years of floundering in foster care, after taking the pulpit at a St. Petersburg church last September asking someone — anyone — to adopt him, after his story was shared around the world and 10,000 people offered to help or take him home, Davion Only moved to Ohio in March to live with the parents who had promised to care for him forever and love him no matter what.

The couple, a minister and his wife, flew Davion up to visit over spring break. They introduced him to their three children and took him to church. Davion came back to Florida just long enough to pack a small suitcase. Then he returned to Ohio, where his prospective parents signed him up to play football — something he had always wanted to do.

"I got baptized!" he wrote April 20, from his new phone, on his new Facebook page.

The adoption could take place in 90 days, said Terri Durdaller, whose agency, Eckerd, oversees Tampa Bay's foster children. That would have meant that Davion could be adopted this month.

Instead, he is back in Pinellas County, at a therapeutic foster home, upset and embarrassed, unwilling to talk.

"There was an incident in Ohio," said Eckerd's director, Lorita Shirley. At one point, she said, things got physical between Davion and another child in the house, and with the dad. The family wanted him out.

On May 30, Davion's case manager flew to Ohio and brought him back to Florida.

"This has been a major setback for him," Shirley said. "Our goal now is to get him treatment."

• • •

Davion Navar Henry Only was born while his mom was in jail. He started searching for her last June, after he finished his first year in high school. She had died just a few weeks before.

That's when he knew, his counselors said, that she wasn't coming to get him. That's when he decided to find a family himself.

Davion said he was tired of sharing a group home with 12 teen boys, all with problems. Tired of locked refrigerators and cameras recording everything. He wanted someone to support him. To believe in him.

Last summer, he went to the gym and lost 40 pounds. Last fall, he buckled down at school, started getting A's. He tried to control his temper, be the kind of kid someone would want.

"I'll take anyone," Davion said last September. "Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don't care."

"I know God hasn't given up on me," he told the packed congregation at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church. "So I'm not giving up either."

• • •

His story went viral. After appearing on the front page of the Tampa Bay Times Oct. 8, Davion's plea was picked up by news outlets across the world. Producers of The View flew him to New York to talk to Barbara Walters.

More than 10,000 strangers called offering to help or adopt him. Eckerd workers returned 2,500 of those calls, said Durdaller, the agency's spokeswoman.

At first, Eckerd officials tried to connect Davion with a second cousin, a sheriff's deputy who learned of Davion through the newspaper. When that didn't work, they moved him from the group home to be with a foster family. But that family never intended to adopt Davion.

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In early March, Davion called his former adoptions specialist to say, "I had a blowout." The foster family refused to keep him.

But it was okay, Davion said then. He had met this great couple from Ohio. A minister and his wife with a bunch of kids.

They said they wanted him. Finally, someone wanted him.

• • •

"On paper, this was the book-definition perfect family for him," said Shirley, Eckerd's director. "The father was a pastor who had worked with troubled kids. They knew about Davion's background and his issues."

"The biggest thing that went wrong is that Davion spent 15 years in the system," said Shirley. "He has a lot of built up anger. It's been very devastating for everyone involved."

Eckerd therapists refused to let Davion talk to the media. He didn't respond to Facebook messages. He no longer has a cellphone.

The Ohio family didn't respond to requests either.

• • •

Since September, when Davion asked God and strangers for help, he has been moved away from his friends at his group home and school. He has lost his adoptions specialist. And he has cycled through four families.

His mentor, 22-year-old Richard Prince, said he hasn't seen Davion since he was sent back to Florida.

"I'm extremely worried about him," Prince said. "We had a short conversation a couple of weeks ago, but it was very unsettling."

Eckerd's website has its own page devoted to Davion, which has raised money and awareness about other teenagers in foster care. "I am currently matched with a family," says his profile.

Which is no longer true.

"When he is ready, we will continue down the list of people who have expressed interest in him," said Shirley. "Now, we might be looking at empty-nesters, people who raised teenagers but don't have any other kids in their house. That might be the best match for him."

Since September, when Davion took the pulpit, 339 children in Pinellas and Pasco counties have been adopted.

But the boy who became the face for older adoption, whose "Davion Effect" was touted in Tallahassee and on TV talk shows, is still alone.