‘Shot in the dark’ Facebook message brings family together

By From page D1 | March 09, 2014

FAIRFIELD — Sara Batres, an adopted 32-year-old Sacramento attorney, posted a picture of herself Feb. 16 on Facebook, holding a sign asking for help locating her biological father.

It said she was born in Fairfield on May 28, 1981, and included her mother’s name, Darby Childress, and her own birth name, Shale Taraida.

Her post was shared more than 2,500 times and, in a frenzy of teamwork by complete strangers, by Feb. 20, Batres not only had found the man who she believes is her biological father, but also acquired insights about her late mother, Darby Hanson Childress, whom she never knew.

Darby Hanson Childress

Darby Childress was born  Nov. 13, 1956, in Imola. Her parents relinquished custody rights and she was placed in foster care.

When she was 2½ years old, Childress was adopted by Loyal and Edna Hanson of Fairfield. Loyal Hanson became the mayor of Fairfield from 1970 to 1972. They had a biological child, Carol Hanson, who clamored for a sibling.

Hanson remembered Childress as intelligent, creative and kind, yet troubled. Childress’ problems escalated when she hit puberty, Hanson said.

“She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and collected (Social Security Income) checks from the time she was 17. I was eight years older than her and moved out when I was 20 years old. I lived in Sacramento and would visit on the weekends,” Hanson said. “Darby would make paranoid statements like, ‘They are looking at me and they are after me.’ ”

Childress went to facilities for help, including one in Walnut Creek and Napa State Hospital.

Vacaville resident Denese Burrell was Childress’ best friend from 1970 to 1975. According to Burrell, her friend’s condition when leaving Napa in 1975 was “heartbreaking.”

“They had her on all kinds of drugs. She stayed with us for a couple of weeks then took off with a friend of ours and that was the last I ever saw of her,” Burrell said.

Childress lived in Fairfield for a time, married and had four children that were put up for adoption. On March 1, 2010, she died on a San Francisco sidewalk. Her death certificate lists “probable complications of chronic ethanolism” under cause of death.

Sara Batres

Batres is the third of Childress’ four children.

“I was adopted into a conservative evangelical Christian family. I was home-schooled and my mom sewed all my clothes,” Batres said. “As a teen, I was rebellious. I wasn’t doing drugs or anything, I just wanted to have friends outside of the church. I moved out of their house at 15. I had a child, moved to Vacaville, got married and then divorced. My adopted parents didn’t believe in divorce and have not talked to me since then.”

Batres said she put herself through University of California, Berkeley, then decided to become a lawyer. She graduated from the McGeorge School of Law in June 2013, passed the bar in November and is now an attorney practicing in Sacramento. It was while going to law school that the journey to find her biological father was jump-started.

First Family Contact

Batres had received information on her mother years before, but her father remained a mystery.

“In a closed adoption when you turn 18, you can get some information. So I knew her name, got two pictures and a synopsis of her life,” Batres said.

Then on Sept. 15, 2011, Batres received an out-of-the-blue message on Facebook while in a class at law school from her half-brother whom she had never met, Suisun City resident Abraham Ross.

“For his birthday, Abraham’s adoptive mother gave him an envelope with information from Facebook about me and Carol Hanson,” Batres said. “I was in class and got a message saying, ‘My name is Abraham and my mother’s name was Darby and I think you’re my sister.’ It was really exciting. I was his birthday present.”

A Series of Fortunate Events

Batres’ decision to post a picture on Facebook of herself holding a sign asking for help in her search for her father was purely a shot in the dark. She didn’t have a name, age or ethnicity. What she did have was the networking power of Facebook. She got help immediately when people saw her post.

“I was not even Facebook friends with Sara,” Vacaville resident Jessica Marinelarena said. “One of my friends shared her picture. When I saw it was from Fairfield, I read it aloud to my dad.”

Marinelarena’s father, Ron Scott, was visiting from Oregon.

“I said, ‘Oh, I knew Darby. Her boyfriend’s name was Richard,’ ” Scott said. “I knew them back in 1980 or 1981. Darby was pregnant, but they broke up before the baby was born, I think.”

Within one day, Batres had a lead. From there it snowballed.

“It was a collective effort. I got his first name, then his last, but with an incorrect spelling. The next day I got the correct spelling – Chouinard. Then I got a message on Facebook from some guy I didn’t know named Rick Williams with two phone numbers,” Batres said.

It turns out Rick Williams not only created the 5,000-plus member “I Grew Up in Fairfield Too” Facebook group where Sara’s picture had been posted repeatedly, but he is also a private investigator.

The first number was disconnected, but the second was Amy Chouinard, who was raised in Fairfield but now lives in Vacaville.

“I saw the Facebook message from Sara that said, ‘This is probably going to be the weirdest message you’ve ever got, but I wanted to ask you if anyone in your family was named Richard,” Amy Chouinard said. “I told her that, yes, Richard was my father.”

Just four days after her posted plea, Batres posted a picture of the man she believes to be her father, Richard Chouinard, with the words “I found him.” He lives in Southern California.

The circumstantial evidence that she had tracked down the right person included a strong family resemblance.

“Sara has the Chouinard ‘golden ratio.’ It is like the equation of different points in the face – the cheekbones, nose, chin. It’s spot on,” Amy Chouinard said. “It’s like a stamp that we have on my dad’s side.”

One distinctive facial feature convinced Batres that she had found her half-sister and father. She described the dimpled chin they all share less delicately than part of a “golden ratio” and chose instead, “butt-chin.”

To remove all doubt, Sara and Richard Chouinard plan to take a DNA test.

“Finding my biological father is so much better than not knowing. I now know that I am French, Portuguese and Spanish. I never knew my heritage,” Batres said. “Real life isn’t TV. It’s bittersweet and full of angst. That’s what makes the good times so wonderful.”

Darby’s Diaries

Batres’ search for her father serendipitously turned up a photo album and diary written by her mother in her late teens.

Fairfield resident Jim Carr, who had dated Childress in the eighth grade, came into possession of them two years ago and recently rediscovered them during spring cleaning. The items were salvaged 20 years ago from an abandoned house that Childress stayed at on Tabor Avenue. The woman who found them had forgotten about them until she started dating Carr.

“I’m Facebook friends with Denese Burrell, who was in some of the photos, so I called and asked her if she wanted them and she came and got them,” Carr said. “Then, boom! The next day she posted Sara’s picture on my Facebook page with ‘OMG!’ It was unreal.”

The diary, written while Childress was in Napa State Hospital, highlights the creativity and intelligence many remembered, as well as Childress’ issues. Writings, poems, pictures and song lyrics fill its pages. One entry titled “25 Sentences Beginning with I Want” includes, “I want a neat little sports car” and “I want help.”

Batres and Ross made a pact to fulfill as many on the list as possible.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected]

Tony Wade

Tony Wade

Tony Wade is the slightly older yet infinitely more handsome brother of long-time DR columnist Kelvin Wade

Discussion | 7 comments

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  • Jessica MarinelarenaMarch 09, 2014 - 5:46 am

    Tony, this is an awesome article. Thank you for sharing. I'm so glad we could all help Sara.

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  • Sarah SaleMarch 09, 2014 - 7:17 am

    Wow! I'm adopted and my Biological mother was sent to the State Hospital in Napa where I was actually born in '81...our stories sound very similar...but I know the name of my biological father and he is apparently dead....amazing and inspiring! Happy you were able to get so much info in so little time!

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  • Donna IngramMarch 09, 2014 - 9:24 am

    Tony, you've brought me to tears once again. Great story, and well told. I found my father in 2002, before Facebook, via Classmates.com, thanks to the kindness of strangers willing to help and take that extra step. I was able to find and correspond with my biological father, and still correspond with him and a half brother. Thank you for sharing Sara's story.

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  • Gail Reed BondMarch 09, 2014 - 11:32 am

    Thank you,Tony, for writing this article. It gives so many people that are searching for their biological roots, HOPE. I think it is absolutely amazing that Sara has accomplished all that she has and I'm very happy for her. Years ago, mental illness treatment was not what it is today. I wish Darby could have received the treatment she needed because who knows what she could have accomplished. In recognition and tribute to Darby Hanson Childress may we always treat mental illness with professionalism, dignity and continued education. We still have a long ways to go, but today offers many medication and professional counseling that can give a person like Darby a normal life. Thank you, Tony.

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  • carrie HeathMarch 09, 2014 - 12:31 pm

    Sara, where ever you are - Carol is my Dads cousin and Loyal was my grandma's brother. I am so excited to read about another member of our family! Welcome back to the Hanson fold :)

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  • MDSMarch 09, 2014 - 6:01 pm

    Very nice story, but the most impressive part is the story before she found her father. Had some troubles as a teen and moved out of the house and had some issues, yet put herself through UC Berkeley and then McGeorge School of Law and then passed the California State Bar Exam on her first attempt. That is a pretty darn impressive accomplishment right there.

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