In 2006, Houston resident Sherry Davislost custody of her three children, Devonte,Jeremiahand Sierra, due to a cocaine addiction. The children were taken by Texas’ Department of Family and Protective Services and temporarily placed with their aunt, Priscilla Celestine. However, in December 2006, the children were taken away from the aunt, even though she had no criminal record, a steady job at a hospital, had raised her own daughter and moved to a bigger house accommodate the children. CPS took the kids because the children saw their biological mother, which was against court orders.

In 2007, the aunt started filing several petitions. The Oregonion reports that the attorney who represented Celestine at the time “agreed the children shouldn’t have stayed with their parents, but she thought the courts acted too rashly in removing them from their aunt.” She also said, “They have an aunt who I truly believe in my soul and in my heart would have made a difference in those children’s lives.”

By 2009,JenniferandSarah Hartadopted Devonte, Jeremiah and Sierra while there was still a pending case on the aunt’s last appeal. (Hart reportedly had a 2008 child abuse charge that was overlooked).

Davis, 48, broke her silence in an interview with The Oregonian, describing her heartbreak, how she lost her kids, and how she’d gotten clean with the hope of one day getting them back. Devonte, Sierra and Jeremiah were with their adoptive parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, and their three adopted siblings when an intoxicated Jennifer Hart apparently drove the family off a California cliff last month.

Clarence Celestine, father of Jeremiah and Sierra, said he hasn’t been able to sleep since he heard the news. He wants to leave every time someone mentions the crash and concerns of abuse that followed the children and their adoptive parents in three states. He wishes his sister, Priscilla Celestine, who fought to keep the kids when Davis lost custody, had been able to keep them.

“I don’t understand why they took the kids from my sister,” said Celestine, 66.

“And gave them to monsters,” Davis added.

What also tears at Davis and Celestine: Had a local family law attorney who represented the kids’ aunt in a failed custody bid not recognized the children in news reports, Davis believes she might never have known their fate.

Davis said that even while she was using drugs, her children were well fed, well dressed and never neglected. Back then, she said, she was doing live-in care at least two days a week for work and housekeeping on the side to make ends meet.

Today, Davis is an in-home care worker. She’s married and said she’s been clean for eight years. She never gave up hoping she’d one day reunite her family. Learning of her children’s deaths — and of the abuse allegations that preceded them — has been devastating.

“They’re so quick to snatch [children] from people like us,” she said, “but once they’re adopted, they don’t even check on them?”

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