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FORMER ABDUCTION VICTIM BOO CENTER OF CUSTODY TUG OF WAR

FORMER ABDUCTION VICTIM BOO CENTER OF CUSTODY TUG OF WAR

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In just two years, baby Larry Wayne ``Boo' Tarlton has been handed to a stranger, abducted from Greensboro, found in Alabama, placed in foster care, and sent to live with New Jersey relatives.

Today, as he celebrates his second birthday, Boo still doesn't know where home and Mama and Daddy will be.Boo's natural parents have signed adoption papers giving him to a Greensboro couple who cared for him as foster parents between August 1989 and May 1990. The Guilford Clerk of Court's office tentatively approved the adoption Aug. 31, giving custody to the adoptive parents.

But Martin and Trina Puglisi of New Jersey, who have cared for Boo since a Guilford District Court judge gave them physical custody in May, don't want to give up the child of Trina's first cousin. Trina Puglisi had told the judge that he should stay with family.

``He fit into our family like a glove,' Puglisi, 33 and the mother of two girls, says of the child she calls Larry. ``He's happy. He's developing. He loves us. We love him. In our hearts, he is our son.'

The case becomes more complicated because Boo is in New Jersey, though an interstate compact governs placement of children between states.

Puglisi says she will ask the New Jersey courts to review the matter. She questions why the parents could consent to the adoption when the Guilford County Department of Social Services had legal custody of Boo.

``We are not going to take off with the child,' Puglisi said. ``I am not a criminal. If I am told that everything that we could possibly do legally has been exhausted, then I will give him up. But just give me my day in court. This baby is not being given a fair shot.'

North Carolina law keeps juvenile and adoption records secret. Only one court docket lists the names of Boo and his prospective adoptive parents, Ernest Stephen Duncan and Sharon Sawyer Duncan. They have declined to comment.

Consenting to adoption was painful, Larry Wayne Sweeney and Susan Tarlton say. Both 27, not married and without a permanent home, they say their lives are unsettled and they don't want to leave Boo in limbo.

Sweeney said that he's never talked with Puglisi in person, and that Susan Tarlton has seen her cousin infrequently through the years. The women's fathers, both now deceased, were brothers.

``I think the decision that we made is in his best interest,' Sweeney said this week. ``The child belongs with the people who love him and took care of him for nine months.'

Both sides say they worry about the impact of it all on the blond-haired, hazel-eyed Boo.

``He's gone through more in two years than most people go through in a lifetime,' Puglisi said.

The social services department, which gained legal custody of Boo shortly after his abduction, says it can't discuss his case. But Tarlton and Sweeney say social workers support their decision to let the Duncans adopt Boo.

Boo has been quite a traveling tot in his 2 years, ever since his father delivered him on the back seat of his 1977 Nova.

Sweeney soon ended up in prison for a probation violation on convictions for forgery and writing bad checks.

Susan Tarlton was sick, depressed and lacking money April 29, 1989, when she handed 7-month-old Boo to a woman she barely knew and let her take him shopping.

Boo was found, unharmed, in Alabama three weeks later. His kidnappers, Terry Michael Blackburn and Sheri Dawn Demoney Blackburn of Iowa, were sent to prison.

The social services department took custody of Boo in July 1989, after Susan Tarlton fell behind on her rent and lost her apartment. She spent several months at Greensboro Urban Ministry's night shelter.

Before Boo was placed with the Duncans, Puglisi says, Susan Tarlton asked her to adopt him. Puglisi said she would.

Puglisi had been calling social workers to press her case for Boo's custody. Social workers in New Jersey found her home impeccable, she said.

Guilford District Court Judge Sherry Alloway granted physical custody to the Puglisis May 1, saying she felt it was in Boo's best interest, Puglisi said. The county department of social services kept legal custody. Tarlton and Sweeney were allowed to visit Boo a few days each month, alternating between Guilford County and New Jersey.

Within a few days, Puglisi said, Tarlton and Sweeney signed their consent for the Duncans to adopt Boo. Tarlton and Sweeney asked the courts to keep Boo in North Carolina while they appealed the decision to send him to New Jersey. The N.C. Court of Appeals denied the request.

Puglisi says she has nothing against the Duncans.

``They're probably terrific people who would make great adoptive parents, but it's just unnecessary in this case,' she said.

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