The Short Life of Viktor Matthey

In New Jersey, the Mattheys were still looking for children to adopt from abroad.

The Mattheys' lawyer referred them to an adoption agency and told its representatives what they were looking for. Since this was to be an international adoption, they would have to deal with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, applying for permission to bring a noncitizen into the country. They would need a home study, which would be forwarded on to an adoption agency for approval. If the agency okayed their application, the process of finding a child would get under way.

The Mattheys' adoption agency, Adoption Alliance of Aurora, Colo., put them together with an Atlanta company called AMREX, which provides technical services - document processing, translation, travel assistance - to people seeking to adopt from Russia. It was in AMREX's Internet database that the Mattheys located a pair of towheaded brothers on the other side of the world.

The twins - but not their brother, Viktor, nor the older siblings -were listed in the AMREX database, used by prospective parents for browsing through photos and brief background information on candidates for adoption. The entries were sparse - photo, I.D. number, gender, birth date, race, eye and hair color, country - but it was enough for the Mattheys to make their decision.

They viewed the photos of a set of 3-year-old twins, Vladimir and Yevgeniy Tulimov. (They were known on the Web site only as I.D. Numbers 1574 and 1575.) On Sept. 21, 1999, the Mattheys asked that a "hold" be put on them until they could get more information, in the form of a brief videotape of the boys.

According to their home study, the Mattheys were advised of the risks associated with international adoption: Their new children could arrive with previously undetected health problems or a contagious disease, or could suffer developmental delays associated with the minimal care they received at home or in an institution.

"They understand and accept these risks," wrote Nancy Dykstra-Powers, the social worker who did the Mattheys' home study in preparation for the adoptions. "They will deal with any problems that arise in the way that they would if they had given birth to a child with a problem."

The Mattheys' financial picture had apparently improved. They had reported Bob's salary as $32,960 on their 1996 income tax return, $28,592 on their 1997 return, and $25,175 on their tax return for 1998, the year they began considering adoption. By September 1999, the Mattheys stated on their home study that Bob's salary was $75,000 a year, according to a letter from his employer. The couple also declared Bob made $12,000 annually from snow plowing and auto repair, and that they owned investments worth $40,000.

The home study concluded the Mattheys were "loving, caring people," and Bethany Christian signed off on them to adopt two males up to age 5.

To return home with two foreign-born children, the Mattheys, like all families adopting from overseas, had to wade through a small mountain of paperwork and await approval from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. This included submission of their home study, a fingerprint check and details about the children they would be bringing back.

Bob Matthey said some prospective adoptive couples look at dozens of children before settling on the one they want to adopt. He and Brenda never felt as if they wanted to "choose a kid," and once they had seen photos of the twins, they wanted them no matter what.

"We had a supernatural bonding, I guess, if you want to call it that," he said, in an interview with his lawyer present. "From the day we saw them, their pictures, I felt like they were my kids and they were lost. I used to look at their pictures every day on the Internet."