The Norwalk man hadn’t seen Abba, now 19, and 18-year-old Simon in nearly 12 years. He was reunited with the two young people briefly on a recent episode of “Dr. Phil.”
“There were a lot of tears from all three of us,” said Smith, who couldn’t put into words what it meant to see them. “They are wonderful kids.”
Abba is in college at Slippery Rock University. Simon lives in Canton.
“They gave him a scholarship to Stark State (University) at the show,” Smith said.
The two young people were part of the infamous case involving the 11 Clarksfield Township “caged kids” — a story first published by the Reflector on Sept. 12, 2005. It quickly became an international story.
On Sept. 9, 2005, local social worker Jo Johnson, Huron County Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Sommers, who is now retired, and other deputies used a search warrant at the rural Wakeman home of Sharen and Michael Gravelle. Authorities removed the couple's 11 adopted children from the home and placed them in foster homes based on allegations the Gravelles kept some of the children in cage-like structures built around some of the bunk beds.
Smith at the time helped young adults with special needs as a Comfort Keeper mentor. He said he went to Huron County Children Services and provided a “written accounting of what I witnessed.” Testimony in the case revealed that authorities took action three years later.
“He (Simon) wants to be a social worker, so that what happened to him doesn’t happen to other kids,” Smith said.
In mid-February 2007, the Gravelles were sentenced to two years in prison each for being convicted of child endangering. Huron County Common Pleas Judge Earl McGimpsey, who is now retired, ruled they would remain free on bond, pending appeals. The Gravelles were released from prison in 2011 and were 62 years old at the time.
Smith spent one day filming the “Dr. Phil” episode in February.
“They had me re-enact the entire day. … It was really intense,” said Smith, a 1970 Norwalk High School graduate.
A “Dr. Phil” producer had texted him to see if he was interested in being on the show. Smith said he figures the episode was done for ratings and admits he was apprehensive because he didn’t it to be a “Jerry Spring Show” type of situation.
“It was positive from the time I got off the plane,” added Smith, whose flight to California was paid.
Elaine Thompson, a social worker practicing as an attachment therapist, advised the Gravelles on parenting techniques. Thompson testified she had undertaken counseling or therapy, including holding therapy, with some of the Gravelle children. She was indicted along with the Gravelles, but through a plea bargain she pleaded guilty to three, second-degree misdemeanor counts of failure to report a crime.
Thompson was ordered to surrender her license to practice counseling as a social worker. Also as part of her five years of probation, she was fined $2,250 and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service.
In March 2010, a $1.2 million settlement was reached with Huron County on behalf of the 11 children. The settlement was between the county's insurance consortium, County Risk Sharing Authority (CORSA), and the children's attorneys, Jack Landskroner and Paul Grieco.
The children, their then-current foster and adoptive parents and guardians had to agree with a settlement, the county commissioners said in March 2010. The commissioners also said “CORSA took the lead” on the settlement to prevent “litigation down the road” and “provide for these young children and their future.”
Smith was asked how Abba and Simon are doing now.
“They are still traumatized by the whole situation — as am I. They are doing as well as they can be,” he said.
On the “Dr. Phil” episode, Smith was asked what he would do if he saw the rest of the children.
“I told them I’d give them the biggest hug in the world,” he said.