Friends of murdered mom adopting her kids 10 years later

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Ten years after a woman was killed by her estranged husband in her Loudoun County home, two of the victim’s closest friends, who took in her five children, were finally able to start adoption proceedings.

Michelle Castillo was in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle with IT executive Braulio Castillo when she was found dead March 20, 2014. Her husband was convicted in her death and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2010, Michelle Castillo signed a legal document naming David and Stephanie Meeker guardians of her children should something happen.

“We promised that we would take care of the kids, and so in the beginning, not knowing what we didn’t know, we just took the kids and loved them anyway and felt like this was the right thing to do,” Stephanie Meeker said. “We’re just going to let them stay here and figure it out.”

It was just the beginning of a legal odyssey as they began to raise the kids as their own within the foster care system. The oldest Castillo child was in college; the others ranged in age from 3 to 11.

Adoption was always the goal. 

“We didn’t say yes with an asterisk,” David Meeker said. “It was just yes, that we would care for them and raise them.” 

But adoption had to be put on hold until the criminal case was fully resolved. Braulio Castillo took his appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. His parental rights were terminated.

The children already made changes to acknowledge their new family. 

“One of the children came home and said, ‘I want to be a Meeker,’ and we were like, well, I guess that does make sense if they are going to be raised in our home,” Stephanie Meeker said.

With legal hurdles seemingly clear, they had adoption papers drawn up. 

“We signed some papers and had what we called a ‘gotcha day’ only to find out that that’s not going to happen, and the not gonna happen part, really, was something that existed inside of Virginia law,” David Meeker said.

 The children were crushed to learn there was one more obstacle, Stephanie Meeker said. 

“So, there was such defeat and discouragement and anger that night,” she said. “Lot of tears. Lot of tears at the table.”

Virginia law said if the kids were adopted, they’d lose any rights to an award that could come from a wrongful death lawsuit, which is pending in Loudoun County Circuit Court. 

David Meeker didn’t give up. He sent a strongly worded email to his local delegate and state senator.

“Michelle Castillo was murdered in March 2014, and four of her children are still in the Loudoun foster system,” he said.

“That got their attention,” he added. 

 Del. David Reid, a foster child himself, started work right away with advice from lawyers crafting a bill allowing children adopted after a wrongful death to remain as beneficiaries.

In late January, the proposed bill was presented to a subcommittee, then to the full House and Senate. It won unanimous approval, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin quickly signed it. 

“This is how the system is supposed to work, and that’s something I’m so very proud,” Reid said.

Now, the Meekers are able to move ahead, getting adoption papers prepared while waiting for the new law to take effect in July.

“Our kids also now know that what they went through wasn’t for nothing,” Stephanie Meeker said. We’ve been able to make a difference for other people, too.” 

“We’re very much hoping this summer we’re going to have a handful of adoptions that are finalized and completed, and we’re not going to look back,” David Meeker said. 

The oldest Castillo child is married, now. The other four will be eligible for adoption thanks to the new law.

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