Rachel's Book: Fractured Hope: A Mother's Fight For Justice
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🎶 Podcast Intro: Welcome to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast, where we give you the encouragement you need to lean into the uncomfortable stuff life puts in front of you, so you can love your life. If you are ready to overcome all the yuck that keeps you up at night, you're in the right place. I am your host, Melissa Ebken let's get going. 🎶
🎶 Episode Intro: Hey friends. Welcome back to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast. This is Melissa and I am so grateful for each and every one of you for taking the time to listen to this podcast. I would love to hear your comments, your feedback, what you love, what you're meh, and what you want more of. Head over to melissaebken.com/blog and let me know. Also, if you want to see the video version of these podcasts, those are available on YouTube hop over to YouTube search, Melissa Ebken and it'll come up there. Or just click the link in the show notes. I hope you'll check it out except for the ones where I get really emotional. And that's one of those today. Today is a difficult story. Rachel Bruno is here to tell us about a horrifying experience of when the system that was designed to protect her children. Fell apart. Here's Rachel. 🎶
Melissa Ebken 0:00
Hello, Rachel and welcome to the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast. I couldn't be thrilled, more thrilled to introduce Rachel Bruno to everyone. So Rachel, how are you today?
Rachel Bruno 0:12
I'm good, Melissa, thank you for having me on.
Melissa Ebken 0:14
I'm so glad you're here. Well, sorta. I mean, I really wish you didn't have the story to tell. But since you do, I'm really grateful that you're sharing it with our audience today. But before we get into that, tell me what you're doing these days.
Rachel Bruno 0:32
Well, these days, I am now a published author, right? I just wrote my first book about the story.
Melissa Ebken 0:37
Rachel Bruno 0:38
Thank you. I have been, you know, speaking, public speaking, trying to educate parents, trying to expose the system but also trying to encourage the parents who are out there and may be going through this.
Melissa Ebken 0:51
Yeah. Well, let's just jump into it, shall we? Yeah. Can you tell us how that day started? Was it a day that started like any other day?
Rachel Bruno 1:02
Like any other day? Ya know? July 8, 2015. I had a seven week old baby and a 20 month old son. I have seizures. I have epilepsy. And one of the main triggers of my episodes are sleep deprivation or interrupted sleep.
Melissa Ebken 1:18
Oh, my goodness.
Rachel Bruno 1:19
So if you have a newborn baby, you're not sleeping. Yeah. So my doctors actually suggested that I find a nighttime nurse or a nanny to at least take care of the nighttime shift, so that I could get those eight hours of sleep with the baby. So I did. Ya know I did my research. And I had this woman watching my son when he was seven days old. And at this point, seven weeks old, I woke up to him screaming at about four o'clock in the morning. And I looked at the clock, you know, I figured diaper change, feeding something to that extent. He screamed, and then he stopped. And about 10 minutes went by, he started screaming again, then he stopped. Then it started again, then it stopped. So I'm like, okay, you know, I'm not gonna be able to go to sleep. So I went down the hallway. open, the door was already open, partially open. And she had him swaddled inside the crib, laying on his back, tummy side up, had her hand on his chest, and I was like wiggling him back and forth. You know, shhhh tried to get him to calm down and he was not having it. So she picked him up, put him on her shoulder, like in the burp position. And that made him stop screaming. But, he still looked really uncomfortable. So I just, you know, jumped into the room and I asked her if anything happened. And she showed me an empty bottle and she said, I just fed him. He's really gassy. I said, Okay, fair enough. Babies get gassy, newborn baby. By this time. 530 in the morning, I had my 20 month old sleeping directly across the hall. My husband was out of town on a business trip so I was home alone. And last thing I wanted was my 20 month old waking up at five o'clock in the morning, I have a screaming baby. So I told her you know, why don't you just go home and I'll take it from here. So I un-swaddled him, un-dressed him looked for any rashes, any signs of drippage, drainage, you know, whatever you can think of with a newborn baby. No signs at all. So I gave him skin to skin and he fell asleep on me. Like, okay, you just wanted your mommy. Yeah, so go back to my room. I doze off. Next thing I hear is screaming again. I look at the clock at seven o'clock in the morning. Okay, hungry, tried to nurse him he would not latch on whatsoever. Just kept throwing his head back and screaming. I'm like ya know, what is wrong with this kid? But I kind of jaded because she told me gassy, right? So I'm thinking colic, gas, nursing strike. That kid just didn't want it. Swaddled him, hold him. My 20 month old wakes up. So there I go. Tried to lay the baby down so that I can get the 20 month old as soon as I lay him down. He just starts screaming screaming his head off and I'm like oh my goodness, I pick him up. He's fine. Okay, he just want to be held? So I'm holding him trying to go on with my day. Six hours later, non stop crying ,would not eat would not nap. I'm like Dr. Google, you know helped me. What is going on. And I called my mom. I'm like, Mom, can you please come here stay with David, was my 20 month old son so I could take Lucas seven week old baby to the doctor. She comes over I hand the baby to her, call the pediatrician and the receptionist tells me that the doctor wouldn't be available till three o'clock that afternoon. He's been screaming since four o'clock this morning. He's not eating. He's not sleeping. I need to see somebody. Yeah, she says okay, then take him to the emergency room. So everybody hop in the car. And as soon as we start driving on the road, what do babies do? They fall asleep and everything was fine. Like great, overreacted mom going to the hospital. I get to the receptionist tell them all the symptoms they do take him to the back right away. Take all his vital signs. Everything seemed normal. Again, by this time he was sleeping, no crying, his eyes were closed. Nothing seemed wrong with him to me. Lay him down on the bed, and the doctor tells me to lay him down and walks away. And I think Okay, gonna tell me to give me Benadryl and go home, right? But he stops right at the doorway about 10 feet away. And he crosses his arms, and he is just laser focused on that bed and that baby, and everybody is quiet. Weird. Ya know, and I'm looking at my son, I'm not seeing anything. And then he walks towards the bed. And he goes straight to my son's head right behind his left ear. And he tells me did you feel this? I said, no. He grabs my two fingers, he makes me touch it and is like do you feel that bulge? I said, yeah. Said that's fluid that's leaking from his brain. And I'm like, Okay, what does that mean? Like, it could be spinal cerebral fluid. It can be blood. We used to go to CT scan right now to see what's going on. And as soon as he says that about 10 people rushed into that room. They start placing the probes on him on his head, they raise up the rails and they bolt down that hallway. And I'm holding him and as I'm holding him, his right arm starts twitching. And when that happens, those nurses really start running and I look up at her I'm like, is this normal? And she says, No. And then me having seizures and like, oh, left side of the brain, right arm twitching, having a seizure? First thing that comes to my mind is oh my god, I gave it to him. Right? It's hereditary genetic, say a little prayer right there said, Lord, please spare my son from having to live with this like I did. So I dropped him off. Doctors told me to wait in the waiting room. My mom is there. My 20 month old son is there. My husband is out of state on a business meeting, you know, I'm texting him, has no idea what's going on. And me and my mom are just in shock. Yeah. And doctors come out, like Ms. Bruno, this is very serious. Okay, take me to the backroom where all the monitors are. And they show me the images and they're like your son has a cranial fracture. And fluid that's leaking is blood. The brain hates blood. We need to go do emergency surgery right now. To see if we can fix the fracture drain the blood. Are you against blood transfusions? You know signing all the liabilities and like I don't care what you have to do to save my son, save my son. And off they go wheeling my seven week old baby into the operating room for brain surgery. Me and my mom just standing there. What just happened? I went from gassy baby to now my son is in some life threatening brain surgery. Again, texting, texting family in Brazil, all over the country. You know, everybody just pray. Lucas just went into the operating room. And it takes about four hours. The doctor comes back calls my name, says everything went well, clinically. As far as we were concerned, we were able to drain the blood, we're able to fix the fracture. Is he going to be okay? Is he going to be drained brain damaged. And the doctor tells me, we really don't know. Due to his young age. We don't even know whether he's going to survive the next 48 hours. We have him in a medically induced coma. He was highly anemic. When he went into surgery, he had to receive three bags of blood blood transfusion. And he was having 15 seizures an hour after the surgery. So we have him in a medically induced coma so that we can figure out the right cocktail to control the seizures. But meanwhile, he's stable. We're monitoring him. I can take you upstairs to the room. So again, you know it had been all morning just stuff being thrown at me and I'm just trying to process all this. I don't think I even was processing this. I was like on autopilot. Just
Melissa Ebken 8:44
Right? Get thrugh the second next second.
Rachel Bruno 8:46
Yep. I get to the bedroom and I see seemingly lifeless baby has gauze wrapped all around his head has drains and tubes coming out of every orifice you can imagine. Got the machines beeping. Its very cold. And I just hold that little hand and we're praying right there. God, I don't care if I have to dedicate the rest of my life to taking care of my son, I will, just don't take him away from me. And I felt Holy Spirit at that point say he's mine. I gave him to you. Nobody's gonna take him away from you. And I remember breathing a sigh of relief and saying, you're right, Lord, He is yours. Surrender my son's life. At that point consider there's no better place for him to be than in your hands. So the peace that surpasses all understanding fills my heart at that point. And I had to go into logistics mode. Like I'm obviously not leaving the hospital tonight. Still have to figure out how my husband is going to get home and know about this. My mom is there with my 20 month old son. Call my friend. Take them home, going to spend the night at Grandma's house and calling my husband next thing I know, hear the door sliding open and it's a man in a uniform and a lady with a clipboard. And they say Miss Brando, can we speak to you? I said, sure. That was weird. What's a police officer doing here? And first words that his mouth, what happened to your son was worse than getting struck in the head by a bullet. Okay? Will, you help us? We want to help you figure out how this happened to your son. So in my mind, you know, bullet to the head.
Melissa Ebken 10:28
Yeah, that sounds bad.
Rachel Bruno 10:29
Yeah, are you insinuating this woman tried to kill my son? And if you're here to help me, you obviously don't think I did anything? You know, they already knew per their own statements that he was with a nanny. So I figured, okay, yeah, I'll tell you everything I know about the nanny and what happened that night or the previous morning. So I start telling them the whole saga from four o'clock in the morning, police officer is just very laid back. Like leaning against the wall. Taking notes. Why didn't you call 911? Cuz I thought he was gassy. Yeah. Why did it take you so long to bring him to the hospital? Again, you know, he was crying. I thought he was gassy. Why did you bring him to hospital in Orange County when you live in LA County? This is the children's hospital that I know. He's jotting things. And then the social worker, do you have any other children? I do. What are their names? Their ages? I tell her? Is it okay, if we go see him. And by this time, it's around nine o'clock at night. I tell her yeah, he's probably asleep by now. So we're not gonna wake him. We just want to make sure he's okay. So again, me thinking I have nothing to hide. These people are here to help me. I call my mom right in front of her tell them that they're on their way. They want to see David. She leaves at that point. And the police officer stays with me and keeps asking me questions about my husband. Where is he? How long has he been gone? When is he coming? How long have you been married? I'm telling him everything. My husband arrives at the hospital. He takes him to one room and tells me to wait in another room for the detectives. So in hindsight, we can kind of see what's going on. But in that moment, I had absolutely no idea. I thought I was just cooperating.
Melissa Ebken 12:13
Well, and, oh, my goodness. Yeah, in just a 12 hour span, the amount of information that had been thrust upon you about your child is unimaginable.
Rachel Bruno 12:24
Yep. Yep. So complete overwhelm, right? System overload. That was going, and the detectives show up at about midnight. And they interview me till about two o'clock in the morning. So I had basically been up for 24 hours. Yeah, I tell them, you know, I really need to go get some sleep. I'm more than happy to continue this on. They were very nice gave me their business cards. And I went to bed at that point. And something had already happened, which my husband was aware of. But he didn't tell me. Just give me my meds, say go to bed. Go to bed, wake up at 10 o'clock in the morning. And he's just staring at me like this blank stare on his face. And my first instinct is to look at the baby like he's there. He's alive. What, what's going on what happened? And he tells me they took David. Like, what do you mean, they took David, who? The social worker. Like she liked to me. Like she said they weren't even going to wake him up. Like, that's not what happened. They showed up at your mom's house at two o'clock in the morning with three police cars. And they took David. So I call my mom. Like what happened? Says yeah, they came here, walked into the refrigerator, right? See if there was food there and walk through the house asked me where the baby was sleeping, I told her, she turns on the light, wakes him up, asked me to undress him to see if there's any bruises or scars or rashes or anything. And as we're doing that, you know, she seems to think everything is fine. But she's on her phone communicating with other people. I don't know who they were. And then she looks at me and says we're taking him. And my mom says no, you're not. And she says, well, if you don't give him to us, you're gonna get arrested. There are three police officers right there. Right? And my mom, I guess is expecting somebody to speak up or say something, and they don't. So my mom was like, Okay, if I go to jail, do I take him with me? And she's like, No, he's gonna go to foster care. And you're not going to be able to care for him because you're gonna have a criminal record. So two o'clock in the morning, my dad is calling lawyers, calling friends, seeing if anybody knows what the heck to do. At this point. My husband was at the hospital with me and he was actually on the phone with the social worker, with the police officers, telling them you do not have permission to do this. You cannot take away my kid. You can't do this. And they just basically said yes, we can. And they did. So there we are. 10 o'clock in the morning. We don't know where he is. Social Services is not answering their phone. The supervisors aren't answering their phone. My baby is still here in a coma. And you know, we're like what? What just happened? Yeah. So he keeps calling social services, I start to call lawyers. And I had to call about 10 different lawyers, until I finally found one who knew what the heck was going on. And he told me to come to his office that day, that afternoon. About noon, I go in there. I'm like, Okay, where's my son? And where do I go get him? And he tells me sit down. You have no idea what you're in for. What are you talking about? The can't just come in here. Take my kid. He's like, yeah they can. I'm you know, I still have like this nervous laugh. I'm giggling with him like, no they can't. I'm like, what happened to our Constitution. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? What about the nanny? Yeah. He says they may investigate, or they may not. This is family court. They don't follow constitutional law. Wow. And I'm like, what other law is there? Yeah. And he says they can do whatever they deem is in the best interest of the child. Like, how is it in the best interest of my child to pick him up at two o'clock in the morning and take him to god, ya know? So I started ranting, and he like, pounds his fist on the table. And he's like, listen to me, what happened to your son is criminal. You are facing 15 years in jail, and $100,000 bail, if they decide to charge you. They are not giving your kids back to you. And I'm like, I didn't do this. And he's like, I believe you. Doesn't matter. I'm like, what mean, doesn't matter. It's like if I go into that courtroom, and I tell the judge, to give the children back to you, social services is going to pull this up. And he pulls up the criminal investigation. And they're going to tell you that the judge, Your Honor, this woman is facing criminal investigation, you are placing the children at risk by giving the children back to her. And if the judge listens to that, they're gonna go to foster care. They are under two years old and nonverbal, they can be legally adopted by the foster family, if the case lasts longer than six months. And they will make it last longer than six months.
Melissa Ebken 17:04
Oh my gosh.
Rachel Bruno 17:05
And I'm like, Okay, I just went from jail. 15 years, $100,000 bail, adoption. I'm like, what country am I living in? And I'm like, so what are you telling me? What What are we supposed to do? You said your saving grace is that your husband was out of state when this happened. So legally speaking, he wasn't even at the crime scene. We're going to ask the judge to give sole custody to your husband. That way, they don't even risk going into foster care. But if the judge grants that, they're going to kick you out of the house. So what choice did I have? Go into that courtroom and fight for my non existent rights apparently, and risk my children being adopted to strangers? Or having them be with their father? Yeah, so we went with that strategy. And three days later, is when we have the 72 hour hearing, they call it the emergency hearing. And I'm thinking I'm going to be on there at least like Judge Judy, right. Judge here, you talk, you talk, you talk, what's going on? And I get there. The Nanny isn't there. The social worker isn't there. The police officer isn't there. The detectives aren't there. The only person on trial is me. And I'm like, okay, I'm waiting for the judge to call my name and ask me what happened. Next time. I hear my name Miss Bruno. Any objections?
Melissa Ebken 18:24
To my what?
Rachel Bruno 18:26
Yeah. Then my attorney to the children being placed with their father? I said no. And asked my husband. Any objections? No. Okay, children will be placed with their father. Miss Brando, you have 24 hours to vacate your home. You are a court ordered to take child abuse classes, parenting classes, individual counseling, and a caseworker will be contacting you regarding visitation. Court is adjourned.
Melissa Ebken 18:49
That was it.
Rachel Bruno 18:51
So within 15 minutes, you know, they took everything away from me. Without any due process, right? There was never like an actual case presented. There was never proof given there was never an investigation of the nanny. There was nothing. Wow. So I'm like, you know, leave that courtroom crying with my mom. I'm there in the hallway. And my attorney was like, I told you, this is going to happen. Yeah. What's happening? And I'm like, What am I supposed to do now? Where am I supposed to go? Okay, can't go home. I'm an only child. My whole family is in Brazil. Where am I supposed to live? Well, as long as your son is in the hospital, you can sleep there. They can't kick you out. Okay, so go to my house, clean out everything, you know, donate half my wardrobe. Everything else my look, my neighbor, my next door neighbor was gracious enough to let me keep everything in his house. And I sleep at the hospital and my mom, you know, everybody's in shock. My mom goes to church asks the pastor to come pray. He was out of the country at the time, but his wife came to the hospital. And she prayed for my son. And then she looked at me and she said I've been praying and God told me you're coming home with me. So, you know, I've been going to this church for about six years. But Hi/bye relationship. Wasn't really intimate with either one of them. So she basically invited a stranger to go live with her. And, you know, I couldn't have asked for a better friend at that point. Prayed with me. Cried with me. Laughed with me, you know, did everything that I needed that support at the time. So I was given seven hours of monitored visitation with both my sons. I started attending those child abuse classes and the parenting classes and I thought, you know, what the heck am I going to do in the child abuse class? Probably going to be in here with a bunch of alcoholics, drugs, drunk, tattooed pierced up people. Yeah. And when I get there, everybody is in the same boat that I was. What? Yes. So there was about 30 of us in there. And I mean, they black, white, old, young, rich, poor, you name it. Wow. Different walks of life in there. And they could complete my sentences, right? I was the newbie of the group. And everybody starts off the group by telling what happened. And they're like, Oh, Dr. Wong. Oh, your caseworker is so and so. Oh, your judge is so and so? Oh, the diagnosis non accidental blunt force trauma?
Melissa Ebken 21:14
Rachel Bruno 21:17
Like, how do you know this? And even the facilitators? They're like, yeah, they do this all the time. Like, why? And, you know, they kind of roll their eyes, they sigh? Yeah, there's a lot of different variables. You know, and I, I, you know, it's you can't understand it. Like, it's unbelievable. And there's this old saying, when things don't make sense, follow the money. Right. So going back a little bit when they took my son, and we didn't know where he was, they had taken him to the county Children's Shelter. And that's where he was, and they released him to my mom 48 hours later, before we had the 72 hour hearing. And when they released him to my mom, you know, they went to her house did the walkthrough. They asked her if she would adopt both my sons. Before I even had a hearing. Wow. And my mom was like, no, like, give them back to their mom, whom they belong. Right? And the social worker tells my mom, well, we don't know what the judge is going to order. So if the judge orders the removal of the children, will you adopt them? Mom says what happens if I don't? They're gonna go to foster care. So my mom signs, the adoption papers, and the social worker hands her two checks for $680 each. Like you'll be receiving $680 a month per child, they will qualify for Medicaid, they will receive food stamps, they will receive this they will get that, all the social welfare stuff that we have in California. And my mom tells her I don't want your money. Yeah, This is how we help the families. And my mom's like, can I save that for the lawyers? So you know, now I'm in the child abuse class a few weeks later, and I'm seeing like children's just getting taken away. We have disgruntled exes, we have playground accidents, we have bathtubs, slipping accidents, we have a lot of different things. And there's so much money involved in this system, so much money that were they were offering my mom $680 a month, the state gets anywhere between $2000 to $8,000 a month, per child per month. From whom? From the federal government. And it was actually a law called the Adoptions and Safe Families Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1997. Which, I don't know if you remember back then the buzzwords "Forever Family", you know, "It takes a village." And you know, too many children in foster care without having stability or regular homes. So their solution was, let's incentivize the states to speed up the adoption process that makes children can find a stable home. The one question that never seems to be asked is should these children have been removed to begin to begin with? Right? So once that started all the states, all they saw were dollar signs, right? Every child means they have a bounty on their head. And in my case, where my lawyer told me, they're under two years old and nonverbal, they can't defend themselves. Right? They can't speak to what happened. And how many people out there would love to adopt a baby? Right, a newborn baby. And I can only imagine what a potential what a caseworker would tell a potential foster family about why you do this. Yeah. Right. Like, can you please help this child that was brutally critically injured in the care of his mom with a cranial fracture? Well, yeah, and his baby brother, right. 20 months old, will you please help these children? And of course any sane person would absolutely right. Keep this witch away from them. Yeah. So you know, started seeing that. What happens behind the curtain, people really don't know what happens behind the curtain. And that there is no due process .You are guilty until proven innocent in this system. And one day, you know, as I'm going through this, somebody really close to me called me and said, Rachel, one word keeps coming to my mind. I've been praying and one word keeps coming to my mind. And it's repent. And I'm like, Okay, kind of felt like Job at that moment?
Melissa Ebken 25:32
Yeah, for sure.
Rachel Bruno 25:34
But, you know, God knows their heart. God knows my heart. I took it in prayer later that night. Okay, God who sinned, and again, Holy Spirit just says nothing. My daughter, this is just the broken world that we live in. What you're witnessing right now is the destruction of the family, which is what Satan has been trying to do from the moment I created it. That's right, Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve, yeah. But ya know fear not, I've already taken care of your children, it's going to be for a short period of time, be still know that I'm God. I will use your family. I will use your story. Everything you are going through is not going to be in vain. So right from like, Why me? And why is this happening? And this is so unfair, and you know, all those thoughts to, you know, why not me? Where, you know, Jesus went through everything in this world. Suffered injustice and everything. And I have the hope, you know, that I know Jesus, I have this relationship with God. I have an amazing community around me. My family never once doubted my character. I have the resources, I had the finances, I had the education. What about all these other people who are in the child abuse class with me that either have nothing, right, or have bits and pieces and don't know how to put it together? Right. And I just shifted my prayer life, my focus from me to these families, you know, and God gave me just a calling a love for these families. And we became, you know, a very dystopian support group. Good friends through this. So it was 40 days and 40 nights that I had been kicked out of my house.
Melissa Ebken 27:22
I think I've read those numbers somewhere before.
Rachel Bruno 27:25
Yep. I had a hearing. And my attorney tells me, the case is still open, the status hasn't changed. The criminal investigation is still open. So nothing's going to happen today. Don't waste your time. I won't waste mine. I tell my husband, I don't care what he says we're going. Yeah, for sure. We go to the court house, I sit there in the hallway for about two hours. My attorney calls me where are you? I'm at the courthouse. Okay, on my way, might be able to do something. Hangs up on me. Okay, okay. I start texting everybody again. Everybody start praying. Now, at this point, I mean, you know, I'm from Brazil. My dad was a pastor in Brazil. My grandpa was a pastor in Brazil. So they knew me, they knew my family. And the very first day that Lucas went into that hospital into the operating room, I had a pastor in Brazil, who has a congregation of about 5,000 people all stand up. Like everybody stand up, raise your hands to the north. And we are going to lift up this family and we're going to spend the next 40 days fasting. So with the 40th day, I'm telling them like, here we are. So start praying, I don't know what's gonna happen. something's gonna happen. Yeah, so my attorney comes down the hallway, I go hug him. He pushes me away. He's like, I can't make any promises, don't hug me yet. Goes in the court room. Comes back out. Initial this, sign this, like I don't even know what I'm signing, what I'm initialing. I'm just trusting God and my attorney at that point. Three hours go by. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, comes out with a stack of papers about 700 pages. And he says, Okay, here's the deal. If you're willing to sign this document today, the way it is written. There's nothing in here admitting guilt. There's nothing in here is saying that you did this. The social workers narrative, the police investigation, the medical records, the services you've taken, they will let you go home today. At that point, if they told me to chop off my leg, I would have done it.
Melissa Ebken 29:25
Right. Still, that's a lot of trust.
Rachel Bruno 29:27
Yeah, I mean, but I'm like, Okay, let's do it. And he looked at me. He's like I've been doing this for 23 years. And I have never seen them let anybody go home before trial. You definitely have a higher power working for you. Wow. Yes, I do. So I go home that day, you know, try to get everything back to normal. Our case remained open for six months, where they put us on what they call the family maintenance plan and a social worker comes to your house every month. And at the end of the six months. It was her recommendation that the case be closed. The Criminal Investigation didn't close till about a year later. And it's thrown out for lack of evidence. But, you know, everything was done. I could have just closed that chapter in my life and moved on. But I had a fire up my butt. Yeah. Like witnessing everything that I had and the injustice that I had, and that I was still in touch with those people in the child abuse class.
Melissa Ebken 30:23
Right. This is still something that's happening. Yeah, you're role in it's finished. But it's still happening.
Rachel Bruno 30:29
It's still happening. And out of the 30 people in that child abuse class three of us got our kids back.
Melissa Ebken 30:35
Rachel Bruno 30:38
And one of the women that is still my friend to this day, she had the same attorney, I did the same judge, I did the same caseworker I did the same hospital that I went to, and she had her parental rights terminated. And all four of her children were taken. Her husband's two children were taken because he wouldn't divorce her. Oh, my goodness. And you know, I'm just like, this is crazy. And ya know people, it's unbelievable, like, people have no idea what is happening.
Melissa Ebken 31:06
Yeah, if I put them in a book, I'd have thought, wow, somebody's taking a lot of liberties here for a story.
Rachel Bruno 31:13
Right? Exactly. Or are people thinking, oh, she must have done something wrong, like something that she's not telling you or that she's hiding or something, right? And I'm like, I was there. Like, there's nothing. She was in the child abuse class with me. She finished it. And they said that it wasn't enough. Like she didn't complete the services when she did. Oh, my goodness. So because there is no due process, right? There is no accountability, whatever the social worker writes in that report, is the only thing that the Judge reads. Wow. So it's written in stone, right. And if you want to appeal it, if you want to do it, then it's a whole other process. And meanwhile, while you're trying to fight for this, they're already trying to adopt your children out.
Melissa Ebken 31:53
Sure. Yeah. Because there's money to be made.
Rachel Bruno 31:56
Yeah. So I call the civil rights attorney at this point. Ya know, my previous attorney had told me because I had asked him, I'm like, can't we get these people? Like, isn't there something we can do? And he would tell me, Shh, don't you dare talk about this right now?
Melissa Ebken 32:12
Right, get this finalized.
Rachel Bruno 32:14
You have no idea how vengeful these people are? And if they know that you're plotting something. You don't talk to anybody? Okay. Okay. So it's finally finalized. I got a civil rights attorney.
Melissa Ebken 32:27
Okay. And again, where are we living?
Rachel Bruno 32:30
Its like, gustapo, right?
Melissa Ebken 32:35
Oh, my gosh.
Rachel Bruno 32:37
So the civil rights attorney told me I do have a case. We filed the petition. And it was based on the Fourth Amendment and 14th amendment violations, which is the illegal search and seizure. We found out they never had a warrant to remove either one of our children. And the 14th Amendment, which is the right to privacy, that a family has a right to raise their family as they see fit with minimal government interference. So we were able to get all the discovery documents, the juvenile records, which usually remain sealed until the children are 18. So even as a parent, I would not have access to those files until they're 18. Oh, wow. Yeah. Unless I have some kind of motion or some kind of good reason what the court deems a good reason that I need to have access to these files. So we were suing. We got the files. And that was a whole other level of like, wow. Reading what the social workers had written, you know, the police investigation or lack thereof. Yeah, what they had done to my son, when they took him from my mom's house and to the Children's Shelter. They gave my son 13 vaccinations without our consent, without a warrant without a court order. They forced him through a full skeletal survey, which is basically a picture of every image.
Melissa Ebken 33:51
Yeah, that's a lot of radiation.
Rachel Bruno 33:55
They gave him an anal wink test, which is for allegations of sexual abuse, when there weren't even any suspicions of sexual abuse. And I'm like, Oh, my God, my poor child. And he, he bore the brunt of this, as far as trauma is concerned. Ya know, even after I was allowed to go back home, I mean, he rejected me for probably about a year. Yeah. And he was pinching himself, he would bite himself. And he, I don't want your mommy, I don't want you. Like every time we would visit my mom's house and have to leave. It's like it brought back everything for him of you know, being dragged out of my mom's house. Sure. And we could not get him in the car seat me and my mom would have to go in there would have to strap them in there would have to sit with him in the car for like 20 minutes and tell him it's okay. Oh my gosh. So I remember one day in particular, I was giving him a bath. And he just he was like hitting me, like I don't want you, pushing me away. And I went to the bathroom and I just started crying. Oh my God, I can't do this. Right. I know. He's the victim. I know it's trauma. I know. I know. But words hurt. Yeah. And I, I'm the victim too, right. I didn't ask for this. I was I was thrust into this by no fault of my own. I'm building a wall against my three year old son. Like, what do I do? And the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit again, go talk to him I said, he's three years old. He's not going to know what I'm talking about. Like, yeah, he will go talk to him. So I got him out of bathtub, dried him off, get him ready for his nap, and sat him on my lap. Said do you remember when your aunties had to come take care of you? First words out of his mouth is why did you leave? I said okay, so he does remember. I got my phone. I got the pictures of his brother. I said, this is what happened to your brother. And they thought that Mommy did this to him. You never hurt us, mommy. I'm like, I know, I know, but they thought that if Mommy did this to him, that I was going to do it to you. Then he's like, police officers are bad. Doctors are bad. Like they're not bad. You know, we just got some really, some made really bad choices. They're not all bad. We had some that made really bad choices. They gotta go to jail? Like, I don't know. I don't know. But we have to forgive them. And forgive the nanny. We have to forgive the police officers. We have to forgive the doctors; everything that they did. Because God forgave us first. Right? So will you forgive them? Kind of nodded his head. I prayed with him. Like, so we forgive them. But we're not going to let them get away with it. We're gonna fight. You're gonna hit them Mommy? I'm like, yeah. I'm gonna hit them with a pile of papers. And I said, you know, we're going to take them to court, we're going to take them to the judge, and the judge is going to decide. But regardless of what this judge decides, God is the final judge. One day, they're going to have to look at God, and God is going to judge them. And from that moment on, it was a complete 180 with my son. Like he just needed to know, you know, that he wasn't abandoned. Wow. He needed some closure. And even knowing that the justice right that we were fighting for justice, and that, you know, God was on our side, and the strength, the courage, the faith, everything. You know, I think in that little conversation, he was able to pick up on a lot of different lessons.
Melissa Ebken 37:30
Rachel Bruno 37:31
Yeah. So when we filed the petition, I showed it to him, like, here it is, I signed it in front of him, he put it in the envelope, we prayed over the envelope, we sent it to the mail. And the process started. We have 28 hours of depositions of the social workers, detectives, the police officers, and a lot of damning evidence, you know, we got text messages between the social workers and law enforcement, before they even got to the hospital, and a social worker, a text message to her supervisor saying I'm on my way to the hospital, infant with a cranial fracture, has a 20 month old sibling, was with a nanny per mom. And then the supervisor replies back, OMG, you think it was the nanny? And the social worker replies back? No think mom. Before they ever talked to me. Wow. And the law and the detectives are the ones who told the social worker to seize David, my other son without a warrant knowing they didn't have a warrant. And their legal loophole is called exigent circumstances, which is like a life or death situation, right? The child must be removed. There was no time to get a warrant. No, there was no safe place for the child mean all of which is not true. Right. I left him with my mom, where he was perfectly fine.
Melissa Ebken 38:48
Where he was sound asleep and unharmed.
Rachel Bruno 38:50
Or even with my husband, who was out of state, they knew he was out of state. He wasn't even at the home. He wasn't charged with anything. He was not a possible perpetrator. He was nothing. Right? So throughout this whole process, they knew that they were in bad.
Melissa Ebken 39:04
Rachel Bruno 39:05
Poopoo. And they decided to settle. Ya know, they wanted the mediation. And we settled in December of 2018 for $1.49 million. So it was, ya know, no amount of money is ever going to repay us for what they put us through. But it did give us the opportunity, clean slate, which is what my husband and I wanted when we started this. We we had over $250,000 in debt at this point.
Melissa Ebken 39:31
Well, of course, we lost ou,r lawyer bills, things you wouldn't think about that would come up in that situation.
Rachel Bruno 39:39
Yeah. So we were able to pay off our bills, pay our back taxes, you know, all this stuff. And just start again, you know, and even at the settlement. I'm like with my attorney and like I don't care if I win $1 at trial. I want these stupid people held accountable. Right. I want a judge to look at these people. I want a jury to look at these people. And my attorney said, I understand, right? And I'm not saying you don't have merit, you do, I'm not saying you're going to lose, you probably will win. Question is, how much? And even if you do win, they're going to appeal it. So we're back to square one. And you're going to be in this for another five years. So think about the emotional toll, think about the financial toll, all of it that's going to be taken on your family. And it might not even be worth it at the end, right, as far as the money is concerned. So my advice to you is to take this money and run and, you know, close this and start something now. So I did. And here we are.
Melissa Ebken 40:38
So the federal laws are still on the books, though.
Rachel Bruno 40:42
The federal laws yeah, in a civil suit. Yeah, this was a civil case. So totally separate from Family Court.
Melissa Ebken 40:48
So all of this could still be going on and could still be happening. And it probably is happening in a lot of places.
Rachel Bruno 40:55
Yeah. And again, like I had the money to get a civil rights attorney and to spend three years fighting for this. Right? Most families don't. And you are out of luck.
Melissa Ebken 41:08
So what's next in your journey?
Rachel Bruno 41:11
So I would love to start
Melissa Ebken 41:12
Wait. Before we go there, I just want to highlight something. I love that in your conversation with your then three year old son, David, that you brought up forgiveness, and the importance of how that is where the healing is. I love that.
Rachel Bruno 41:31
Yeah, totally. I mean, then I had to do it. I think I like that first night I had to at the hospital. Right? Like, if I want to have communion with God, I can't have bitterness in my heart towards this person.
Melissa Ebken 41:45
I mean, Rachel, you're gonna get me on a whole 20 minute jag if, you know, because forgiveness is such a powerful part of life and holding on to all of that stuff. So but I just wanted to mention that and to highlight that, and you're getting ready to tell us, you know, what's next in your journey?
Rachel Bruno 42:05
Yeah, I would love to start some sort of nonprofit for these families. You know, I would like what I call a one stop shop, where people can get the legal advice that they need, legal aid that they need, where they can get the services that they're required to take, like the child abuse classes, the parenting classes, the individual counseling, all that stuff, within a safe community, because it's scary, you don't know who to trust into the system, you know, you've been backstabbed so many times, you really don't know who's telling you the truth. Right. So have something like that. And also some sort of housing facility, even if it's just like five bedrooms, because I think one of the most painful things I ever witnessed was having a newborn baby taken from the delivery room. And given up for adoption, without the mother like even having to hold the baby. Oh, my goodness. And the baby was born perfectly healthy, right? It wasn't addicted to drugs, the mother wasn't on drugs, it was simply because she had a case opened. Oh, my goodness. regarding the other children, that they took this one away as well. And they get though, one of the reasons they said is that she didn't have a place to live. And she didn't have employment, because the system drained her dry because she was fighting for her other children. Because if she would at least have a place to live, where it was a monitored facility, you know, like my attorney told me at the hospital, they wouldn't have been able to take the child away. So I would love to have something like that. So but how to start that? I mean, it's very complicated. The legal part is very complicated. And even if you have the best attorneys, even if you have all the money in the world, your outcome is still not guaranteed. Which is terrifying, right, that you do everything they tell you to do and still not get your children back. So, my case, you know, I have no other explanation than God. Yeah, because I'm no better than any of those parents that were in that child abuse class with me.
Melissa Ebken 44:06
And my prayer is that God continues to work through you and to use you to reverse all of this that's going on, that's just well, evil. It is. Yeah. And tell us about your book.
Rachel Bruno 44:21
Yeah, my book is called Fractured Hope, A Mother's Fight For Justice. And it's about the faith journey. You know, I've been a Christian my whole life. I grew up in a Christian household, my dad, Pastor, my grandpa pastor, and your whole life, go to Sunday school you go to church, you know all the Bible verses right? My grace is enough. I will never leave you or forsake you, draw near to me I draw near to you, peace that surpasses understanding, you know, all this stuff. And as you're growing up, you know, it goes in one ear out the other, because it's just so common to you until you hit that wall. You hit that bottom and you're like, oh my god, I really have no one but God. Literally, they kicked me out of house. I didn't have my house, I didn't have my children. I didn't have my husband. They completely isolated me from everything I knew. And I had no other choice, but to cling to God. And
Melissa Ebken 45:11
The link to buy this book is going to be in the show notes. But can you tell us where it is?
Rachel Bruno 45:16
Yeah, you can get it on Amazon, right? You can get it. If you go to my personal website, www.Rachaelbruno.com. There's a link there for you to purchase the book. You can get it at Barnes and Noble online, anywhere books are sold, basically.
Melissa Ebken 45:30
Folks buy this book.
Rachel Bruno 45:33
Yeah, you will get a lot more detail, The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Melissa Ebken 45:40
And hopefully, by supporting you in this work and buying the book that may be this will be a part of helping you to create this nonprofit to help others in those situations. So buy the book, buy a few copies of this book and share it with people. Let's rally behind Rachel in the work she's doing on behalf of others.
Rachel Bruno 46:01
Yes, thank you so much.
Melissa Ebken 46:04
Rachel, I want to give you the last word. What do you want to leave us with today?
Rachel Bruno 46:09
The last word, like I said I wouldn't have been able to go through this had I not known Jesus. Had I not had a relationship with God. And there was actually a song in the car every day when I would go to the hospital to see my son. There was a song playing on my iPod. Like is this thing broken on repeat? It wasn't? So I'm like, Okay, fine. I'll listen. And the song was called All I Once Held Dear. It says all I once held dear, built my life upon all this world reveres and wars to own all I once thought gain I now count as loss compared to this, knowing you Jesus knowing you, there is no greater thing. You're my all. You're the best. You're my joy, my righteousness. And I love you, Lord. When I heard that song, I'm like, Oh, my God. This is it. Ya know, this is what I'm supposed to be learning through this. This is what I'm supposed to be living. You know, and who am I in this world to know God, and that he knows me and that He died for me. And you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
Melissa Ebken 47:19
Thank you for sharing your story.
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Hi, my name is Melissa Ebken, and I'm so thankful that you found your way here.
I support people who are ready to lean into and overcome difficult challenges, situations, and experiences in their lives. I have been a pastor for 20+ years and have helped, guided, and supported many as they have grown through life's ups and downs.
I started the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast to share the stories of people who have faced life's most difficult challenges, to inspire you to lean into and overcome your own. It's helpful to know that you're not alone in your struggles and to see how others have navigated similar circumstances.
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