The story broke last week after police received an anonymous tip that Arkansas state representative Justin Harris and his wife Marsha—who run a pre-school together—had been cashing state adoption subsidies checks for children they weren't taking care of.
In 2013, the Harrises adopted the two young sisters, who—they were reportedly warned—grew up around meth addicts and endured significant emotional and sexual abuse. And less than a year later, the couple decided to to give the girls back, claiming they were just too emotionally damaged to keep.
At a press conference last week, Justin Harris said the adopted girls' behavioral problems caused him to fear for his biological children's safety:
One of his new daughters crushed a family pet to death, and his three biological sons started sleeping in their parents' bedroom because they were scared.
But when the politician approached state human services' officials, Justin Harris said the agency refused to help with the girls' problems and threatened to charge the Harrises with abandonment if the children were returned.
The Harrises ended up sending the two girls to live with with Eric and Stacey Francis, college friends of Harris's wife. But although Eric had no criminal record at the time, he would soon be convicted of sexually assaulting the elder sister, who was six at the time.
Harris has publicly blamed the DHS for the debacle, claiming they saddled him with emotionally disturbed, violent children and tacitly approved the re-homing. (DHS employees say the opposite, claiming Harris forced the adoption against their recommendation by wielding influence over the group's director, whose budget Is within his purview.)
But babysitters for the family say the girls [referred to by the pseudonyms "Mary" and "Annie"] weren't violent—the problem, they say, was Harris and his wife believed they were possessed by demons. According to the Arkansas Times:
Chelsey Goldsborough, who regularly babysat for the Harrises, said Mary was kept isolated from Annie and from the rest of the family. She was often confined for hours to her room, where she was monitored by a video camera. The reason: The Harrises believed the girls were possessed by demons and could communicate telepathically, Goldsborough said. Harris and his wife once hired specialists to perform an "exorcism" on the two sisters while she waited outside the house with the boys, she said.
Multiple sources who interacted with the family confirmed Goldsborough's account that the Harrises believed the children were possessed, and another source close to the family said that Marsha Harris spoke openly about the supposed demonic possession.
Goldsborough said the Harrises showed her "a picture of [Mary] where they're like, 'You can see the demon rising from her back,' and it just looked like a little 6-year-old to me." [Mary was 4 or 5.] The separate source close to the Harrises reported seeing a video that Marsha Harris said showed a demon interacting with one of the girls. The source said demons were an "obsession" with Marsha Harris.
The girls have since been adopted by a new family, who say the Harrises' allegations of violent behavior don't add up:
"We are aware of the very public conversation going on about events pertaining to our daughters," they tell the Arkansas Times. "We are deeply grieved over Justin Harris' accusations toward our daughters in order to self-protect; it is inexcusable. Like the Harts, we also have two small dogs and the girls have only been gentle towards them. These girls are happy, healthy children who have gone through things no child should ever have to endure. Since they have been home with us, they have adjusted beautifully and are thriving in our home with unconditional love and patience. We are truly amazed at our daughters' ability to love and bond with us, given all they have experienced. They are both extremely protective toward each other and love each other with all their hearts...We choose to forgive the Harrises and hope they will truly follow Christ in humility and repentance for the mistakes they made in our daughters' lives. Due to the sensitivity of our daughters' story, and out of respect for them, we are asking the public for privacy during this time."