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Empty nesters in California adopt seven siblings orphaned in fatal crash

Empty nesters adopt seven Lakeside siblings orphaned in fatal crash
Posted at 3:18 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 15:18:49-04

Three years after a crash orphaned seven children in Lakeside, California, the siblings have now found their forever home.

May 2018. Surveillance video shows all seven children running around a U-haul trailer playing hide and seek. This was the night before their parents would be killed and all of the kids would be seriously hurt in a rollover crash near El Centro, during a move from Lakeside to Texas.

After being released from hospitals, the siblings were placed in foster care.

Aleecia, who was six at the time, remembers the uncertainty.

“I was scared we were going to be separated,” said Aleecia.

In January 2019, Pam Willis, an attorney from Menifee, was scrolling through her Facebook feed, when she saw a story about the seven siblings in need of adoption.

“Really just pierced my heart … Instantly made me feel like I needed to be their mom,” said Pam Willis.

Willis tagged her husband Gary in the Facebook post.

The couple has five adult children and fostered children for several years, but the idea of adoption had never crossed their minds.

“He sort of had this thoughtful pause and he said, ‘We should adopt them.’ He shocked me actually because I was thinking I was the one who was going to have to convince him,” said Willis.

The couple applied and a few months later, they met the children. Overnight visits followed before the children were placed in the Willis home.

“There was a learning curve, a growth period, and a logistical — sort of — time to figure everything out,” said Willis.

Photos show time spent together as a family. At the same time, the children were dealing with emotional trauma, including their parents’ deaths and past homelessness.

“We had some really good conversations with the kids. They’ve been able to talk to therapists and just process in their own time and own way,” said Willis.

In 2020, Gary retired and became a full-time dad. The family also had hired a nanny.

Last spring, just four days before the adoption was scheduled to be finalized, the pandemic shut down the courts.

In August, the day finally arrived. In a Zoom ceremony, the seven siblings, ages 4 to 15, officially became part of the Willis family.

“They are our second chance seven because it’s our second chance at parenting and their second chance at life,” said Willis.

Willis is hopeful her family’s story will create awareness for others interested in adoption or fostering.

“It’s brought so much joy to our lives … Ask them questions and find out about it. See it’s right for you because if it is, you’d be blessing children. There are a lot of children in need of stability and security,” said Willis.

Michael Chen at KGTV first reported this story.