Tobias Mann – Winona Daily News
May 12, 2019
Nearly two years after being adopted by a local police officer, the 17-year-old St. Charles High School senior and Above and Beyond recipient knows what it means to be loved again.
Sadly this wasn’t always the case. For the first 15-years of her life, Mya knew only pain, fear and abuse.
Her early childhood is a patchwork of memories, some good and others that keep her up at night.
Born to a heroin-addled mother and an absentee father, Mya’s earliest memories are of life with her grandparents, who raised her until her grandmother passed away.
While she was just 2 years old at the time, the day her grandmother passed away is seared into her memory.
“I remember looking out the window seeing the cops,” she said. “I knew that there wasn’t anyone who could take care of and my brother.”
From here things only got worse. She and her brother went to live with their mother, who was still struggling with drug addiction.
“My mom was never home. If she was, she was sleeping,” Mya said, recalling once finding her mother unconscious on the bathroom floor.
“I was shaking her trying to wake her up,” Mya said. “She’d overdosed on heroin.”
Then there were the men Mya’s mother bought her heroin from. The men that her mother would sometimes let them molest her as payment.
“They would sexually assault me,” Mya said, her voice pained.
Mya says she doesn’t remember much from this time of her life, but she’s still haunted by flashbacks.
In moments of stress, she often finds herself reliving these moments in her head like a movie she can’t turn off.
“There are some nights that you think of everything that has happened and you feel every emotion and the trauma,” she said.
It wasn’t long after moving in with her mother that she first became acquainted with child protective services and life in the foster system.
Mya — then just 3 years old — had run away. Police found her playing in the park naked and alone.
“My mom didn’t even know I was gone,” she said.
Her mother was given a choice, the drugs or her children. Unfortunately, addiction won that battle and Mya and her three siblings spent the next year in foster care.
After a year, they were taken in by their aunt and uncle and eventually adopted by them in 2009.
“They were good and nice and seemed like loving, caring parents,” Mya said.
And for a while, things were better, but all that changed when her uncle passed away in 2010.
“It took a pretty big toll on my brother and I,” Mya said. “He was the first father figure that I had in life.”
Mya recalled how her uncle would take them for rides in his truck and how he taught her to mow the lawn and cook dinner.
“I remember coming to school the day he passed away. I was walking with my head down because I had been crying. My teacher patted my back and said everything was going to be okay,” she said.
But everything wasn’t okay.
Burdened with raising four children, Mya’s aunt began a pattern of physical and emotional abuse that would last for years.
“It was really bad,” Mya said recalling the bruises left by belts, wooden spoons and flashlights at her aunt’s hand.
To this day, fast movements still bother the teen.
“I don’t like when people make fast movements because I think they are going to hit me,” she said.
This pattern of abuse eventually landed Mya in a group home and her siblings back in foster care after her brother’s bruised head and black eye drew the attention of school officials.
Mya remembers getting called down to the office scared that if she said anything about the abuse she and her siblings were experiencing they might be separated.
“I told them I didn’t know why he had the bruise,” she said. “I didn’t want him to be taken away. I didn’t want us to not be together.”
Mya’s fears were realized when upon returning home to find police questioning her aunt.
It was at this point in Mya’s life, she first met Allison Jones. The St. Charles police officer had been tasked with driving Mya to the group home in Hayward.
On the long ride to the group home, the two listened to country music, talked about horses and Allison even promised to come to visit Mya since her aunt wasn’t allowed to see her under court order.
“She was really really nice,” Mya said. “It was almost like it was meant to be.”
And true to her word, a few weeks into Mya’s stay at the group home, Allison arrived with a coloring book in hand. The two talked a lot during the three or four months Mya stayed in the group home.
While Mya didn’t know it yet, meeting Allison would change her life forever.
Allison said she’ll never forget how persistent Mya was.
“I’ve never had a more persistent person call me,” she said adding that Mya would call her three, sometimes four, times a day just to talk.
“Mya latched on to me hard,” she said. “It tugged at my heartstrings reading about the physical and emotional abuse they went through.”
As their relationship grew, Allison got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters so that she could be more involved in Mya’s life.
In the years that followed, Mya would spend a lot of time bouncing back and forth between the group home, family and friends.
Mya started staying with Allison more and more frequently, eventually moving in with her.
After a long custody battle, Mya — who was again staying in the group home while the court made its decision — got a phone call she wasn’t expecting. The judge had granted Allison custody.
Mya recalled packing all her belongings into two big black garbage bags and calling Allison to pick her up.
“It was probably one of the saddest things I’d ever seen,” Allison said. “That was all she had.”
Two years later, the teen is still adjusting to her new life.
“It was hard,” Mya said. “I would shut down if I was in trouble. I would shut down if something happened. … I didn’t know how to handle my emotions.”
In other ways, things got a lot easier for Mya, who was used to long-hours cleaning her aunt’s house and caring for her siblings. In her new home, she didn’t have to worry about doing the dishes or cleaning the house.
On Oct. 8, 2018, Mya got a surprise during what she thought was a normal court date. That’s when Allison announced she had formally adopted the teen.
“You never have to worry about being taken away again,” she recalled telling Mya.
With this chapter of her life about to close, Mya says she plans to attend school in Rochester Community and Technical College for nursing this fall.