LOUISBURG — Allison Quets' fight to regain custody of her twins has put her behind bars. But sympathy for her situation follows her on the Internet, in letters and into the visiting area at the Franklin County jail.
Last Sunday, Lorraine Buccellato, 55, a Cary nurse, leaned into the glass window dividing her from Quets in the jail's visitation area.
"You don't know how strong you are," Buccellato said. "I couldn't do what you're doing."
"I don't feel very strong," Quets responded.
For much of the next hour, Buccellato offered encouragement to Quets, who is far from her Orlando, Fla., home and familiar faces. But Buccellato and others are trying to fill that void by sending letters, a Valentine's Day card, a Bible, money to buy peanut butter in the commissary. A few, like Buccellato, visit regularly.
"My heart goes out to this girl," Buccellato said. "This girl is needing support and encouragement. She's not from here. Who does she know?"
In December, Quets, 49, was arrested in Ottawa after taking the twins, whose custody she had been fighting to regain. She took the children, now 20 months old, to Canada without the adoptive parents' permission and now faces federal charges of international parental kidnapping.
Kevin and Denise Needham of Apex have custody of the twins, Tyler and Holly Quets. A Florida court upheld the adoption, but Quets is appealing. Until her arrest, she had weekend visitation rights pending the outcome of her appeal.
Care was a struggle
Quets, a former Lockheed Martin engineer, gave birth to the twins at the age of 47 after getting pregnant through in-vitro fertilization. Her friends say she was extremely ill during her pregnancy.
In her weakened state, her friends say, John Gurley, a friend and former boyfriend, was her primary caretaker. They say that Gurley, a cousin of Kevin Needham's mother, persuaded Quets to let the Needhams adopt the twins. After struggling to care for the babies for about five weeks, Quets agreed. But she soon changed her mind and has been fighting in court ever since.
Patrick J. Kilbane Jr., the Needhams' attorney in the Florida adoption case, noted that a judge found in favor of the couple. Kilbane said he could not comment on specifics of the case because Florida law seals adoption proceedings.
Federal prosecutors have depicted Quets as a woman obsessed with regaining custody of her twins who took the law into her own hands by fleeing to Canada. They say she is too much of a flight risk and a danger to those children to be released from jail.
Strangers step up
Quets attracts support wherever she makes headlines. In Kingston, Ontario, Quets stayed at a bed-and-breakfast for five days with the twins. The couple who own the inn have started accepting donations to defray Quets' legal costs. (So far, they have raised $300.) In Ottawa, where she was arrested, a retired police official and his wife posted more than $5,000 in bail for Quets and let her stay in their home while she awaited extradition. Neither couple had any prior connection to Quets.
In Raleigh, Buccellato and others have stepped forward. The handful of people offering their support appear to have done so individually and then encouraged their friends and those at church to follow suit. Many of them are mothers who went through post-partum depression and sympathize with Quets' situation.
Buccellato said she was so depressed after the birth of her third child that she had to be hospitalized. Having been unable at one time to care for her own child, Buccellato said she can understand Quets' struggle over whether to give up her children for adoption.
"I can't imagine anybody making a decision," Buccellato said. "Being depressed, it's very hard to care for anyone."
Alison Williams, 40, of Raleigh and her friend Karen Gray, 43, of Fuquay-Varina feel the same way. Both women also went through post-partum depression.
About her own pregnancy at 35, Gray said, "I was so sick with that child. I gained 6 pounds, and she weighed 7." About Quets, Gray said, "I understand a portion of what she must have gone through."
Williams added, "I think most mothers can relate to the fact that after you have a child, your world gets real small. You're run-down physically and mentally. Your thought process isn't as clear as it usually is. That's where a lot of my understanding comes from."
Williams has visited Quets at the Franklin County jail at least three times, put money in her commissary account and taken her collect phone calls. "I consider her a friend of mine," she said.
Williams, Gray and Buccellato acknowledge that Quets made a mistake in taking the twins to Canada, but they think it was a desperate act by a good mother.
Quets says she's broke
Quets appreciates the support offered by these former strangers.
"To have people show me kindness is everything to me right now," Quets said. "It's renewed my strength and my hope that there are kind people in the world. ... There are people who really care about the babies. It's so overwhelming."
Quets said all she does in jail is sleep, read and respond to letters. She said she is selling her house in Orlando to pay for her new criminal lawyer. She said she has already spent $500,000 on the trial and the appeal in the adoption litigation.
"I'm pretty much out of money," she said.
Federal prosecutors dispute Quets' contention: An FBI agent testified at the last court hearing Feb. 8 that Quets told Wachovia bank officials that she had $300,000 worth of stock options that she wanted to liquidate. A federal judge has ordered Quets detained until her trial. Her next court date is April 23.
Those who operate her Web site, www.allisonquets.com, which raises money and publicizes Quets' case, referred calls to her new attorney, Kathleen Mullin of New York. Mullin did not respond to several messages seeking comment.
During their recent visit, Buccellato asked Quets, "So you feel more positive about the lawyer?"
"Yeah. Oh yes," Quets said.
"You feel inspired?"
"I feel more peaceful."
"That's why you look good."
Their conversation meandered from Buccellato's words of encouragement -- telling Quets the twins know she loves them -- to the realization that they both had lived on Long Island, N.Y. After an hour, it was time to say goodbye. Buccellato put her palm up to the window dividing them. Quets did the same.
Staff writer Andrea Weigl can be reached at 829-4848 or email@example.com.