By Veronica Chufo, email@example.com | 247-4741
3:52 AM PDT, May 17, 2011
Terry Morris read the story of a girl caged, starved and neglected in Gloucester County, and saw himself reflected in the pages.
The girl was found naked, covered in her own feces and eating flakes of her skin, according to investigators. Shannon Gore, 24, and Brian Gore, 29, were charged with attempted capital murder as well as first-degree murder in connection with human remains found on their property.
Morris, now 45, was abused from age 4 to about 14, mostly at the hands of his mother. "In some ways," the Newport News resident said, "I think mine was comparable to hers, or worse."
Morris grew up in Chicago, the second of six children. He was the only one abused. He learned later that that's often the pattern of abuse — one child is singled out, while the others are spared.
Morris thinks he reminded his "biological mother" — a phrase he uses to emphasize that he doesn't have a relationship with her — of his biological father. "When he left, she was so angry with him, she took all her frustrations out on me."
Over those 10 years, he said, he was lashed with extension cords. Hit with high heels. Beaten with baseball bats. Deprived of food. His head was banged off a radiator. Knives were driven through his hand, and nails through his feet. His mother choked him, digging her fingernails into his throat.
He was pushed into the street and hit by cars, pushed off a two-story building onto the concrete below.
Morris reckons he spent more time living outdoors during those 10 years than he did living inside. He was repeatedly kicked out of the house, forced to forage for food in garbage cans and find clothes and cardboard to keep warm during the cold, Illinois winters.
Finally, he said, when he was almost 14, his mother drove him to Mississippi and left him on the side of a road. He lived in abandoned buildings and cars for months before he was discovered and sent to the Alpha House Home for Boys in Tupelo, Miss.
That's when things started turning around.
Morris began to thrive. He started getting As in school. When he aged out of the boys' home, he lived with a series of foster families. He was accepted into a NASA cooperative education program and started working for NASA right out of high school. He now works at NASA Langley Research Center as a software and avionics integrated hazard analysis manager.
Morris received bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering and a doctorate in systems engineering. He completed a fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a certificate of public leadership from the Brookings Institution.
He's the board chair of the United Way of the Virginia Peninsula.
None of Morris' siblings — who weren't starved or abused, who received Christmas presents when he did not — graduated from high school. He said some dabbled in drug use, committed felonies, had children out of wedlock. He sees himself as the ugly duckling in the nursery tale — the duckling singled out for abuse until it one day develops into a beautiful swan.
Now that Morris is married and has two children of his own, he cannot understand what would make a person want to abuse a child.
"It just goes against every biological instinct to help your child do better than you did," he said.
Recovery for Morris took decades. He's struggled with trusting people and faced difficulty in relationships. He tended to pick girlfriends with abusive tendencies, just like his mother. He went to counseling.
"If I had one wish, I'd like to be a fly on a wall and see what a normal, healthy family is like. I would give anything, because I have no idea what that is like."
In 1991, Morris became the national spokesman for the Combined Federal Campaign, an annual fundraising drive conducted each fall by federal employees. The boys' home he stayed in received CFC donations. That role took him to speaking engagements at the White House and at federal agencies. He appeared in a Pentagon video that was aired around the world. Talking about his abuse is part of the therapeutic process. Those who don't talk about it bury it, and it comes out in negative ways, he said.
His story has also appeared on public-service announcements — including one that his biological mother saw.
"I would've hoped that she would've showed some regret," Morris said. "She had zero."
She called Morris and told him that he owed her, he said, because if she hadn't tossed him out, he wouldn't have gotten where he was. She asked for a car.
He didn't buy her a car.
But he has forgiven her. Otherwise, he said, he wouldn't have been able to move on with his life. "When I forgive her, I'm doing it for me. I don't have to carry around that burden with me."
That doesn't stop him from wishing for justice.
One of the worst injustices, Morris said, was that the statute of limitations ran out before he could bring charges. "To this day, my biological mother has never been punished," he said.
If the Gloucester girl's parents are found guilty, Morris hopes they receive a verdict that sends a message to other abusers out there.
Some child-abuse survivors end up replicating abusive patterns they experienced, reliving a generational cycle, said Dr. Bela Sood, medical director at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children and chair of the child psychiatry division at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System.
Others — like Morris — shun that path.
"I was just unlucky at that time to be the one who got singled out, but it doesn't have to be the end," he said. "I refuse to let my past completely define my future."
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