Sitting in her cluttered, yet neat kitchen at her home in Hartland, coffee cup in hand, Sharon Quinn’s voice thickens with emotion as she shares a story about herself and her granddaughter, Maeleigh, who would sit on her lap, playing with the crucifix that hangs around Quinn’s neck.
“I would say, who is that, Maeleigh?” Quinn said, clutching the cross in her hand. “And she would say, ‘Jesus.’ ”
“I tell Danny all the time, this necklace is for Maeleigh,” she said.
Danny is Quinn’s 35-year-old son, and Maeleigh is his 5-year-old daughter. It has been three years since Sharon or Daniel Quinn have seen his little girl, and Sharon Quinn hasn’t taken her necklace off since.
In 2005, while working as a manager at in Fenton, Daniel Quinn met Candance Beckwith when she left her email address on a napkin along with her tip, encouraging him to contact her. Beckwith, who was separated but not divorced from her husband, Adam, then began a long-term relationship with Quinn that resulted in Maeleigh.
The couple moved in together and raised Maeleigh, along with Beckwith’s two children from her marriage, as a family until the spring of 2008. In May of that year, Beckwith reconciled with her husband and left Michigan, taking then-2½-year-old Maeleigh with her. Quinn, the only father Maeleigh had known up to that point, never even had a chance to say goodbye to his daughter.
The legal fight for the return of Maeleigh began, but when Beckwith’s husband claimed responsibility of Maeleigh in a Michigan court two years ago, under the Michigan Paternity Law of 1956, Quinn was legally denied any rights to his biological child.
Years of Legal Battles
“I have cried more tears over that child than I have over anybody else,” Sharon Quinn said. “I wake up thinking about her, I go to bed thinking about her. You would think it would get better — it doesn’t, ’cause there’s no closure.”
Now, after several years of legal battles, the possibility of being reunited with the sweet and well-mannered little girl they remember gets closer by the day.
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Steven Bieda (D-Warren), now making its way to the Michigan House speaker, Rep. John Walsh (R-Livonia), would redefine the paternity laws in Michigan and give standing in the courts to biological fathers, regardless of who the mother was married to at the time of birth.
Waiting for Senate Bills 557 through 560 — the Revocation of Paternity — to be signed can’t come soon enough for the Quinn family.
Concern for Maeleigh’s safety consumes the family, who has learned that Beckwith has pleaded guilty in Kentucky to drug possession charges and child neglect. Her husband is serving a three-year sentence in the state of Ohio for drug trafficking. What is even more frustrating for the Quinns is that Maeleigh, along with her half-siblings, are considered wards of the state of Kentucky, according to the little information the Quinns have received.
“A law that was supposed to help children be raised by a two-parent household has literally thrown my daughter into a ring of crime,” Daniel Quinn said. “It’s (the law) outdated. ... In 1956, there was no DNA testing, there was no way to actually prove it. Now we have an opportunity to make sure that these children are actually being raised by their blood.”
'Faith has kept me going'
When Quinn first realized the Michigan courts were going to allow his daughter to be taken away from him, he was shocked and angered. Learning more about his rights — or lack of them — as a father spurred him on his quest to change the laws and get his daughter back. The journey has been long and at times heartbreaking, he said, but he and his family push on.
“My family’s not been the same since my daughter left,” Quinn said. “This isn’t any different than the mothers and fathers that are on television pleading for somebody to return their child who is kidnapped or who is missing.”
For a while, Quinn kept Maeleigh’s room ready for her return. A lovingly decorated bedroom filled with unicorns and pink flowers stayed untouched, with the door shut. One year ago, however, Quinn decided to leave Fenton and return to Hartland and the home where his mother and father have lived since 1989.
“I just wanted to be closer to my family,” Quinn said. “Because every one of us are hurting over it, and it’s just easier to be around someone rather than be by myself and constantly thinking about it.”
Maeleigh’s furniture was eventually broken down and placed into storage. Her clothes, which she would have outgrown, have been given to her younger cousins, but they are always replaced by a brand-new wardrobe since, according to Quinn, he is always ready for his daughter to come home.
“All along, I thought I was getting her back,” Quinn said. “All along, that’s what we’ve been doing, is just always being ready for her to come home.”
He credits his persistence and unwavering belief that he will eventually win the battle for his daughter to faith.
"I believe this can happen, I believe it will happen," Quinn said. "I put this all in God's hands. He has done some amazing things already. ... We got Lansing involved, they are listening."
Despite the two-and-a-half years that have passed, Sharon Quinn’s house continues to feel the presence of Maeleigh, from a perfectly decorated dollhouse in the living room to an antique vanity tucked in the corner of the dining room, upon which a small pink box sits.
“All the girls (granddaughters) know that that one is Maeleigh’s,” Sharon Quinn said, pointing to the jewelry box filled to the top with bright, sparkly jewelry.
Memories are what comfort the family now, and the days for the Quinn family are spent waiting. Daniel Quinn follows the Senate bill that is slowly making its way through the state's legislative system. He takes phone calls and answers emails, giving hope to other families facing similar situations, and is always trying to make his case and his voice heard. But most of all, he waits.
And he remembers the little girl and the gentle way she played. How she loved to dress up, snuggle with her daddy and sneak candy from her doting grandfather every chance she got. He also remembers the promise he made to his infant daughter almost six years ago.
“The very first words out of my mouth to my daughter in the nursery was that Daddy will always protect you,” Quinn said. “And I’m not gonna stop until that promise is fulfilled.”