After a lengthy court battle, a 6-year-old girl has been removed from the Christian foster family with whom she has lived since she was a toddler to be placed with relatives of her birth father, who has been described as a "serial criminal."
Lexi, whose birth family is part Choctaw, has lived with Summer and Rusty Page, an outspoken Christian couple, in their home in Santa Clarita, Calif., since she was 2 years old.
However, due to a federal law surrounding foster children that have a Native American heritage, the court decided that it would be in her best interest to place her with relatives in Utah where she could be near her native American extended family.
In turn, the Pages, who had hoped to adopt Lexi, argue that the law has been misapplied in the young girl's case and is forcing her to be ripped from the "only family that she has ever known."
Authorities are taking the child to relatives of her birth father, Jay Ellerfobes, who live in Utah. In the past, Lexi had visited the relatives each month and Skyped them weekly, according to court documents.
"She has a loving relationship with them," said Leslie Heimov, from the Children's Law Center of California, the girl's court-appointed legal representatives. "They are not strangers in any way, shape or form."
According to a report from the Daily Mail, Ellerfobes is a "serial criminal" who has spent time in prison for, among other offenses, drugs and grand theft, and boasted that he has white supremacist friends. Lexi was originally removed from her parents' care at 17 months, as her mother, who is not native American, has substance abuse problems.
A heartbreaking video taken by a supporter of a California family captures the moment Lexi was handed over to authorities on Sunday. In the video, a man is seen knocking on the Page's door and advising, "They're here to take Lexi."
Rusty Page then carries the girl out in his arms as she cries aloud, clutching a teddy bear. One of the Page children also begins crying and screaming, and Summer Page calls out, "We love you, Lexi!"
Others present in the crowd, many of them members of the Page's church, also call to the child to let her know that she is wanted and that her foster parents are fighting for her. A man is also seen surrounded by reporters as he prays for the Page family.
"How is it that a screaming child, saying 'I want to stay, I'm scared,' how is [it] in her best interest to pull her from the girl she was before that doorbell rang?" Mr. Page told KNX-AM radio.
The Christian Science Monitor notes that the Indian Child Welfare Act, enacted in 1978, is meant to protect native children's opportunity to grow up with their own extended family, or another Native family, to foster their sense of identity and their understanding of their culture.
However, the family Lexi is being sent to is not native American: they are related to her father by marriage, and the young girl's father himself is enrolled with the Choctaw Nation, but was not aware of it; according to court documents.
Attorneys for the Page's state that they plan to file an appeal with the California Supreme Court.
"We will continue to pursue the appeal, and we will press on to the U.S. Supreme Court if that becomes necessary," Lori Alvino McGill told the Los Angeles Daily News. "We are extremely disappointed that [Family Services] would remove this little girl from her home while our appeal is pending."