Bellingham woman finds closure after locating her birth parents in Chattanooga

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 24, 2013 

Angela Tucker

Angela Tucker in downtown Bellingham on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

As a girl, Angela (Burt) Tucker fantasized that Magic Johnson might be her father.

He wasn't, but Angela was a stellar athlete with a high-wattage smile, just like the Hall of Fame basketball player.

In reality, Angela's mother in Chattanooga, Tenn., put her up for adoption 27 years ago. Paperwork from the "closed adoption" said her single mom had other children and couldn't afford to raise Angela.

Considering that Angela grew up to become a basketball and track star, it's ironic that she was born with muscles in her limbs so tight that her foster mother struggled just to change her diapers. Doctors weren't sure what the problem was, but feared Angela might have cerebral palsy. So she was categorized a "special needs" child.

That didn't deter David and Teresa Burt of Bellingham. David is a certified public accountant; Teresa is an instructional assistant for special education children.

The Burts have one child of their own and, over time, adopted five other kids, including some with special needs. Another child, while not officially adopted, lived with them intermittently and is considered part of the family.

When Angela turned 1, the Burts brought her back to the Northwest with them. After a few months of physical therapy, the problem with her tight muscles went away.

CURIOSITY

When young Angela expressed interest in her birth parents, Teresa showed her a three-page document from the adoption agency. In it, the last names of Angela's mother, Deborah, and her "alleged father," Oterious, were deleted, but other details remained, including the mother's physical description, her other children and her reason for giving up Angela.

"Her birth mother wanted her to have more opportunities in life than she could give her," Teresa said. "A hard but loving thing to do."

By high school, Angela began searching in earnest for details about her birth parents. A separate medical document listed her mother's last name as Johnson, so she called numerous Johnsons in Chattanooga. None were her mother.

Angela graduated from Bellingham High in 2004, attended Western Washington University, then transferred to Seattle Pacific University, where she earned a degree in psychology. She met her husband, Bryan Tucker, at SPU. He now works in property management.

Stymied in her search for her mother, Angela focused on the man named Oterious. Online searches led her to "Sandy the Flower Man," whose full name is Oterious Deforrest Bell.

Sandy was a well-known homeless figure in Chattanooga. He pedaled a decorated bicycle and gave flowers to women on the street and in bars, and sometimes received money in return.

What struck Angela most, however, was his looks.

"We have the same smile; same skin tone," she said. "We have the same build."

CHATTANOOGA

So in June 2010, Angela and Bryan, David and Teresa, and the Burt's birth daughter, Elena, and her husband, Kris, flew to Chattanooga to find Oterious. Bryan brought a camera to document the trip for the family.

Angela found Oterious' mother, who told her something unexpected. She told Angela that Oterious was sterile from a childhood accident. While the Burts absorbed the information, Oterious arrived at the house.

Angela told him he might be her father. She asked if he knew Deborah Johnson. He did.

They looked closely at each other.

"It's like looking in a mirror," Sandy said, in Teresa's recollection.

Sandy suggested that they have a DNA test done to check. The results, several weeks later, confirmed what the Burts already presumed. They were family.

"He, too, thought that he couldn't have kids," Angela said, "and he always wanted to have kids."

Next, the group drove by Deborah's house. Angela only wanted to look, but Sandy jumped out and knocked on the door. When Deborah stepped outside, Angela told her she might be her mother.

"She said, 'I don't know who you are,'" Angela said. "She ended up rejecting me."

Teresa suspected there was more going on with Deborah than a case of mistaken identity.

"We knew it was her," Teresa said. "We really respected her wish to be left alone."

CLOSURE

Once back in the Northwest, Angela made contact with a sister of Deborah's and with three of four of Deborah's other children.

Angela works on domestic infant adoptions in Western Washington for Bethany Christian Services, the same agency that handled her own adoption. She and her husband decided to make a documentary about Angela's search, because of its twists and turns and because it might benefit people who are considering or have adopted a child.

Back in Tennessee, Deborah's family members convinced her to acknowledge her relationship to Angela and to welcome the Burts. Bryan brought along a better camera when they gathered in Chattanooga for a family barbecue in July 2011.

Deborah, Angela said, was a different person.

"You could see the weight lifted off of her," she said. "To see that I was OK is changing her."

Deborah thanked Teresa for raising Angela. Teresa, in turn, thanked Deborah for sharing Angela.

"Deborah and I both wanted the best life for our kids," Teresa said. "Even though we haven't seen each other a lot, we're very close. She sent me flowers on Mother's Day."

Angela and Bryan finished their documentary, called "Closure." It has been shown at film festivals in Seattle and San Francisco, and will be shown in Minneapolis this fall.

"Closure" also will be shown in Bellingham at Pickford Film Center July 13.

Teresa went to the Seattle showing and cried throughout the movie. She cried some more when she watched it in San Francisco.

"It just took me back," she said.


COMING UP

What: Bellingham showing of "Closure," a 76-minute documentary about Angela (Burt) Tucker's search for her birth parents. Angela and her husband, Bryan Tucker, the director, will answer questions afterward.

When: 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 13.

Where: Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay St.

Details, tickets: pickfordcinema.org

WATCH TRAILER FOR "CLOSURE"

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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