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A Dying Man's Race to Adopt, and a Small Miracle

Dove, the lawyer, was on vacation at the beach with his wife. They weren't scheduled to come home for several days, but something told them to cut their trip short.

He was in his office Friday, July 8, when Tracey called with the news about Marshall.

"Holy cow," he said. "We need to get this thing DONE."

Dove's staff had located Alyssa's biological father just days earlier. He was at the Moss Justice Center in York, awaiting transfer to prison to begin serving a five-year sentence for drug distribution.

The lawyer had two options.

He could file a notice of adoption proceeding, which would give the father 30 days to respond — days he knew Marshall McClain did not have. Or he could go to the jail and get the man's consent.

At 8 a.m. the next day, Dove was ushered into a closet-like room with a thick glass partition and a telephone receiver on the wall. On the other side sat a slight young man in an orange jumpsuit.

Dove explained how the McClains had been taking care of Alyssa. He told him of adopting his own daughter 26 years earlier, and what a blessing it had been. Finally, he explained the situation with Marshall McClain, and the need for urgency.

The father — a baby-faced 19-year-old with blond hair like Alyssa's — was visibly moved. He was leaning toward signing the consent, but demurred: "I don't know these people."

"Well," Dove said. "I can help with that."

Dove stepped outside and called Tracey McClain. He told her to write a letter introducing herself and Marshall to Alyssa's father, and to get it there as quickly as possible.

By 1 p.m., Dove was slipping the hastily typed page through the slot at the bottom of the window.

Tracey told the man about Marshall's service in Vietnam, and about the successful trucking business they had built together. She wrote of their supportive church family, and of the older sisters and cousins who would love and help care for Alyssa.

Tracey promised to send him reports on his daughter's progress, and to "uphold you in a positive way" to her.

"You would be giving us the greatest gift by allowing us to make Alyssa part of our family," she wrote.

Tracey had also sent several photos.

"They look like good people," the young man behind the glass said.

He told Dove he wanted the weekend to think it over. But he didn't need to wait that long.

Later that day, he sat down with a pen and a piece of yellow legal paper.

He said that he had never known his own father, and was grateful for the McClains' offer to let him be part of Alyssa's life. He wanted her — and them — to know that, "Just because I'm locked up doesn't make me a bad person."

"The last thing I ever wanted to do was give my daughter away ... ," he wrote. "But you are the parents now and truely have been since the beginning and I have faith in God whatever decisions you make for her will be the best ones."

Dove was gassing up his truck around 9:30 a.m. Monday, July 11, when his assistant called from the jail with news that the father had signed. He immediately called Family Court Judge David Guyton's office and explained Marshall's condition to the judge's assistant, Sandy Neely.

"Is there ANY possibility for the judge to hear the case?" he pleaded.

She put him on hold. After a short time, she came back and asked if they could be there by 1:45.

"Sure," he replied.

He immediately called Tracey McClain. He was still on the phone with her when he got a beep.

It was Guyton's office.

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