Years after tragedy, sisters are adopted

— Photo from Linda Dunn

On Friday, May 10, Linda Dunn officially adopted Cheyanne, left, and Christine, right, at Albany County Family Court after fostering them for four-and-a-half years. 

GUILDERLAND CENTER — Christine and Cheyanne White had been looking forward to Friday, May 10, the entire week prior. It was the day the two sisters were adopted by their foster mother, Linda Dunn.

The two girls have been living with Dunn for the last four-and-a-half years, ever since their brother, Kenneth White, a kindergartner at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, was murdered by their cousin, Tiffany VanAlstyne, at the VanAlstynes’ trailer in Knox where the three White children had lived with their aunt.

Kenneth White was memorialized with annual fundraisers, a scholarship in his name, a 5K race, and a law that allows police to have better access to Child Protective Services records.

It was never expected that Dunn would end up caring for the two sisters for so long. She has been an emergency foster-care parent for over eight years, usually taking in children for weeks or months as needed. Her role often requires being ready at a moment’s notice to care for a child.

She can recall times when she had to buy bottles and diapers in the middle of the night to care for an infant, and it was a similar situation when she was given custody of Christine and Cheyanne in December 2014.

“They called me that night and asked me to take the girls, and of course I wasn’t going to turn them down,” said Dunn on Monday. “I remember that night like it was yesterday.”

It was expected that Christine and Cheyanne would eventually be placed with their biological mother. But, after court hearings, that is not what happened.

Dunn said that, as the years went by, it was a natural progression to adopt the sisters.

“I fell in love with the girls,” she said.

On Friday, May 10, the adoption was finalized in Albany Family Court. Christine wore a pale pink dress with a flower in her hair, and Cheyanne wore a blouse, white capris, and canvas sneakers. Dunn said someone had asked what had happened to Cheyanne’s dress.

“And I said, ‘Because, that’s not Cheyanne.’ We want Cheyanne to be who she is,” she said.

The sisters are “night and day,” said Dunn. Christine is a “princess” who loves to dress up, while Cheyanne is a tomboy. While Christine has her room decorated with Disney’s Tinkerbell, Cheyanne has hers decorated with Disney’s “Cars.”

The event at court was thronged with politicians and media. But, despite living in the shadow of a tragedy that became a media sensation, Dunn said that she has tried to shield the girls from it. For some time she kept any sort of media about the murder out of the house, she said.

“They’re still affected by it,” she said, of the trauma the sisters experienced. “They probably won’t be, really, all better for a long time.”

Following VanAlstyne’s arrest, Dunn had testified in court that the girls had come to her covered in bruises and telling her that their cousin had abused them. Dunn says that now they are extremely healthy, noting how different they look than when she first took them in.

Christine is 8 now and in third grade; and Cheyanne is 9 and in fourth grade. They both attend Altamont Elementary School. Dunn said they’ve made friends and that the other students treat them normally; the staff does as well, although occasionally she has to tell them not to coddle the girls too much.

The sisters no longer see a social worker, but do see a therapist and attend sessions with workers from Parsons Child and Family Center, now under the umbrella of Northern Rivers. Dunn says they are “thriving in every aspect of their life.” But there are still bad days just like there are good days.

She and the girls live in a cozy home in Guilderland Center with a cat and a dog — a pomsky dubbed “Hyper Piper” for her exuberance.

For two years, Christine has called Dunn “Mom,” while Cheyanne still alternates between “Linda” and “Mom.”

As Cheyanne and Christine arrived at home on Monday afternoon from a visit with Parsons’ staff, Dunn commented that she just wants them to be treated like normal kids.

“We are normal kids!” exclaimed Christine.

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