After officer adopts opioid-addicted baby, mom’s struggle continues
Ed Lavandera and Jeremy Harlan, CNN
Published at | Updated at
(CNN) — A chance encounter with a homeless pregnant woman addicted to heroin put Albuquerque Police Officer Ryan Holets on one of the most emotional journeys of his life. Now, two weeks after their story touched millions, there’s a second chapter.
Holets met Crystal Champ and her partner, Tom Key, shooting up heroin behind a convenience store in September. Champ, 35, was eight months pregnant and living in a tent alongside an Albuquerque interstate. Police body camera footage captured the interaction.
In a stunning moment that would change all three of their lives forever, Holets — a married father of four — offered to adopt Champ’s baby.
Nearly a month later, a girl was born, and she has been cared for by the Holets family ever since. They named her Hope. The adoption is expected to be final before the end of this year.
Baby Hope suffered through nearly a month of heroin and crystal meth withdrawal but is now doing well.
After their story was reported, a number of substance abuse treatment centers offered to help Champ and Key. Holets, who received a city award for his actions, has tried to convince them to take advantage of this opportunity to get the help they need.
This week, CNN found Champ and Key living with a friend in a ramshackle RV park and explained how a number of treatment centers had offered to help her get into a rehab program.
But the grip of heroin is so fierce that she has struggled to accept the offer.
“I really don’t have a desire to get clean, and that sucks, because I really want to,” she said. After a long pause, she added, “but I don’t.”
Champ said she knows how difficult it is to get clean. A rehab program worked once before, but a year later she relapsed, which led to her current life, homeless for two years.
“I’m scared I’ll get clean and not find the comfort that I find in my life like this,” she said.
‘Bitter and angry’
For most of his six years on the Albuquerque police force, patrolling the streets took a toll on Holets. He sensed the frustration and disillusionment growing inside him and how it affected how he interacted with people.
The 27-year-old says he was tired of the same people cursing at him, calling him a pig.
He started hating the people he came across on the street and says he got to the point where he stopped being proud of the way he interacted with some people.
Holets realized he had come to the point where he had to choose which path he would follow as a police officer.
“I had to start coping with the fact that what I was turning into was bitter and angry,” he said. “I didn’t like it.”
It was after this epiphany that Holets had that chance encounter.
Breakthrough, then heartbreak
This week, a team from Mending Fences, a rehabilitation facility in Florida, sent a special counselor to Albuquerque, and Holets took them to meet with Champ and Key.
After they spoke with the woman for about 20 minutes, there was a breakthrough.
As Holets looked on from a distance, Hope’s parents agreed to leave their life of addiction and head to the treatment facility.
The officer smiled as he escorted the couple to the airport with a ragtag collection of bags holding their belongings.
But on the drive to the airport, the situation unraveled. Overcome with anxiety, the couple became highly emotional and started second-guessing their decision.
They stood on the curb, fidgeting endlessly with their belongings, clearly overwhelmed by the moment. They made it inside the airport terminal and were about 100 yards from clearing the security checkpoint.
But that’s as far as they would go.
Holets looked on hopelessly.
“I don’t want to do this,” Champ emotionally told her partner. “I’m happy. I’m fine being a freaking heroin addict on the streets.”
And just like that, the chance to get the couple into rehab slipped away.
They refused to get on the plane. Holets drove them back to the RV park where they would spend the night.
“They found reasons to hold it off,” he said with tears in his eyes. “That’s a testament to how strong addiction is. But what it makes people do isn’t logical, sometimes, but it’s very powerful.”
As the sun set on an emotional day, Champ struggled to explain why she couldn’t follow through.
“I wasn’t ready to get on that plane,” she said.
Despite the setback, Champ recognizes what a gift it’s been to have Holets in her life.
“He’s my personal angel on Earth here,” she said. “I don’t know where he came from, but I’m really happy, I’m really happy he’s here.”
Holets refuses to give up. His ultimate goal from the moment he offered to adopt baby Hope was to get her parents sober and in a recovery program. He says he won’t abandon them and he won’t walk away.
He’s confident they will come around. “I firmly believe that in my heart,” Holets said. “At some point, enough will be enough.”