© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2001
BROOKSVILLE -- The Ford Explorer had barely stopped in the sandy yard, horn honking, when people started spilling out, into the night.
An equal number of well-wishers flew out of the front door of the house, everyone laughing, hugging and slapping backs.
In the middle of it all, Crystal Urick slowly climbed from the back seat, wide-eyed, looking at all the new faces. Her mother, Lazalia "Sissy" Urick, fresh out of the passenger seat, scooped the 7-year-old girl into her arms. Her father, who had been waiting all day for her arrival, leaned close to the two of them.
"Did you have a good trip?" Ernest Barnett asked quietly.
"Uh huh," Crystal said nodding, eyes down, holding tightly to her mother before wrapping her arms around Barnett.
Crystal's arrival late Thursday from North Carolina marked another stage in what could be a long transition for a young girl recently pulled from the only family she has known. Even Thursday night and Friday, she showed both a child's resilience and some signs of awkwardness as she began making her way into a new world.
Crystal has lived in a foster home the past month following the arrest in Raleigh, N.C., of the woman she thought was her mother. That woman, Katherine Gaytan, is charged with keeping Crystal from her birth parents for seven years, much of the time in Mexico.
On Thursday, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Crystal could finally return to Florida with Urick and Barnett.
Crystal's shrieks of laughter filled the night air Thursday as she raced with relatives through the yard of some family friends in Ridge Manor. She pressed her hands against the screen door to keep the boys locked in the house.
Once inside, Crystal slid her thin legs over the arm of the chair where Urick sat. She fell like a kitten into her lap.
"I'm happy to have my daughter home," Urick said, holding Crystal in her arms. "I can't wait to get her tucked in."
Later, Crystal curled up in Barnett's arms in a lawn chair. She had stayed awake the entire 11-hour drive from North Carolina, asking how long before she'd get to see "Daddy," Urick said.
But at other times, Crystal was quiet as 5-year-old Kimberly Westfall, her half-sister and newest admirer, dutifully dumped toys in her lap. Sometimes she called her parents "Mommy" and "Daddy," other times "Sissy" and "Ernie."
When Kimberly gave her a doll, Crystal offered, "I got a Barbie at home."
There was evidence of new bonds, however.
When the time came for Crystal and her parents to head home for the night, Kimberly, Urick's daughter who has been raised by the family friends and now lives with them, began to wail.
"I don't want Crystal to leave," she cried.
Crystal smiled and nodded when Urick asked if Kimberly could help fix her bedroom the next day.
About midnight, Crystal walked into her new home south of Brooksville for the first time. She laughed and clapped her hands as Doss, the family's German shorthair pointer, slopped messy kisses on Urick's face.
"That's my cat," she cooed, picking up Sammy, a yellow short-haired her parents had promised her.
Urick, Barnett and half-brother Trevor Simmons introduced Crystal to two other cats and a lizard. She greeted all of the pets with wide eyes and laughter, including the cockatiel in the master bedroom.
By Friday, though, sibling strife had already begun. The buoyant Trevor, 5, was grounded, banished to his room for kicking Crystal.
Crystal showed off her new books and toys in her room, including a machine to help her learn the alphabet. Crystal might have to repeat kindergarten for the third time in the fall, Barnett said, because she had missed several weeks of classes the past two years.
As for Crystal seeing Gaytan again, Barnett said he plans to take it one day at a time. Gaytan's criminal charge of felony restraint of a child is pending. She is also fighting for custody of Crystal, a battle even her attorneys say will be difficult.
While the adults continue to disagree, the children were quickly forming friendships Friday afternoon.
Kimberly walked into Crystal's room with two suitcases. One was an overnight bag and the other a Barbie carrier.
"I brought books," Kimberly announced.
Later, in the living room, Crystal put Doss' snout up to Kimberly's lips and said, "Look who's here."
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