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Dickson family hopes to bring girl home after custody ruling

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Sonya's uncle, Tim McElhaney Sonya's uncle, Tim McElhaney
DICKSON, TN (WSMV) -

A community is devastated and outraged, wondering how the Department of Children's Services could take a little girl away from the only family she's ever known.

Now, a 9-year-old girl is at the center of a bitter custody battle, pitting foster parents against biological parents.

The child, Sonya Hodgins, has been living with her foster family in Dickson County since she was 1. But when her biological father came back into the picture, supporters say, DCS handed the girl over to a complete stranger.

"I was there the night they literally took that child away from their mom and their dad. They ripped her from their arms. They were down on their knees begging them to not do this," said the girl's uncle, Tim McElhaney.

Sonya spent nearly her entire life in a foster home in Dickson. It's a home that by all accounts was happy, nurturing and stable with a mom and dad and older brother.

But the happy days ended in a horrifying scene a week ago with Sonya handed over with two hours notice to a birth father she had never met.

"We are just devastated by this," said Sonya's aunt, Connie Stinson.

Kim and David Hodgins legally adopted Sonya when she was three years old, or so they thought. The birth mother had given up her rights to the girl.

John McCaul is the birth father. His parental rights were terminated by the courts against his wishes while he was in prison.

But in 2009, the court of appeals overturned Sonya's adoption, writing, "the trial court erred in terminating the father's parental rights."

The case has been in the legal system ever since.

Last week, DCS placed Sonya in her father's custody. He picked her up and left the next day for Nebraska.

"She was calling us, begging us to come and get her, please don't let them do this to her. And we couldn't do anything. It's horrible," McElhaney said.

On Wednesday, a juvenile court judge in Dickson County denied a motion to return Sonya to her foster parents.

The family has started a Facebook page called "Bring Sonya Home," hoping to undo what they feel is an injustice to a girl uprooted from the life she knew through no fault of her own.

Channel 4 News asked DCS about Sonya's case. In a statement, spokesman Rob Johnson wrote:

"Our family service workers and their colleagues in another state have worked, and continue to work, hard and thoughtfully on this case. DCS has long provided services to the child, and we developed and worked on a transition plan. We have done what we could and should."

If it chooses to, the foster family can appeal the juvenile court's custody ruling.

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