SAN ANTONIO (AP) — When LaKenya Shaw began to sing at a Northeast Side church one day in 2016, Theresa Nealy knew.
The voice in her head told her that Shaw, a stranger, was destined to be the mother of two young siblings rescued from horrific abusive conditions and desperately in need of a home.
Both women say it was divine intervention.
As Shaw stood to lead a song, Nealy said she found herself "so caught up" in the moment and knew the siblings rescued after Bexar County sheriff's deputies found them bound by their ankles and wrists with leashes and chains in the backyard of a Northeast Bexar County residence had found their home.
"In my mind I heard God say, 'Those are the parents I have chosen for those children,' " said Nealy, 49, whom with her husband, Danny, had fostered Josiah, then 4, and his sister Naomi, then 3, after the children were treated for their injuries when they were found by authorities.
From that moment, the process unfolded neatly, Nealy told the San Antonio Express-News .
Today, siblings Josiah and Naomi Shaw are 7 and 5, respectively, living happily in their new home with new last names and making memories that are far away from the wee hours of that cold, rainy spring day, when the heinous conditions they endured made national headlines.
"I think about how it could have been for them," Shaw said. "They could have died in that yard."
For Allen and LaKenya Shaw, Nealy's call was an answered prayer. Married for 17 years, the couple had long wanted children and had recently suffered a miscarriage.
"We had been praying and desiring children," said LaKenya Shaw, 38.
The Nealys have attended the church for years, but had never met the Shaws. But once she heard the voice, Nealy was driven to make the connection. Once they did, she said she couldn't let go. She said God made her mission clear that day: Find their phone number and introduce them to the children.
Shaw said there indeed was a connection between her, her husband and the children almost immediately from the moment they met about six months after the ordeal.
"They had to be loved back to life," she said, adding what they went through "just makes us want to love them more. I needed Josiah, I needed Naomi. God knew what we all needed."
The road both couples have traveled with Josiah and Naomi has not been easy since authorities learned that the children's mother, Cheryl Reed, left them in the care of Porucha Phillips and Deandre Dorch, friends she knew from California.
Witness testimony established that Dorch and Phillips, with six children between them, grew tired of caring for Reed's two kids, and started abusing them.
Responding to a neighbor's report of hearing children crying for hours, deputies broke down the front door of the home in the 8100 block of Chipping in the Camelot II subdivision to get to Naomi. They found that she was tied at the wrists so tightly to a garage door, her hands above her head, that she could neither sit nor stand.
Moments later, they saw Josiah and feared he was dead because he was lying on his side, motionless, chained to a dog spike that was embedded in the ground. He was surrounded by his own feces, and both children had numerous injuries in different stages of healing. They had been physically abused for about two weeks, officials said at the time.
Six other children, the combined family of Phillips and Dorch, were found unharmed inside the home.
Sally Justice, a court ad litem attorney who represented all eight children, said that after their placement in foster care Josiah would kneel on the floor and rest his head on a couch because he appeared to have never slept in a bed. He and Naomi also acted as if they were starving.
"They constantly want food," Justice told a judge at a hearing when the state took custody of the children. "They are extremely small for their age. The little girl is not verbal; the boy says few words and has limited use of his shoulder. He favors it like it's frozen."
The children have had to learn about what Shaw calls their "tummy mommy" (Reed) and their "heart mommy."
"We want to make sure they understand where they came from. They have little memories, they are mixed up," Shaw said. "We have to go back. They don't have too many good memories. We just try to help them remember right, pull it all out. We'd rather deal with this."
Naomi, who was 3 at the time, doesn't say anything about what happened in the backyard.
"But just because she doesn't talk about it doesn't mean she wasn't affected. She's the strong, but silent type, bubbly but has wounds that stay inside."
Both Nealy and Shaw have bonded over the ordeal and their love for the children. The couples spend a lot of time together. To the children, the Nealys are Nannie and Poppy.
Both couples were nervous that the adoption would not take place. Child Protective Services tried numerous times to place the children with relatives in California, but the family members there failed five home test visits.
Meanwhile, all three adults connected to the case have been convicted and sentenced.
Porucha Phillips, 36, pleaded guilty in October 2017 to two counts of injury to a child and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
A Bexar County jury found Dorch, 39, guilty of four counts of injury to a child by omission. He was sentenced May 18 to four 65-year prison terms that will be served at the same time.
On July 2, Reed, 32, pleaded guilty to two counts of abandonment of a child without the intent to return, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Shaws also adopted the child Reed had while in the Bexar County jail. Matthew is 2, and went to live with the Shaws when he was five days old.
LaKenya Shaw gave victim impact statements at the sentencing hearings of Dorch and Reed that brought the courtroom gallery to tears.
She blessed Dorch and told him the children were "wonderful, full of life, and were healing from their wounds."
"They aren't scared anymore. They are safe and happy," she told the man as he wept.
Shaw told Reed, the children's biological mother, that she had no idea what it must have been like for Reed to lose her children, but assured her that they would be brought up in a kind and loving home, and she gave her a picture of them to take with her to prison.
She also said if and when the children chose to see her, she would support that.
"They are full of love, full of life, full of faith," she told Reed. "You won't be forgotten."
Shaw stands by what she said that day, but reiterated that it would be the children's choice, when and if they are ready.
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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com