A juvenile court judge today ordered the release of the last House of Prayer child from state custody.
After almost two years in foster care, Ricky Wilson Jr., 9, went home this morning with his parents.
"For real?" Ricky asked happily, upon learning he could go home after a hearing in Fulton County Juvenile Court.
"For real," replied his smiling mother, Yolonda Wilson.
Beginning in late February 2001, caseworkers seized 49 children from six church families after Ricky and another child, David Duncan Jr., showed up at their elementary school with welts and bruises. The boys had been whipped in church for misbehaving.
Those whippings led to a lengthy state investigation of punishments at the House of Prayer, a small, non-denominational church in northwest Atlanta.
In October 2002, the church's pastor -- the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. -- and four other church members, including David's parents, Sharon and David Duncan Sr., were convicted of felony charges of cruelty to children and sent to the Fulton County Jail. Allen served the longest, three months, and was released this January.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard dropped charges against six other House of Prayer members, including Ricky's parents, Yolonda and Ricky Wilson Sr., in December.
Peggy Walker, a juvenile court judge from Douglas County overseeing the Fulton case, had ordered the release of another House of Prayer child, Ricky's sister Deandrea Wilson, 10, three months ago. But she said at the time that Ricky had to remain in state custody because more progress needed to be made in family counseling before the boy could go home.
Today, Walker said she was pleased with the progress the family had made, and she ordered five follow-up sessions of family counseling to make sure Ricky readjusts well at home.
"Congratulations," Walker told the parents. "I appreciate the effort you've put into it."
She added, "I hope the next time I see ya'll, it'll be in the park or at a Wal-Mart -- and not here."
"I hear you," responded Yolonda Wilson.