DOVER, N.Y. — What started out as a joyful reunion of a young woman with her birth parents soon turned sour, then shocking, and finally deadly.
A young woman named Katie married her birth father, had a baby with him and, after she decided to leave him, lost her life to him along with that of their child and her adoptive father. All three were laid to rest this weekend in upstate New York.
“We’re all still in shock,” said Shirley Mann, a neighbor of Katie’s adoptive parents in Dover. “It’s crazy. I don’t know what else to say. It’s horrible.”
Katie, whose last name was Fusco at the time, had no idea before she moved in with Steven Pladl and his wife in August 2016 that he had an explosive temper, a history of abusive behavior and owned at least four guns.
A VERY NORMAL LIFE
In 1995, Steven Pladl was 20 when he met a 15-year-old girl named Alyssa on the internet. She soon became pregnant and gave birth to a girl they named Denise.
Alyssa Pladl told The Associated Press in an interview last week that they put the girl up for adoption when she was 8 months old. They were young and poor, she said, but she also believed Steven Pladl physically abused the baby. In her interview, she did not elaborate.
“It was so hard to give her up,” Alyssa said, “but I had to because I wanted her to live and be happy.”
For most of what was to be her short life, she was. Tony Fusco and his wife, Kelly, adopted the girl they renamed Katie and raised her with their biological daughter in Dover, about 80 miles north of New York City.
“They had a very, very normal life,” said Cary Gould, Kelly Fusco’s brother. “My nickname for Katie was Pac-Man. She was always eating. She loved animals. She was a vegetarian.”
Katie was an aspiring artist known at Dover High School for drawing comic strips. She planned to attend college and pursue a career in digital advertising.
“A pen and something to draw on became a safe place for me,” she wrote in a blog post. “Ink became my weapon against rules and regulations. ... To be short; for me, a life without art is no life at all.”
After turning 18 in January 2016, Katie, who Gould said had been told she was adopted, found her birth parents and messaged them. The Pladls were happy to reunite with her.
Instead of going to college in August 2016, Katie moved in with the Pladls in Henrico County, Virginia, that month. Tony and Kelly Fusco were apprehensive, Gould said, but they thought Katie was old enough to make her own decisions and supported her.
All was not well in the Pladl home. Steven and Alyssa had already decided to separate and were sleeping in separate rooms. Alyssa Pladl said she had suffered emotional and verbal abuse by her husband for years.
“I was always on eggshells, whatever his mood was, everybody knew, and that mood was often not happy, a lot of yelling, a lot of things smashed in the house, in front of our kids,” she said.
Alyssa Pladl told Katie privately that Steven Pladl had abused her as a baby and that a major reason for the adoption was her own safety.