UPDATED: Naturalization ceremony welcomes Fort Wayne 10-year-old as U.S. citizen
Standing at the podium Friday morning, Don Cochran told his son, Uriel, that being a citizens means giving back to others.
Moments later, Indiana U.S. Sen. Todd Young stood at the same podium and talked about being a good neighbor to others.
But from many of the other comments shared during a ceremony held to welcome Uriel as a U.S. citizen, it’s clear the Fort Wayne 10-year-old already is giving back and touching lives.
The naturalization ceremony took place in the basement auditorium of St. Jude Catholic School on Pemberton Drive, where Uriel and his sister, Kyleigh, 10, both are in fourth grade.
Young and his family are friends of the Cochrans, and the senator’s wife, Jenny, and their children also attended the ceremony. Those attending also included other Cochran family and friends, a few local politicians, and fourth-grade students at the school.
The citizenship application process has taken more than a year and has involved filling out a number of documents and taking Uriel for a medical physical by a doctor in Indianapolis who does physicals for children applying for citizenship, the Cochrans said during an interview Thursday evening.
Don Cochran said he first met Uriel when the youngster was about 18 months old and in a hospital bed in Madison in southern Indiana, where the Cochrans lived before moving to Fort Wayne.
Cochran and his wife, Mindy, had served as foster parents and had adopted one of those children, Kyleigh, who then was 16 months old. The Indiana Department of Child Services called to ask if the Cochrans could go sit with Uriel at the hospital.
Don Cochran went, and also followed Uriel to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis after staff at the Madison hospital transferred him there for evaluation by a specialist.
When Cochran walked into the hospital room in Madison, Uriel appeared frail and his body was shaking, he recalled.
Cochran learned Uriel had been removed from his biological parents’ care after law enforcement received a tip about a child who appeared unhealthy at the family’s residence, Cochran said.
He later learned Uriel had been born in Mexico. His biological parents, who were living in Madison, brought the boy as an infant into the United States without going through the immigration process.
Uriel reportedly had knots on his head, tears in his nose and mouth tissue, burn marks on his arms and legs, and what appeared to be marks on his body from being hit with a cord, Cochran said.
The Cochrans took in Uriel after his release from Riley Hospital and adopted him when he was age 4.
“He’s a super, super sweet little boy,” Cochran said.
Uriel has touched the lives of many people he has met.
At Friday’s naturalization ceremony, Cochran read letters to Uriel sent to the family by the chief deputy prosecutor in the neglect case against his parents and by nurses who treated Uriel that first night at the hospital in Madison. All wrote of how they were moved by his situation and his willingness to trust others trying to help him.
“You showed me pure, innocent love and trust,” one nurse wrote. “You will forever hold a piece of my heart.”
Cochran talked of the family being in the grocery store after Uriel had recovered and seeing a woman just looking at him and crying. They learned she also was a nurse working in the emergency room the night Uriel arrived.
Noting in her letter that his name means “angel of light and wisdom,” the nurse added, “I will always remember you and carry your name in my heart.”
“I read these letters to you because I want you to know what citizens do — they step up for each other,” Cochran said to Uriel at the citizenship ceremony. “That’s what I want you to do.”
Young began his remarks by saying he didn’t know if he could get through them without getting choked up emotionally.
Along with receiving the right to vote in elections, to travel to other countries and return here, and to run for elected office, being a good citizen also means being a good neighbor to others, Young said.
“This life has too many challenges to go it alone,” he added. “We need our neighbors.”
Young then presented Uriel with a framed certificate of citizenship and an American flag the senator had flown over the U.S. Capitol for Uriel.
Uriel’s teacher, Kathy Gehl, also spoke and presented Uriel with a book of notes from his classmates and a memory stone.
“You have taught all of the students so much about what it means to be humble and kind,” Gehl told Uriel. “I just want you to know, Uriel, God is watching over you, and he will continue to bless you with a wonderful life.”
Uriel, who seemed shy about all of the attention, didn’t say much about how he feels about receiving his U.S. citizenship after Friday’s ceremony or when a News-Sentinel.com reporter met with his family Thursday to gather background information.
“The world is a good place,” he said.
When his mother asked him what he would tell other children facing a situation similar to his, he said, “Be confident. Be happy. Work together.”