Military Couple Takes Twins to E.R. for Injury. Over 500 Days Later, They're Still Fighting to Get Them Back (Exclusive)

Matt and Alicia Jackson tell PEOPLE that they've been through numerous custody challenges with their twin sons and their daughter

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Matthew and Alicia Jackson with their twin sons in 2023 (left), Matthew and Alicia Jackson with Wyatt, Walker and Everly

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Matthew and Alicia Jackson with their twin sons in 2023 (left), Matthew and Alicia Jackson with Wyatt, Walker and Everly
  • Matthew and Alicia Jackson were elated to be new parents when concern about an injury in one of their twin boys led them to seek medical attention

  • Walker and Wyatt, just 5 weeks old, were both examined and found to have injuries that led to allegations of child abuse against Matt and Alicia

  • The Jacksons continue to fight to bring their now-toddler sons home

A new mom looking for reassurance that her son was okay ended up in a scenario that would be any parent's worst nightmare.

Matthew and Alicia Jackson were thrilled to become first-time parents to twin boys after a years-long road to starting their family. The couple welcomed sons Wyatt and Walker on Nov. 29, 2022, in Tacoma, Washington. Matthew was serving in the Navy's active-duty submarine force and had recently been promoted to chief.

"My husband and I struggled for years trying to get pregnant. We were ecstatic when it happened. We were told we couldn't have them naturally because we had tried for so long," she tells PEOPLE exclusively.

The spouses welcomed "relatively healthy" twins and were prepared to embark on a trip east, where Matt would now be stationed. They enjoyed some early weeks with the twins, with help from Alicia's mom, before their move. Right before they left, the boys were checked out by a doctor. At that point, the twins had "three newborn appointments, including an outpatient circumcision."

With a clean bill of health, the family of four started their move. On their way to Connecticut, they planned on stopping in Tennessee to spend Christmas with Matt's family. It was there that everything would change for the family.

"We left the state of Washington around two weeks after they were born," Alicia recalls. "In those early weeks, we were just adjusting to life with babies. We never had babies before so having two was a lot, but we were able to figure it out and my parents were there to help us navigate those first few weeks."

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<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Wyatt and Walker

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Wyatt and Walker

Related: Mom Takes Baby to E.R. for Mystery Bump, Then Spends 550 Days Trying to Get Daughter Back (Exclusive)

"We stopped in Tennesee so my in-laws could meet the twins and we could spend Christmas and New Year's with them. They were excited and it was nice to have my mother-in-law, who's a nurse for 30 years, helping me with the babies. Everybody was just enjoying Christmas together."

Alicia stayed with her in-laws when Matt had to return to Washington and check out of his command. Shortly after he came back, the pair had a concerning situation with Walker.

"My husband was changing Walker and he heard a pop. He immediately came back out into the living room and he looked concerned," she recalls. Matt explained what happened and the new parents looked over their little boy. Though Walker cried initially, he had settled back to sleep, so the two decided to reassess in the morning.

"We didn't want to rush him to the emergency room in the middle of the night, with both boys, if it wasn't anything that we wouldn’t have to be super concerned for," she says.

The next day, they took the boys to an outpatient emergency room to get Walker checked out after noticing he wasn't using his arm the way he normally would. From there, they were sent to the Niswonger Children's Hospital at Johnson City Medical Center.

Alicia and Matt consented to "full evaluations," which included blood work, x-rays and a CAT scan.

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Walker

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson


"We were told he had a fractured humerus bone," Alicia says. "We were concerned. We asked if anything else came up in the blood test. The hospital started doing a full NAT workup, which is for non-accidental trauma."

Soon after, the couple had their first encounter with the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS). They also asked to have an evaluation of Wyatt done while they took statements from Matt, Alicia and Matt's parents.

"Then they came back with Wyatt's x-rays, and they said everything looked normal. They said he didn't have any fractures, but they were concerned that he had bruising up by his neck," she says, noting they suggested the possibility it was a birth mark and noted other instances on his body.

After some time, the family was told that the twins were being kept overnight for observation.

"They made me stay in one room with one of my sons, Walker, and then my husband stayed in another room with our son Wyatt," she says. "Both me and my husband were not allowed to be unsupervised with our children, so a nurse had to stay overnight with us in one of the rooms and then my mother-in-law was allowed to supervise my husband with our other son in the other room."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Wyatt

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson


The couple could feel "our alarm bells going off," but they were more concerned about getting answers for their son. The couple spent that night, into the next day, "really scared."

"I was afraid for myself, for my kids, for my husband. To be in a position where you're already in an unfamiliar place with your babies when one of them is already injured is very difficult. You just want to be there to hold and care for your children, and here you are being looked at as you're hurting them in one way or another," she shares.

"It's horrible. It's your worst nightmare come to life, where you go and you ask for help and you do the right thing. You asked for them to do full evaluations. You're concerned for what could potentially happen or be happening to your child, and somebody is sitting there looking at you, thinking that you might have hurt them."

At first, Alicia and Matthew were told they would be able to leave with the twins after their bloodwork came back normal. They were awaiting a CPS meeting to, as they understood, resolve the situation. Until then, they couldn't have "unsupervised contact" with the twins, says Alicia.

When they met with CPS, the couple was asked to consent to Matt's parents being their "supervisors" with the children until CPS finished their process. The family agreed to this, as well as follow-up x-rays for the twins to ensure proper healing. They communicated that Matt would have to check into his duty station in Connecticut, where Alicia's family resides. They were discharged and CPS followed up with a home check at Matt's parents' home.

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Walker and Wyatt at 3 months

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Walker and Wyatt at 3 months

"They took pictures, not only of the home but of our kids, as they had in the hospital. They took more, stripped them down and everything."

"It seemed strange to me, but with my background in social work, I also understand the need to be thorough. I understand that there are people out there that really do hurt babies. I understand that children, in general, are hurt and I understand the processes and procedures exist and they are important. But at this point going to this extent, just seemed really unnecessary."

The family said that they would meet with CPS the next day, but they were awoken during the night and asked to return to the hospital immediately after discovering what they believed to be healing injuries in Wyatt's x-rays.

"It's like three or four in the morning, they call my phone and say the hospital's been trying to get in contact. They said that they had somebody else reread the x-rays and explained that on Wyatt, the twin that didn't have any injuries, they had found old healing and healed fractures in his posterior and ribs," she says. "They also thought they saw lesions in his tibia and fibia, where he might have been yanked. They said if we didn't bring him back to the hospital immediately, they were going to come and take both the boys away."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Twins Walker and Wyatt

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Twins Walker and Wyatt

"It was against every bit of my maternal instincts. I was all over the place. I wanted to know how they could have missed something before because that was my first cue that something was up. I didn't trust the hospital instantly at that point because how all of a sudden are mystery injuries appearing?"

Considering the circumstances, Alicia and Matt advocated for a second opinion, which raised the tension. They eventually met with a CPS investigator who said they were of the belief this was not accidental. Alicia said she was "questioning everything" at that moment.

"These terrible things are running through my head. Every bit of myself runs through who my children have been around and at any point, had I left them alone with anybody? Was it during a procedure, when they had their circumcisions? Every bit of my heart was broken."

After a long day, CPS confirmed they were taking the twins.

"I didn't have any chance to say goodbye to my other son. They went to my in-laws’ house and took him from there. They took my son Wyatt from me at the hospital and said that we would get information soon. We didn't get paperwork. Nothing. They just came and took him."

The couple felt "terrified and traumatized" by the moment. Alicia compares trying to make sense of the situation to "psychological warfare," noting, "You're hurting for your children. You just want to comfort them, but you can't."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Matt and Alicia Jackson with their sons

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Matt and Alicia Jackson with their sons

The concerned parents sprung into action, pulling the boys' medical records and getting a lawyer. It would be 13 days until they saw their sons again. In that time, they also spoke to a CPS investigator who tried to assure Alicia that the matter would be resolved soon. At their preliminary hearing, however, the judge determined CPS had enough evidence for the case to move forward.

"I was only able to see the boys for one two-hour visit per week, and it was with the foster parents supervising," she says. "It was allowed for both of us, but my husband had to come up and report for duty in Connecticut to his military station. It was just me and kind of awkward, but the family that my kids were placed with, they're good people, you know? They're very understanding and they let me mother my children when I was with them and care for them."

Alicia was grateful the family was "very understanding of our situation and they weren't judgmental." But that didn't change the fact that it was extremely difficult.

"You're seeing your children, your two infant babies, leaving with somebody who is not you. It’s a whole experience that I don't sometimes know how to put into words, but at least I knew they were safe. I felt comfortable with the people, but at the same time, it was terrible."

With her kids in foster care, Alicia started to work her network to find out what options were available to them. Through a contact at the Department of Children's Services in Connecticut, Alicia found out her parents could qualify to become foster parents and take custody of the twins.

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Twins' first 4th of July

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Twins' first 4th of July

"That friend let us know about an expedited order to get the twins to Connecticut and out of Tennessee foster care. My dad works for the state of Connecticut and my mom's a school bus driver for special needs, so we knew for sure that they would both be qualified to take the kids. They had a safe home, so we were trying to do everything we could to get them here."

On Saturday, Feb. 24, 2023, the judge approved the twins' move to Connecticut with Alicia's parents after weeks of back and forth. Though that was one small victory, there were still many battles ahead. The two had to wait until April 2023 for a court date.

"We were reaching out to anybody we could get information from in the meantime. I contacted the Navy — we asked them for assistance to get second opinions; they have their own medical services and hospitals that do their own testing. We began defending, building a case to get our kids back," Alicia says.

"I also contacted the Family Justice Resource Center out of Illinois, who assigned me an advocate. The advocate got me in touch with a forensic nurse, who reviewed everything and had actually been through a very similar situation as ours. Now, she goes out of her way to help other families and to look over medical files and help them find the right medical experts to look at the cases and do unbiased reviews and blind reviews so that families like ours can get answers."

Doing that work made Alicia "excited" to get into court. She felt "pretty confident" things would improve, up until she learned the judge wouldn't be hearing the case at all.

"The judge came up onto the virtual platform and said that he was told that the assistant district attorney was going to be bringing our case to a grand jury. He said that we might be indicted, so he was refusing to hear our case while we had pending criminal charges," she recalls.

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Alicia Jackson and her sons

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Alicia Jackson and her sons

The criminal charges were news to Matt and Alicia, who were "furious" at the turn of events.

"We were led to believe this would be our time to be able to defend ourselves and to bring evidence against what these claims were. They said the next date we would be able to even talk again was going to be July of 2023."

Being away from her infant twins for four months wasn't easy, even with the ability to visit with them. Once they were in Connecticut, there were still issues to settle, like the "complicated" matter of visitation, where both states had to weigh in.

"At first, when the boys got here, we were only allowed to see them for two supervised visits a week for two hours," she explains. After things were settled between the two states, the family's social worker was able to secure visitation "four days a week."

"It was two weekdays, Tuesday and Thursday, with split hours. It was like four in the morning and three in the afternoon. And then on the weekends, we had eight hours on Saturday and Sunday. So it was a pretty liberal visitation schedule," she says.

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Alicia and Matthew Jackson pose with their sons

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Alicia and Matthew Jackson pose with their sons

Alicia and Matt were concerned about their futures and what the charges against them would mean. While they sought out more information about the grand jury process, they also worked on finding answers that could explain their children's injuries.

"We found out the twins had low copper, low seroplasm, things that have to do with bone deficiencies. X-rays show they had vitamin D deficiencies in utero, which also causes fragile bones. They had a lack of fetal movement, which I had to be hospitalized in my third trimester for, which can cause weak bones, on top of the fact they are twins — so it's looking at it as two separate single pregnancies instead of one pregnancy."

In the criminal matter, the couple asked their new legal team to present the medical evidence. They ran into a number of roadblocks, and months went by with hold-ups in both the custody and criminal matters.

"As more time went by, the Tennessee Department of Children Services asked us to complete a bunch of parenting assessments and psychological assessments. They asked us to do parenting classes and so we went to the Navy and were like, ‘Listen, this is what they want us to do. We have no problem, can you please help us?’ "

The Navy helped the couple find the right professionals for each task they needed to accomplish, and as they completed assessments, "everything came back perfectly."

"They said we're really good parents. We had strong, healthy bonds with our children, even considering the situation. They could see the mountains that we've been climbing over to keep them in our lives."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Walker on his first birthday

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Walker on his first birthday

They also got a medical breakthrough as they were able to meet with Dr. Michael Hollick out of Boston University.

"Dr. Hollick reviewed our case and said we were good candidates to be evaluated for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. We got approval to take the twins up to Boston. It was myself, my husband, my mom and my dad. We went, and my mom and I were diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos and the twins were both said to have it as well, acquiring it from me and my mom," she shares.

The diagnosis was "an affirmation" for the twin mom, who knew there had to be an underlying reason for her sons' injuries.

"To hear from another highly qualified expert that this indeed was not abuse, that this was that my children had a genetic disorder, that they had Ehlers-Danlos, was a relief," Alicia says, noting she was also "concerned that they were being neglected in ways, because people weren’t looking at the medical diagnosis."

"They were looking at somebody else when really it's underlying medical issues that are not being addressed. To have Dr. Hollick actually address it, validate it and write up a report, I was extremely relieved."

Alicia sought solutions and support for the twins as they awaited development in either case. The couple also prioritized enjoying the time they could with the boys and while doing so, they leaned on each other and their community for support.

"Our families and our community have come out and been extremely supported. It's been an outpouring, especially from Parents Behind the Pinwheels and Fractured Families. Those communities were so supportive as I shared our story."

Parents Behind the Pinwheels helps families like the Jacksons go public with their stories in hopes of raising awareness and making change. Fractured Families helps to raise awareness, support and advocate for families falsely accused.

"As I got to know people, I realized there were so many other people that wanted to help. Our community came together in an outpouring of support. We have connected with several churches. So many people have really come together, and it's been nothing short of amazing to have the support that we've had."

In April 2023, Alicia found out she was pregnant with a baby girl. While she was "really excited" about becoming a mom of three, Alicia admits, "I was so scared because of what happened to the boys. But I'm also very faith-based, and for this to happen after what we went through to have my kids was a miracle."

"As weird of a situation as it has been for us to raise my boys with them being at my parents and us having to parent them this way, I can tell you, we are grateful that we have had the ability to do it at all," she says, acknowledging how many families have limited visitation in foster care. "We're very grateful and very blessed that we've been able to do it this way."

As they waited for the birth of their baby girl, the family had concerns. They worried about how, if at all, CPS would intervene, as well as how Ehlers-Danlos might impact her birth.

"I had to make sure that I got tested for all my levels, things that aren't normally tested for routinely. It was challenging, but it was beautiful, too, because when you're going through something like this, you have to take it moment by moment and really appreciate every second you have with your children."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Wyatt on his first birthday

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Wyatt on his first birthday

Matt and Alicia's daughter, Everly, was born on Dec. 26, 2023.

"When she was born, it was amazing. It was perfect. It was everything I hoped for, even being in the back of my mind having a little bit of anxiety, not quite knowing if CPS was going to show up at my door. They were very aware, and we told them that we were having this baby. So when they didn't come up to the hospital, when they didn't show up at our door initially, we were relieved. We thought, 'Everything's fine and they knew that we're not these terrible abusers.' "

A week after Everly's birth, the pair took Everly to the hospital to check on a heart defect. Following the visit, DCF showed up at the family home to do a wellness check. The DCF representative called her supervisor to deliver her assessment, but came back with heartbreaking news.

"She comes back inside after speaking with her supervisor and says, ‘We need to take custody of your daughter,' " Alicia recalls, leading her to "break down."

"The Connecticut attorney we hired in case we'd need her for our daughter said it was very possible that the Connecticut DCS might try to file what's called a predictive neglect. It's because we have an open case in another state with our children that hasn't been resolved. We called her and she said it would be taken care of."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Matthew Jackson holds twin sons Wyatt and Walker as Alicia holds daughter Everly

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Matthew Jackson holds twin sons Wyatt and Walker as Alicia holds daughter Everly

Alicia and Matt were able to have Alicia's parents take Everly, who got to stay with her brothers while matters were resolved.

"Three days passed without a judge signing an order that would keep my daughter in their custody. They get 72 hours to sign, but it didn't happen, so my daughter had to immediately be returned home," she explains.

Next, the family had a court date to discuss matters pertaining to the newborn. After presenting the medical evidence they had, Connecticut DCS decided that they were willing to allow for protective supervision. Alicia explains, "The judge agreed to allow Everly to continue staying home, as she should be, with them checking in."

Matt and Alicia ultimately were indicted on child abuse and neglect charges in September 2023. The juvenile court also asked for a status hearing on custody of the boys that month. That date got bumped to March 2024 and ultimately was canceled. Alicia notes that DCF was continuing visits to the house to check on Everly, which concluded just weeks ago.

"The charges against me have been dropped and completely expunged from my record," Alicia says. "Despite the medical evidence, however, they wanted Matt to stipulate to causing Walker’s humerus fracture, whether it was accidental or non-accidental. They wanted him to agree to a best-interest plea. So he had to agree that the humerus fracture occurred while in his care and custody."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Wyatt

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson


The Class E felony against Matt is deferred, which means it won't become part of his record as long as he successfully completes his two years of probation. At that time, his record will also be expunged.

"We went back and forth on trying to decide if we could continue fighting this, but financially, it would have taken everything we had. We couldn't let go of our home and means we have to care for our children. Our lawyers said it was best for us to take this deal. We could get our children back, and this could eventually all be dropped from our records," Alicia explains.

For Matt, the requirements of this process are "really hard and very stressful."

"I sink into a depression because it's unjust. It's not right," the father of three says. "I feel like I had to make a decision that was really difficult just so that it could be better for my family, so that we could eventually be together versus going broke and not having each other."

Matt continues, "I told my wife and everybody else, I was on the submarine that hit the underwater mountain and I feel like I'd rather do that again than go through this. I wouldn’t ever wish this on anybody because it's just horrible."

The military father is also concerned about possible career impacts, as he was preparing to be administratively discharged due to injury.

"This could get in the way. It could ruin the last 13 years of me serving my country. I could not get anything just because of this."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Walker

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson


Always looking to the bright side, Matt and Alicia believe they are in the final stages of ending this nightmare.

"Tennessee has bowed out. Matt's probation is out of Connecticut. The hope is the boys can come home on what Everly came home on, which is protective supervision," Alicia explains. "So they would come home and DCF would come out to do home checks for a few months until they can hopefully finally exit from our lives forever."

They're looking forward to enjoying every moment with the now 18-month-old twins.

"The boys are running! They went from just barely taking their steps to walking, running and trying to climb on things. They've gotten all their teeth. They love being big brothers and showing their little sister all the things that she's going to learn," the proud mom shares.

"I try to create the most normal relationship for my children and for my daughter to spend time with her brothers, because they're getting older now. They know who Mom, Dad and Everly are, so we're trying to help them understand that, hopefully, one day, they’ll get to come home with us."

As a mom, Alicia believes she's "gone through all the emotions that a person could" navigating this journey.

"I've gone through the anger. I've gone through the regret, the heartache, the longing to be with my kids," she says, going on to note how she's also privileged in her situation.

"I've had community support, and people have fundraised like $8,000 to help our family, which I think is incredible. That's a big thing for me. We've been able to share birthdays and holidays with our boys and we're so fortunate because I know there are a lot of families right now that aren't able to do that with their children," Alicia notes.

"I'm grateful to at least have one of my babies home and hopefully have the other two very soon. And as somebody who has been there through the fire, I would say, I think it's my job to help other families that are going through this and make awareness to what's going on, and to try to make changes on the legislative front. I think it all starts with people who have been personally affected."

<p>Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson</p> Alicia and Matthew Jackson with Wyatt, Walker and Everly

Courtesy of Matthew and Alicia Jackson

Alicia and Matthew Jackson with Wyatt, Walker and Everly

Alicia hopes that by sharing her family's story, they will inspire others to advocate for their kids whenever they may need to.

"Document everything and remember you are your child's greatest advocate. If they tell you they can't get to the bottom of it, find somebody who will. There are people who are willing to listen and professionals who are willing to do the right thing and help. You'll find answers to the things that you're concerned about if you keep searching. Find those people and lean into that because that will get you through anything."

Today, Alicia and Matt are enjoying every milestone along the way to their happy ending.

"Last week was the first time I had ever been alone with all three of my children. It was the answer to so many desperate, broken-hearted prayers," she says. "I am thankful that our family is slowly but surely healing and moving forward after all that we have endured. I think, eventually, we will be whole again."

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