Jaymi Bonner, 5, had never been to the U.S. before Thursday, but as the little girl rode an airport escalator out of Salt Lake International's Terminal 2 she was greeted by a crowd of new family members welcoming her home.
The girl arrived at the airport around 2:30 p.m. with her mother, Jeana Bonner. The pair had just flown in from Russia, and as they descended onto the airport floor Jaymi waved a tiny American flag.
The moment marked the end of a long and laborious process that began in December 2011, when Jeana and her husband, Wayne, decided to adopt a special-needs child from Russia. The couple already had two biological children Kaelyn, 3, who has Down syndrome, and Bryn, 1 but decided they wanted to bring another child into the family.
Thursday afternoon, Jeana said they adopted Jaymi, who has Down syndrome, because Russians don't adopt kids with special needs and because having Kaelyn had been such a positive experience.
"She just changed our lives," Jeana said Thursday as she brushed away tears. "We saw these kids as her."
After having Kaelyn, the Bonners also became part of a "pretty tightknit" community of families who have children with the condition many adopted from Eastern Europe. Through that group, they learned about the "bleak and dismal" outlook for children with special needs in Russia, Wayne said.
"We decided it was something we could do, needed to do, and jumped in and went for it," Wayne said.
Initially, the Bonners' adoption process went smoothly. Wayne said he first met Jaymi in June of 2012. He immediately "knew she was our daughter."
Then, in December 2012, a Russian court approved the Bonners' adoption of Jaymi, which set in motion a 30-day waiting period until the placement was final.
It was in the middle of that waiting period that the Russian parliament banned adoptions by U.S. citizens a policy that took effect in January because of about two dozen instances of abuse and deaths of children placed with U.S. families.
The move was largely seen as retaliation for a new U.S. law that punishes Russians accused of violating human rights through travel and property ownership restrictions. The ban resulted in large demonstrations in Russia, which has about 650,000 orphans, and widespread criticism from adoptive families in the U.S. However, the policy remains in place.
"It was a complete sense of being in limbo," Wayne said. "We didn't know what was going to happen."
In response to the new policy, the couple decided that Jeana should travel to Russia to "put a face to the numbers" while Wayne stayed home to work and care for their children.
Jeana arrived in the country in mid-January, where she joined forces with Rebecca and Brian Preece of Nampa, Idaho, who were in the same situation.
Over the next 5 1/2 weeks, the two families met with media and officials, trying to break through the bureaucratic logjam.
"The Russian press really went to bat for them," Wayne said.
Pavel Astakhov, ombudsman for the Russian children's rights office, appointed an attorney who obtained a Supreme Court order directing a lower court to issue adoption decrees for the Bonners and the Preeces, which still took an additional 15 days.
On Feb. 5, Jeana officially received custody of Jaymi, and through phone calls and video chats was able to introduce her to all the members of her new family.
After arriving at the airport Thursday, Jeana said the entire ordeal was like "taking on the Russian Federation." But Jeana said that despite the legal challenges, she and Wayne felt inspired to bring Jaymi into their family. She also said that her heart breaks for Jaymi's young friends, who remain in a Russian orphanage with uncertain prospects for adoption.
Both Jeana and Wayne said they plan to continue working to make U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans possible.
As Jeana spoke, Jaymi's new cousins crowned her with a tiara and dressed her in a pink princess dress. With several other little girls, she ran between the legs of new aunts and uncles, then grabbed a heart-covered sign that read, "Welcome home."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.