9:45 AM EST, February 4, 2013
It was an emotional end to a heartbreaking court battle that fascinated America. An 11-year-old boy became the first child ever to divorce his parents.
Shawn Russ shook hands with the judge and celebrated with his new adoptive family.
Shawn said, “It truly is the greatest blessing that’s ever been bestowed on me.”
Twenty one years later, Shawn talks to INSIDE EDITION’S Diane McInerney about the moment that made legal history.
Diana asked, “When you heard the verdict, how did you react?”
Shawn said, “I felt like I’d been given the biggest Christmas present. I had Christmas on that day and I had a family that loved me.”
Shawn's biological mother was a drug user. She put him in foster care for long periods, unable to care for him and her two other children.
The court hearing in Florida was carried live on TV in the summer of 1992. The whole nation was watching as Shawn bravely took the stand and told his story of neglect.
The prosecution asked, “Are you doing this to hurt your mother?”
Shawn replied, “No.”
The prosecution asked, “Why are you doing it?”
Shawn replied, “I'm doing it for me so I can be happy.”
The case echoed the plot of the movie, Irreconcilable Differences, which starred Ryan O'neal and Drew Barrymore.
And Shawn was played by a 12-year-old Joseph Gordon Levitt in a TV movie about the case.
But there was no Hollywood ending in real life. Despite being adopted into a loving family of eight siblings, Shawn says he still felt like an outsider.
As he grew older, he battled depression, and drug and alcohol addiction.
Shawn said, “For me it was a constant need to just feel numb. I needed to feel numb.”
Shawn's mother, Rachel, was heartbroken by the judge's decision and swore to keep fighting to win Shawn back.
Looking at that tearful interview after the verdict, Shawn admits his feelings toward his mother have changed.
Shawn said, “Deep down in her heart, she did love me but that didn't change the facts of the case, the fact that I was abandoned and neglected.”
Rachel died six years ago and Shawn says he's sorry he never re-established a relationship with her.
Shawn said, “One of my greatest regrets is never reconciling with her. I always planned on reconciling with her, but she died at such a young age that opportunity was taken from me.”
Diane asked, “What would you say to your mother?”
Shawn replied, “If I could tell her anything, it would be that I do know that she loved me and that I do forgive her.”
Shawn's brave stand opened the way for other kids who severed ties with their families, including home alone star Macaulay Culkin and actress Juliette Lewis.
Now, twenty one years after this court room celebration, Shawn says he's finally put his demons behind him and he's ready to move on.
Shawn said, “I think I have finally found happiness. For the first time in my life, I feel like the future is wide open. That this is the beginning of my life.”