By Eddie Poe
Via Wyoming News Exchange
DOUGLAS — The studio at Shatto’s School of Dance sits silent as one class ends and another group of students wait patiently in the lobby. While owner Ashley Reed takes a brief moment to collect herself, Anthony, Joey, Cameron and Julian Pinkerton enter the dance studio with beaming smiles, eager to show off their moves.
It’s a clear sunny morning on the second day of spring, one of them any reasons why the Pinkerton boys appear full of joy.
As the class of nine files into the studio, Cameron immediately steals the show with his authentic hip hop look, donning a gold dollar bill chain with a matching gold baseball cap and flashy sunglasses, complete with a Ninja Turtles T-shirt. He sings the last few verses of the song “Baby” by Justin Bieber, the last song he heard in the car before arriving to class, as the students line up in three identical rows.
The Pinkertons have been coming to Reed’s hip hop class since early January, sharing the dance floor at Shatto’s once a week with other special needs students.
“It’s been amazing,” Reed said about teaching the class. “They always have smiles on their faces.”
The boys swing their arms back and forth as the tempo of the music speeds up. Anthony, Julian and Joey throw their arms high into the air and jump, laughing as they land back on their feet. Then the star singer takes over.
Cameron belts out, “I’ve got this feelin’ inside my bones!” as “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake plays through the boombox speakers in the studio. One student says, “Hey, it’s your song,” knowing full well that Cameron’s about to be consumed by four minutes of pure glee.
The hip hop star agrees: “Yes! It’s my favorite!”
Shannon Pinkerton has always had a heart for children with special needs.
Growing up in San Diego, California, her mother Janet ran a group home with six special needs women, and Shannon had an older sister who was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Several members of her extended family also run group homes with special needs individuals.
Along with Troy, her husband of 29 years , Shannon managed a group home with eight special needs men for a year. For as long as she can remember, helping the less fortunate has always been a clear instinct.
“I wouldn’t know what it’s like to not have all of these guys living with us,” she says of her five adopted sons.
The Pinkerton family begins with Shannon and Troy’s oldest, Jordan, 29, who lives in Casper. Then there’s son Troy, 25, who many in the family call “Troy Boy”, Haley, 23, and Cody, 17. Even with four biological children, Shannon always knew she wanted to adopt more - five more before they were done.
When Cody was 2 years old , Shannon and Troy were fully prepared to adopt a child with Down syndrome from the hospital. A few days before the adoption was set to be finalized, the surrogate mother had a change of heart and returned to the hospital for her child. The Pinkertons were devastated.
“We just stopped from there,” Shannon admits.
Seven years later, after Cody expressed the desire for a brother with Down syndrome because one of his best friends in Glenrock had the genetic disorder, Joey found a home.
Often referred to as “the Down Syndrome whisperer” by members of his family, Cody found Joey on the National Down Syndrome Adoption Association website . The Pinkertons fell in love with him immediately. They welcomed Joey to their family in 2009. His adoption was finalized in October 2011.
Shannon fondly remembers the bond that Cody and Joey instantly shared.
“They were best buddies,” she recalls. “They wore the same shirts, had the same haircuts. They were truly best friends.”
Now 19 years old, Joey loves wrestling, the Toy Story franchise and riding horses. He even has a tattoo of a large muscled Spongebob wearing a wrestling singlet on his right bicep.
The next addition was Tracee. At first the Pinkertons were unsure if he’d fit into the family, citing his strong dislike of people. Cody worked his magic.
“When we met him he would go into a fetal position and kick at you,” Shannon recalls. “But as soon as he saw Cody – we still have the picture – he was all hugging on him.”
Tracee is the oldest of the Pinkertons’ five adoptees and is the only one who has also been diagnosed with autism, along with Down syndrome.
“His autism outweighs the Down syndrome,” Shannon notes, pointing out he is less verbal than his adopted brothers.
The 22-year-old can typically be found wearing Mardi Gras beads and, during trips to the grocery store, is known to adventure away from the cart in search of his beloved soda pop.
Tracee was adopted out of the hospital at a young age but bounced around to several different families, some of whom abused him.
“They found him chained to a table and eating off the floor,” Shannon says of one of his earlier home situations. With the Pinkertons, Tracee has been given a new life.
The next adoption was Anthony, who immediately felt like the perfect fit for the family after they traveled to visit him in Texas. Anthony loves wrestling and socializing, and enjoys cleaning around the house so much that his cleaning duties are sometimes taken away from him whenever he gets into trouble. During a recent trip to Denver he got his second tattoo, a buffalo on his left bicep with three arrows below it that reference “The Lucky Few,” a popular book about Down syndrome.
Fast forward to 2016, the Pinkertons were hopeful to adopt one more child with special needs when they received a message about Julian, then 13, of Arizona.
“They sent us a video of his brother (Cameron), and asked that if we took Julian, whether or not we’d be interested in Cameron, too,” Shannon remembers. “Cameron had six files that pretty much said, ‘Don’t adopt me.’ He had severe behavioral issues.”
Hoping to reunite the brothers after they had been separated for 13 years, the Pinkertons welcomed Julian and Cameron to the family, but not before they were sent back to Arizona by the state of Wyoming after just a few weeks at home. The state felt that the Pinkertons’ home was unsuitable to add two more special needs children.
What followed was 11 months of heartache and struggle. Shannon was laying in bed upset one night when she decided to email then Gov. Matt Mead. She received a response three days later and the Department of Family Services promptly sent a private psychiatrist to their home in Glenrock to conduct an independent home study.
For 11 months she felt horrible. She knew Julian and Cameron were going to return upset, feeling as if they had been abandoned just as they had been so many times before.
“Cameron came back angry . . . he thought that we had gotten rid of him,” Shannon says. “I had to keep reminding him that he was at his forever home.”
Julian, the youngest of the family, loves the Hulk and is an outdoorsman of sorts. He enjoys riding his bike and playing outside whenever he has the chance. Cameron is a die-hard Ninja Turtles fan and, along with his exceptional singing abilities, is a true connoisseur of movies.
The five boys also live with MaryBeth, 59, who has Down syndrome and was adopted by Shannon’s mother, Janet.
“She’s a princess,” Shannon laughs. “She keeps her brothers in line.”
When the Pinkertons aren’t traveling around the state during football and wrestling season to watch Cody compete, they’re constantly on the go doing everything within their power to give their children the life that they deserve.
“I’ve always felt that I had been blessed and felt that I needed to give back,” Troy said. “Our goal has always been to give them a better life.”
The boys especially love to travel and enjoy spending time at the Pizza Ranch in Casper and taking trips to Fort Collins and Denver. They also consider Disneyland a home away from home and will be returning as a family next month. They want their children to see the world.
Others have often referred to the Pinkertons as “angels”, noting the courage that most people feel is required to adopt children with special needs.
“We’re blessed because they’re in our lives,” Shannon adds. “There’s nothing special about us. We’re no different from anyone else that chooses to adopt.”
Cody, who is writing a persuasive paper for school on adopting children with special needs, has learned a great deal from his brothers.
“They teach you compassion and understanding,” he points out. “Anyone who comes in contact with them learns something.”
The gift that the Pinkertons have given their children is simply allowing them to live as normal of a life as possible. Anthony, Joey and Julian have become part of the Bearcat wrestling team and over the years have closely bonded with members of the DHS team.
The boys have even made a name for themselves, making friends with people in the community and far beyond.
“You can be in the Walmart in Gillette and someone will know them and come up to them and say, ‘Hi,’” father Troy explains. “They’re pretty famous.”
The Pinkerton boys have also set high aspirations for themselves. Cameron hopes to be a singer one day and wants to live on his own, get married and have children. Joey used to work at Peak Fitness, but according to Shannon, he spent too much time flexing in the mirrors.
They each have different personalities and characteristics that make them unique. They sometimes fight over the radio and partake in the usual sibling rivalries, but for the most part get along pretty well. Most importantly, they’ve grown together as a family and are always striving to spread their love to others.
As Cameron shuffles through a pile of CDs in his bedroom, he claps his hands and sings each verse until his favorite song plays through the speakers. He can’t resist “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
He pulls down a framed picture from the windowsill of himself at the Tim Tebow “Night to Shine” dance in 2017. He then walks into the living room and returns with a full family portrait from this past winter.
Cameron smiles and thinks back to his first days with his new family.
“I love them very much,” he says proudly. “This is my forever home.