The Pinkerton family of Glenrock isn’t your ordinary family of… 13?
Yes, 13 – including six Down syndrome “kids” who keep mom Shannon running.
“We're pretty blessed with these boys,” Shannon told Cowboy State Daily. “They keep us on our toes.”
Shannon and Troy Pinkerton, who have four grown biological children, made the decision years ago to open their lives and home to kids with disabilities.
“I've always had a heart for kids with special needs and the elderly, even as a young kid,” said Shannon. “My parents had a group home, which I grew up in, so it's always been a part of my life.”
It All Started With Joey
The Pinkerton’s biological children, who range in age from 21 to 33, are part of the reason Troy and Shannon started down this path. Their youngest son, Cody, had a best friend in kindergarten who had Down syndrome, which drew Cody’s attention to others with the same condition.
“In 2009, when Cody was about eight or nine, he was on the internet, and he found (information about a ten-year-old boy named) Joey that needed to be adopted, and that's where it all started,” said Shannon. “(We) put in our name (for consideration). There were like 20 families, but they all had backed out because Joey wasn't potty trained at that time. So we ended up getting picked by default, basically, I think.”
From that first experience , the Pinkertons realized they could fill a need in the foster care system that, in their opinion, wasn’t being adequately addressed.
“Once we adopted Joey, the adoption agency, the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network, sent us a couple of older kids. And we found that everybody wanted a baby, nobody wanted the older kids – they just sat in the foster care system. So that’s why we take older kids.”
The Pinkerton Boys (and Girls)
The “Pinkerton Boys” – as they are known on social media – range in age from 16 to 27, and have a variety of disabilities, not just Down syndrome.
“Joey was our first adoption,” said Shannon. “And then we have Tracy – Tracy's dual diagnosis, he's nonverbal and has autism. And then we have Anthony, and then Julian and Cameron, who are biological brothers. Cameron doesn't have Down syndrome, he's developmentally delayed and has some medical issues. And then we have Devlin, he’s our newest. He's been here almost two years.”
The family also cares for 65-year-old MaryBeth, who was born with Down syndrome, but who
se has been in Shannon’s life since she was five.
“She has Alzheimer's now, so she's not MaryBeth anymore,” said Shannon. “Like, she doesn't remember my name most of the time. But she's been with me since I was five. She lived with my parents. And she has lived with me the last 20 years.”
Special Needs Adoptions Complicated
The Pinkerton boys have come to Wyoming from all across the country – Massachusetts, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona. Shannon said the adoptions have all been completed, although the legal process can sometimes be more complicated in situations involving children with disabilities.
“About six years ago, Julian and Cameron got taken out of our home for 11 months because of some paperwork,” said Shannon. “We got the call on a Tuesday that they were picking the kids up on Thursday – now, this is after these boys had been separated, and then we told them you're going to live with your brother in your forever home… and then they were gone, and there was nothing we could do.”
Shannon said the issue stemmed from an adoption and foster care official who believed the family already had too many special needs children in their home. Fortunately, the situation was resolved, and Julian and Cameron were reunited in Glenrock with their “forever” family – but only after Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office stepped in.
“I just cried, and then one night at midnight, I wrote a letter to our governor,” said Shannon. “I got a call the very next day from his assistant. So the head of DFS (Department of Family Services) got involved, they decided to send out their own psychiatrist and psychologist to come out and do their own home study on us. He did a home study with the boys – it took two days – and he basically wrote, give the kids back right now. They definitely need to come back. And we got the boys back.”
A Day In the Life
Shannon said that outsiders are often surprised at how calm their household actually is.
“Even the adoption workers, when we get new ones, they're expecting to come into my house and see complete chaos,” she said. “And then they come in here and they're like, ‘Oh, my gosh, your house is so calm.’”
Troy works most days, said Shannon, both at a coal mine and as a farrier. Shannon’s day starts between 5 and 6 a.m., so she can get an hour or so of personal time before the rest of the brood starts milling around.
“As soon as the boys hear me, Cameron and Anthony are definitely up, and usually Devlin,” she said. “The boys usually get out of bed at six, but Joey, my little lazy one, he would sleep all day, if I let him.”
Sundays start with church at Highland Park in Casper, followed by a trip to Sam’s Club, then Old Chicago Pizza for lunch.
“The boys like to go out to eat,” said Shannon. “They like to go into town and go grocery shopping. We’re just a normal family.”
The boys are responsible for household chores, such as preparing meals, and helping their dad with outdoor projects – but the family makes plenty of time for play.
“They like to watch movies, but we have a trampoline here that they play on outside, we have tricycles, stuff like that,” said Shannon. “Yesterday, my granddaughter said, ‘I need all my uncles to meet me at the splash pad,’ so we went down and met them at the splash pad.”
Just last week, though, the Pinkerton boys were gifted with an entire playset by a nonprofit whose mission is to provide all children, regardless of their ability, the opportunity to grow and play on equipment designed for their needs.
The 501(c)3 non-profit organization Unlimited Play, along with its partner corporation, Little Tikes Commercial, singled out the Pinkerton family to have a fully accessible playground built in their backyard.
“Little Tikes Commercial and Unlimited Play don’t typically build residential playgrounds,” said Natalie Mackay, who founded the nonprofit. “But we have also never met a family who has adopted six kids with disabilities. Little Tikes Commercial heard about the Pinkertons, and then Unlimited Play and Little Tikes Commercial got together and just really thought we could make a difference for this amazing family.”
Mackay said the idea for the company was inspired by her own son’s rare genetic condition, which prevented Zachary from utilizing standard playground equipment.
“He went to doctor's appointments, and physical therapy, all of that,” said Mackay. “And I sat back one day and thought, ‘Children need friends and opportunities to play, and what better place than the playground to develop all of that?’ And so I started Unlimited Play 20 years ago, and now we've opened almost 90 coast to coast, bridging into Canada.”
Although Zachary passed away in 2021, Mackay said he lived six years past his life expectancy, and even toward the end of his life, woke up every morning excited to go to his playground.
“So what a great opportunity for Unlimited Play’s 20th anniversary to give back to a family like this one,” she said.
Mackay said the cost for the Pinkerton’s playground came close to $110,000, which was either contributed by Unlimited Play or raised by local donors. And volunteers from all over the country converged on Wyoming last week to do the hands-on work.
“We have five or six Little Tikes Commercial reps that are flying in from Texas, California, and Colorado,” said Mackay, “And then we have a contractor that's volunteered to come in and help build the project.”
Mackay said the work began toward
s the end of May with large equipment operators preparing the 60’x60’ area, and volunteers showed up to put the playground in place on Wednesday.
“They've been so excited with all the big rigs,” said Shannon Tuesday, “because we have big 18-wheelers that have been coming in and out of the house all week.”
Inclusive Playground In Their Backyard
Shannon said that to have this type of playground right in their backyard is going to make a world of difference to her boys.
“Our town did build a playground last year with a splash pad, but sometimes when I show up with all the boys and there's kids playing on the playground, kids are afraid of what they don't know,” she said. “We've actually had parents ask us to get the boys off the playset, either because they think they’re too big, or their kids aren't comfortable. And I don't get mad, because we're here to educate.”
But Shannon said Cameron, in particular, will benefit from having this playset so accessible.
“Cameron's physical therapist said this is going to be amazing for Cameron, because if he doesn't get more movement, he's going to end up in a wheelchair within five years because he has dwarfism,” said Shannon. “He can't climb on the playset that we currently have at home because it's not safe for him, and he can't do ladders and stuff because he’s blind and he needs his cane. So with this inclusive place, he's going to have so much movement during the day, that they said maybe he won't even need physical therapy.”
Shannon said that the boys have gained an impressive following on their TikTok channel – 1.2 million people follow the Pinkerton boys adventures. But when they first started posting videos on the social media platform during COVID, some of the comments caused Shannon to shut down their channel.
“It was Cameron's idea, because he wanted to find some of his friends (from previous foster homes, who also were on TikTok),” said Shannon. “So we did it for like three or four weeks, but people are just mean and vicious. So I deleted it, because people would say ‘Retard,’ or one guy said they need to be locked in a house and he wanted to watch it burn down. And I did not have thick skin for that.”
But Shannon said Cameron insisted that they stay on the platform so he could keep connecting with his friends, so she said, “I got tougher skin,” and they re-launched their channel.
This time around, the Pinkertons have found the social media platform to have unforeseen benefits.
“The person that Cameron wanted to find most, his friend Clay from elementary school, Clay found Cameron on Tiktok,” said Shannon. “So we drove all the boys to Utah to meet his friend Clay. Cameron had no clue that that's where we're going – he thought we were just getting our TikTok merch made up in Utah.”
She added that members of Cameron’s biological family have found them on TikTok as well.
“That’s been good for him,” said Shannon.
Although she still has to deal with “trolls” on their channel (“I just posted a couple of days ago, and I had to block five people before 9am just because sometimes people are vicious,” said Shannon), she said she does her best to turn rude comments into educational opportunities.
“We've had people come on and be rude and make comments, and then I'll comment back, ‘Well, that's not very nice,’” said Shannon. “I private messaged one guy and said, ‘You know, your comment was kind of rude. But by the way, my kids wanted to tell you that you have great tattoos.’ And then the guy comes back and apologizes, and the next thing I know we’re TikTok friends.”
Every Kid Deserves A Home
Shannon said she’s incredibly grateful for the new playground – not only because of the activity the playset provides, but because of the kindness that it represents.
“I know what they've been through in the foster system,” said Shannon. “Not all of my boys have been abused, but I can tell you a handful of my boys were abused and neglected in the foster care system. And – I'm gonna cry talking about it – to see Cameron and Julian and some of my boys able to have someone care about them so much to do this for them? Because it's not anything my husband and I would have ever been able to afford to do.”
Shannon said she and her husband feel blessed with their unconventional family.
“I think every kid deserves a home,” she said. “I would love every kid to have a home and not be bounced around the foster care system, whether they’re a special needs kid, or one that doesn't have special needs behaviors. I just think there's a family for every kid.”