(NEWSER) – Cruz Riojas came from a troubled home: He was reportedly beaten by his stepfather, lived in a decrepit one-room lean-to with six other family members, and wore the same clothes to school every day, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
He also caused trouble in school and was known as a "holy terror," says Linda Hooper, a teacher who first encountered Cruz in the early '80s, when he was 12 years old.
But then an amazing thing happened: He started spending more time with Hooper, who would give him tasks to do around the classroom. He eventually began coming for visits at her home, where she lived with her husband and four daughters, often running the nearly eight miles between their two houses to get away from his stepfather.
After an incident with his stepfather in 1983, Cruz's mother asked if he could stay with the Hoopers for a few days till everything blew over. "He never left" after that," Hooper says. "I had him from then on."
He became a part of the Hooper family, taking on a paper route to make money and doing better in school, placing out of special education classes by the time he graduated. More than a decade later, he was still part of the Hooper family—but he wanted to make it official by asking the Hoopers to adopt him right before his 30th birthday.
"He said he wanted to honor us, and it was a big honor," Hooper tells Today. "I've always known he loved me, but this really showed he loved us." The adoption went through in 1998, but Cruz "was my son from the day I kept him," Hooper says.
The family is just now telling their story for the first time. (Click for the full article, or read the story of a police officer who found a baby alive at a murder scene—and adopted her 30 years later.)
MORE FROM NEWSER:
Newser is a USA TODAY content partner providing general news, commentary and coverage from around the Web. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.