Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Monster in the Neighborhood

You know, we parents spend a great deal of time trying to convince the children that monsters aren't going to attack them while they sleep peacefully in their rooms each night. I know for myself the Monster Discussion is a nightly ritual, and I allay their fears only through elaborate scientific explanations that usually cause them to become so drowsy that they fall asleep in the middle of one of my exciting technicalities. Here are some of my night-time Monster Monologue Topics: 1) We lock the doors! (no monster is as thin as an envelope, and thus cannot slip under the door) 2) Monsters bigger than the house cannot fit in through the windows! (and we close the shades so we don't have to look at any giant monster eyeballs peering in) 3) Monsters like vegetables, and since my children rarely eat them, no monster would find my children nutritionally palatable! (when I give this explanation they never believe it, so I follow up with an exhortation on how important it is for budding baseball players to eat vegetables.) 4) Our homeowners association does not allow monsters in the neighborhood! (Figure, if we can't have garage sales, there is NO WAY monsters would be permitted. That's why we have a gate, I tell the kids.) 5) Monsters are afraid of the name of "Jesus" so once we say our prayers we are completely protected for the duration of the night! (the 5-year-old also writes "Jesus" on his pillow with his finger to ensure he has good dreams) 6) Monsters are extinct like dinosaurs! (We did not see a single one at Lowery Park Zoo.) 7) Monsters sleep at night! (Figure, they need their rest) 8) Monsters eat each other! (and alligators, too) 9) We have a Special Monster Alarm! (Well it's just the usual night-time security alarm, but I assured them that their father would immediately proceed to spear any monster with his pointy, metal-tipped walking stick. And I would have a pepper spray back-up) 10) Monsters are afraid of soap! (so if we take a bath each night and smell fresh, that deters them. And we can always squirt the Foaming Soap at them if they get too close.) So you can imagine with all this focus on monsterhood, how distressing I find a story such as the recent one about the girl in a north Tampa suburb who was abducted from her home, sexually assaulted, killed, and then buried in a neighbor's yard. This is a cute little girl who could belong to any of us, and who had her school clothes all laid out for the next morning. The details of the case make me want to rage around like, well, a monster. Newly emerging details make me even unhappier. Turns out the girl was abducted by the brother of a neighbor who lived about 150 yards away. This man was a repeat sexual offender who WORKED AT THE GIRL'S ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. I guess the sexual offender part did not disturb school officials when they saw it on the resume? Kidding. Of course it is not something a sexual offender mentions during the interview. But I know that new hires for many jobs have to have a background check run through the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement). So if the police new the guy was a sex offender (that's one of the reasons why he was questioned) then why wouldn't the elementary school know? Awaiting Big Boob Personnel Explanation. Don't worry, I have a long attention span. Take as much time as you like to come up with a ridiculous answer. Next. I was wondering how this guy got in at night without anyone hearing him. The girl lived with her father in her grandparents' home. Well new information from Mr. Sex Offender tells us that the door to the home was UNLOCKED. Gee, why don't we just take it right off the hinges, or maybe put a sign in our yard: "Our Locks Are For Decoration Purposes Only." I don't know the reason the door was unlocked. Oversight? I have a suspicion, though. The girl's father was out with his friends that night and didn't get home until the wee hours of the morning. I suspect this was not an unusual occurrence, and that the door was left open for him. Or he went out late enough to leave it open for himself. Unfair? Maybe. But I'm in a blaming kinda mood, and what was the father of a 9-year-old girl doing out until 4 a.m.? I haven't been out that late since I was single, and can't imagine an occasion that would keep me out that long now that I have kids. (Caveat: I can imagine getting UP that early for various child-related reasons.) As an aside, no one noticed the girl's absence until the next morning. Don't Carousing Dads check on their kids when they get home? Especially if the freaking door was left unlocked?! That's the first thing I do when I get up for a glass of water in the middle of the night. Check on the kids, in case someone's under a pillow, or at the edge of a bed, or sleeping in a funny position. Check. On. The. Kids. It's right there in the Parenting Manual that God gives you when you leave the hospital. It was on mine, anyway. I'm not suggesting it would have changed the situation any, as the girl was already gone. (although it could have, depending on timing and where the Monster Neighbor took her) I'm suggesting that parental indifference can lead to unlocked doors and other tragedies. Would any of this had happened if Dad was home and the door was locked? Maybe. This Neighbormonster knew who the girl was and could've snatched her on the way home. But that would've been broad daylight, and maybe harder to get away with. Third. The family never saw this guy and does not know the neighbor who lived 150 yards away. It is true that the Neighbor Monster was not a permanent resident of the house. He stayed their sometimes with his sister (who must have known Dear Brother was a registered sex offender!), and several other people. I am not claiming I know every one of my neighbors. But neighbors talk. And if there is a group of adults occupying a house, that is a Situational Oddity to begin with. (Unless it's an ethnic clan that is just getting its start in the U.S.) But un-related adults all living together in a group (the three others were unrelated) spell trouble to me. A situation worth watching. My word to kids: "Don't go near that house!" Turns out there was quite a bit of alleged drug abuse going on there. And if you saw the mug shots of these people in the paper, well, they make the Addams family look like Donna Reed and the Father Knows Best cast. I'm sure no costumes were necessary for any of their Halloween outings. The NeighborMonster himself is 46 years old, and looks about 80. The sister denied to the police that the brother ever lived there. Listen, lady, if your brother is innocent a chat with the police isn't going to do any harm. If he's involved with a child abduction and murder, maybe the world would be a better place if you told the truth. Anyway, most of these scary characters are up on various charges relating either to drugs or lying to the police. Another problem I have is with this guy's Sex Offender status. Apparently he was a registered sex offender (with multiple offenses) but not technically a sexual PREDATOR. I guess they only bother notifying the neighbors if you've reached the coveted PREDATOR status. So no one told the neighbors about this guy. (Least of all the dimbulb sister.) It is true you can look up registered sex offenders online. I do this every so often to make sure our neighborhood is safe! But you're never totally safe because there's always the first time offender and the Sexual Offender Wannabes. http://www3.fdle.state.fl.us/sexual_predators/ I provided the link for anyone in Florida who wants to check it out. They have nationwide ones, also. I feel sorry for the whole family. I wonder about the mother, who is understandably outraged at having lost her 9-year-old daughter. But she is living nowhere near her 9-year-old daughter. Let's just say Mr. Registered Sex Offender was seeing a lot more of the daughter than this mother was! He, after all, worked at her elementary school. The mother is living in Ohio with some other guy she married. Again, I'm speaking only for myself, but if I were in a situation where I was divorced and did not have custody of my kids, my very next lifelong action would be to make sure I was as geographically close to them as possible. (Hopefully right under their beds, but whatever I could manage.) I would NOT be five states away, at the TOP of the country as big as the U.S., while my kids were at the BOTTOM. Not unless I was in jail or had a military obligation. I don't pretend to know the mother's story. But I do know she was nowhere near her kid. She is to be pitied in more ways than one. And dad? I feel sorry for him too. He is now free to go out drinking as late as he wants. And leave the door unlocked if he so chooses. Meanwhile, I will continue my efforts to convince the kids that monsters don't exist. Even as I'm gruesomely aware that they certainly do.

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