As we settled into our new home we noticed a car that seemed to never move, parked outside our house. My friends assumed we bought a used car; it was always there, on the curb. One morning as I was watering the plants, our neighbor introduced herself to me, “I am 72 years old and we will never leave this home.” … our initial interaction was odd but I chalked that up to her age. The next morning as I was watering my hydrangeas I asked my neighbor if she knew who’s car was parked in front of my house, “Yeah, it’s mine”. After that, the car moved for about a week but then it was back for good.
I was chasing Mill up the sidewalk when I ran into a neighbor who was all too eager to gossip about everyone in our cul-de-sac. She told me that her neighbor was socially awkward (like he might keep women in his basement – her words not mine) and that the boys who ride their bikes around are autistic. Between her assumptions and fabrications she did spew some interesting information about my next door neighbor, “If the white car is out front, that means her son is living with them again”.
The interactions with those neighbors were minimal. We’d wave to the old man as he mowed his grass. I would talk to the woman about the weather as we watered our flowers. As the weather got colder and snow covered the streets, I would shovel their sidewalk along with mine. Millie and I made them a plate of cookies for Christmas; an assortment of cookies with a card that she signed. We bundled up and walked over to their house but left the cookies on the porch because nobody answered. (We assumed it was because of COVID.)
March rolled around and the kids were desperate to get outside. On a particularly nice evening, after dinner, we took a family walk. Chris pushed the stroller and we let Millie run around in the grass by the pond. As we were headed home, we ran into a friend of mine, a sales representative for instruments and repair. We knew that he lived in our neighborhood but had never seen him out before. As we were chatting, Mill and Wells were playing with his dog. During our conversation about home values and mulch fundraisers, he mentioned that he thought we lived in close proximity of a child sex offender; he thought the man lived on our street and that he might in fact be our next door neighbor. The conversation moved onto back patios and football then oddly enough, his neighbors lawn mower caught fire right in front of us. Even an explosion wasn’t enough to get my mind off of the potential threat to my family.
I sat on the couch, pulled out my phone, and frantically began searching the internet. Our county has a website that allows you to search for sex offenders near you. I typed in our home address and my fear was confirmed. We had five offenders within a two mile radius of us, with the closest being the house next door. The mugshot associated with the address was not of the owner of the home, but their son. The site listed his name, age, employer and his work address, crimes committed, vehicle description and license plate number. This confirmed that the white car in front of my home was his, a man convected of pandering a juvenile male.
My anxiety heightened as the night went on. “The children played outside in their bathing suits this summer! I literally walked Millie over to their porch to deliver Christmas cookies!” Chris and I knew that we had to have more answers before we started to assume the worst. The following day, Chris walked over to speak with the neighbors. I could see him from the window above my kitchen sink. The old couple sat with Chris on the porch for what felt like an eternity. When he came back home, the news was not comforting.
Our neighbors were incredibly forthcoming with information. They assumed we knew about their son, the sexual predator. Chris explained to them that we were unaware and that we were concerned for the well-being of our children. They commended Chris for wanting to protect his family and told him that he was the first person in the neighborhood to approach them with questions. They told Chris about their 46 year old son who had his doctorate in French studies. What started as one glass of scotch a night became two, three, four, etc. He began downloading child pornography – they claim he didn’t realize that the children in these videos were being abused. According to his parents, he went to court, lost everything, and was living with them because he was suicidal. He struggles with the guilt of knowing what he had participated in. He was assigned a probation officer and a physiatrist that he spoke with daily. He chose to do his grocery shopping during the school day while kids were at school, he limited his time spent outside, his internet rights were taken away – but in the six months his probation would end.
I feared the worst. Could my children ever play outside without me worrying? What if he hacks into our WiFi and illegally downloads filthy things and the police thinks it’s us?! I couldn’t wrap my mind around him watching the 15+ children on my street. Why wouldn’t his parents move him away from the temptation? I called the non-emergency police line and spoke with a deputy about my options. His words verbatim, “We protect those bastards and because he registers as an offender, he continues to have the same rights as everyone else.” I was advised to not say anything in the form of signs or fliers because I could be sued for defamation of character. The officers advice to us was to move away. He said, “Don’t play Russian roulette with your children.”
Watering my plants was no longer enjoyable. I was on high alert whenever I was outside. I was uncomfortable getting my mail, playing in the yard with the kids, and eating dinners on the patio. I knew it was time to get serious about moving. We contacted our realtor, who swears she had no idea about the proximity of the sex offender, and she put a for sale sign in our front yard. That sign was a visual representation of taking control of a dangerous situation. The market was insane but we sold our beautiful home (that we only lived in for eleven months) and we were able to move out of that neighborhood and into one with two schools within a mile (so no sex offenders can live there).
I remember the first interaction I had with that neighbor, telling me that she’d never leave – what a bizarre thing to say to someone you just met. Now I realize why she said it. She thought we knew about her son. She thought I was curious if the sex offender on the street would be moving any time soon. As I walked into the post office for a change of address form, I noticed a sign hanging on the lobby cork board with fines and penalties for sending illegal mail; $50k for reusing postage. $10K for sending child pornography. My eyes have been opened in a whole new, terrifying way.