The House Search
I moved to Ohio in the spring of 2016. My husband (fiance at the time) and I considered many factors when choosing a neighborhood to start our married life and, hopefully, a family. We compared performance of the school districts, affordability, charm of the neighborhood and houses, safety, proximity to our jobs, etc. Ultimately, we decided that Ottawa Hills (despite the snobby reputation and eye rolls it often garners) was the right fit for us.
When we moved in, we got right to work fixing up our 1957 mid century modern house. Though our house had “good bones,” it wasn’t well maintained. It was in need of tuckpointing, window repair, a new roof, paint on every surface imaginable, new carpet on the stairs. We replaced doorknobs, hinges, and switches. The wood deck, a huge selling feature for us, was actually rotting apart, once the snow thawed. There were gas leaks and plumbing leaks and dying appliances to replace. Nevermind the hideous bathrooms and kitchen.
It was a labor of love, one we tackled to create a safe space for the family we were planning. The family that came true – when we welcomed our son into this world in May 2018, followed by our daughter in December 2019.
Several months after we moved in, a family moved into the house next door to us. They seemed nice enough. The parents, a mom & dad, both worked at the school. One, head of groundskeeping and the other, a teacher (like myself). They had 3 children. The boys were very involved in baseball; the only times we saw them were when they were coming or going from baseball. Otherwise, they kept to themselves and we didn’t see them much.
Through the years, I would gripe to my husband about certain things that irritated me about them. Mostly that their weeds grew so tall they would flop into our pachysandra. Or that their dogs would poop in our yard, and they never clean up the dog waste. They failed to properly maintain their home. Or that the husband’s bright orange truck was loud; we’d hear it all day long, starting in the early morning. Probably petty and insignificant things, but things that irked me, nonetheless.
Despite my general displeasure of our neighbors, the community loved them. The police spoke highly of the husband, as he was always willing to help if they needed it. He coached a travel baseball team in the area. He was involved on a Village committee. By all appearances, he and his wife were pillars of the Ottawa Hills community. Until they weren’t.
We came home from the hospital with our daughter in early December 2019. That’s when news from the school district broke that the man next door was on unpaid administrative leave, effective immediately, following an allegation under investigation. There were no details shared beyond that. However, eventually, word got around that it involved inappropriate behavior. With minors. This seemed like a grave mistake, someone making an accusation that wasn’t true – how could it be? He was a respected member of the community. A family man. Certainly not the ideal neighbor in my eyes, but could he really be a rapist?
A few weeks later, the Grand Jury ruled there was sufficient evidence to press charges, and an arrest warrant was issued for my neighbor. All of a sudden, our quiet and sleepy space was invaded by police cars and crime vans. My neighbor was arrested and their house was searched for evidence. This is not the scene we envisioned when selecting Ottawa Hills as our residence.
He was charged with 32 felony counts: 9 counts of rape, 6 counts of sexual battery, 12 counts of gross sexual imposition, and 5 counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor.
I followed the case closely, as I obviously couldn’t believe such a monster lived next door. One can search the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas docket (free) for public documents involved in the case, and I checked regularly. Almost two years after his arrest, and due in large part to the courageous bravery of the young boys that were victimized by & stood up against this man, he was convicted on 31 of the 32 felony charges. He was sentenced to life in prison AND a minimum of 101 years in jail in October 2021. As of the time of writing, he plans to appeal.
Protecting Our Kids
We, perhaps falsely and naively, thought living in a “safe” community like Ottawa Hills would shelter us from a lot of depravity of the world. But this case shows predators can live A N Y W H E R E. They don’t have to be stereotypes with windowless vans and creepy mustaches. They can be male or female, rich or poor, white or black, highly educated or not, urban or rural, and anything in between. All of this begs the question – how do we protect our kids from the dangers that lurk in this world?
Though our children are far too young to understand the atrocities that happened next door, we have started their training to keep them safe. It is so important to talk openly about body parts, why they are private, setting boundaries, and how to tell an adult if someone violates their space or body. Your children are never too young to start learning these lessons. This website has very insightful tips for helping your child avoid becoming the victim of sexual abuse: 10 Ways To Teach Your Child The Skills To Prevent Sexual Abuse.
Embarrassment, judgement, and fear of not being believed are what cause many victims to repress their urge to tell someone about their abuse, so it is important to look for signs of trouble: a sudden shift in mood, losing joy in their passions, becoming more withdrawn, and/or acting more than usual can all be subtle clues your child is struggling with something.
Above all else, love your child. Teach them to love themselves and others.
Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence is a resource for those struggling with childhood sexual abuse.