Victims’ Voices of Josephine County – Story #6
By K. David Smith
This column is the sixth in a series that aims to give the human perspective behind the crisis in criminal justice funding in Josephine County, Oregon. For further information about this series, the background behind it, and the stories of other people who have been affected by the loss of public safety funding in the County, please click here.
It was just a little while ago, when the air quality was so bad from the fires that you could barely see from 4th Street to 7th downtown. The streets were virtually empty, just a few cars sliding through the smoke like ghosts, and Grants Pass felt like a set for a volcano movie. Every HEPA filter and face mask in the valley had been bought out, and there was talk among pretty much everyone with kids who had enough money to pay for gas and a place to stay about whether or not to get the young ones out of town for the sake of their lungs. Not to mention the parents’ sanity – a week with no outside-time in the middle of the summer is a sure way to turn little kids into Tasmanian Devils in a hurry.
This family decided not to take any chances. They had an infant and two little boys, and they had family in Portland. Giving the kids a vacation in the city for a few days, or a week or two, seemed like a better idea than keeping them here. Who knew how long the air quality would be bad? There was talk about it lasting all summer, or even getting worse, given how little rain Grants Pass typically gets this time of year and how the prevailing winds blow. There was nowhere for the smoke to go once it got into the valley. We could be in for the Summer of Smog, was the word.
Best to get the kids out, if you could. This family could, so they did.
They took the boys up to Portland. The parents, too, were feeling pretty cooped-up, pretty jittery after a week in the smog layer, wondering how bad the fires were going to get and worrying about friends farther out, closer to the at-risk areas. Both are runners, fit and with a lifelong habit of keeping themselves in shape, exercise one of the few outlets they could rely on to relieve stress in the busy lives of two highly educated professionals with demanding careers and three young boys. The smoke had shot that idea for ten long days too. They’d been planning on running a relay race in Bend that weekend for weeks. So after dropping the kids off, they went across the Cascades and down, ran the relay, and went back to Portland. On just 3 hours of sleep in 2 days, they headed back to Grants Pass. Work was waiting. Family would watch the kids, and they would sort out what to do over the long term once it became clearer what the fires were going to do.
When they got home after this whirlwind weekend with too little sleep and a lot of worry, it took a little while to realize that something wasn’t right in the house.
After the fact, it was easy to see the little things that should have clued them in. The stuff that was in the way in the garage, making it so they couldn’t park the car where they normally would. The mess in the living room, things pulled out and left on the floor, closet doors left open. Just little things, but not normal. Still, they’d left in a hurry, and a house with three busy little boys in it looks like a small slice of chaos even on the best days, no matter how many times you clean up. So it took a few minutes and a gradual accumulation of “something’s not right” signals for them to realize that someone had been in the house.
Or, maybe, was still there.
They happened to be good friends with a cop and had a brother-in-law who kept guns. They called both. Both told them to get out of the house, call the police, and wait. Their detective friend arrived just before the police cruiser. Gradually, room by room and one portion of the yard after another, the professionals cleared the house. It looked as though whoever had been there had left in a hurry, maybe only minutes before the couple pulled into the driveway, or maybe jumping out the back windows as the couple’s car stopped up front. The police made sure there was no one lurking either inside the house or out, then gave them instructions about how to inventory their possessions and find out what was missing, how to organize the records and preserve evidence. If trouble came up, their friend and brother-in-law were only a quick call away, and the police were alerted.
What they knew to be missing was bad enough. All their personal information – Social Security numbers, passports, birth certificates. Her engagement ring. Computers, cameras, pretty much anything movable and electronic. The thieves, whoever they were, had been thorough and seem to have had time. They’d gotten away with some heartbreakingly personal things, as well as a great deal of value. A car, among other things.
A family member, leaving to go back to his home after it was clear there was little else he could do, happened to spot the missing car parked just two blocks away. Again the police arrived and examined the scene. The car had been abandoned, probably not long before. Inside they found meth and marijuana, receipts from a fast-food drive-through and a convenience store, and (thankfully) some of the couple’s stolen goods – including her engagement ring. A lucky strike, and a partial relief. There were still all too many items missing, but many of the most valuable were recovered along with the car.
Still, the thieves were nowhere to be found. There were clearly several of them, judging by the items found in the car and abandoned tools and other things discovered in the house. They knew how to get in, and they knew there was more there to be taken. There was a chance they’d be back once they thought they could break in without getting caught.
She slept elsewhere that night. He stayed, tried to get a handle on what had happened, keeping watch. Over the next few days, life went on. They worked on securing the house. They talked about what had happened, tried to get their minds around it. They talked about risks, about precautions, about reasons to stay and reasons to go. They talked about jobs. Questions that were already on their minds, but that had now become more pointed.
For the time being, there are more reasons to stay than to go. With the smoke clearing, there’s less worry about the kids, especially the baby, being affected by hazardous air quality. Hazardous crime conditions are another question, one over which they have only slightly more control. They’re doing what they can, but there’s another level of background anxiety that wasn’t there before. These are good parents, people who take their responsibilities seriously. They have options. They’re professionals who have critical jobs in the community, people of the sort Grants Pass needs and can’t afford to lose.
The criminals are still at large.
The author, K. David Smith, graduated from Harvard College cum laude in 1991. A former management consultant and healthcare policy analyst, he currently resides in Grants Pass – outside the city limits. He is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Pacific University while taking care of three young boys. He is also an active member of Securing Our Safety. You can contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org