A story has been unspooling in Fort Wayne since Friday, and anyone who knows anything about such things suspected it was going to have a tragic ending. Late last night, it arrived — Aliahna Lemmon, 9, missing since Friday morning, was found dead, and the man she’d been left with, Michael Plumadore, was arrested. As frequently happens in these cases, everyone involved was poor, and every reported fact raised more questions than it answered.
The trailer park where everybody involved lived was said to be home to 15 registered sex offenders, which until recently included the missing girl’s grandfather, who died earlier this month. Plumadore had been the grandfather’s caretaker, and was staying in his mobile home. Plumadore had priors — I’d imagine a clean record in a place like this is as unlikely as finding an adult resident without a tattoo — but none of them were for violent felonies, so no worries, eh? The dead girl was said to have emotional problems, PTSD in some accounts, with no explanation of how a 9-year-old might come to develop a post-traumatic stress disorder. Until she was found, the girl’s grandmother had given numerous interviews saying she trusted Plumadore implicitly, although she admitted it was probably not a good idea for him to have left Aliahna and her sisters alone for half an hour Friday morning, when she likely disappeared, while he went to a nearby convenience store in search of a cigar.
Yes, that was his account of his whereabouts: Woke up, couldn’t get back to sleep, went out for a cigar, came home, smoked it and fell back to sleep for a few hours, and woke up to find the girl gone. He assumed her mother had taken her, although the sisters were still there. It was hours before anyone finally realized the girl was gone. And why was she staying with him? Because her mother had the flu, and her stepfather needed to sleep during the day, and who the hell knows? It was one of those stories you put down and ask yourself that if Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world, red and yellow black and white they are precious in his sight, why he lets so many of them arrive in a world where they are, objectively, fucked for life.
I’ve known a few people who grew up in conditions like this — rural and/or urban squalor, for lack of a better word, in houses where nobody cleaned or cooked or considered it odd that mom or dad or both were drunk all the time. Houses where grandpa is a sex offender, where mom is crazy, where you and your brother had to split a single pork chop but the dogs were all well-fed, because they were mama’s babies. Houses where your uncle or your dad’s army buddy tried to catch you alone in a room so he could push you up against a wall and ask if there was fur on that monkey yet. Houses where the TV was never turned off, ever, and you never saw a dentist and grandma smoked right next to her oxygen tank. And you know what? These people are heroes in the truest sense of the word. They battled great odds and emerged with a prize beyond rubies — a safe, sane, balanced middle-class life that they could bring their own children into and keep them from harm. Why aren’t we studying them in the world’s great universities? Why do we spend so much time lionizing frauds and con men and politicians and actors and other assholes, and not the few Aliahnas left behind who will survive their ghastly upbringings and prosper? Why aren’t we carrying them through the streets, or at least debriefing them to discover how, exactly, they slipped the noose of ignorance and poverty?
I’m going to stop reading about this kid for a while. Not good for me.
UPDATE: Too late! She was clubbed to death with a brick, then dismembered.
And I’m sorry to bum you out, but these cases take it out of me.
And now here we are in the last days of the year. I’m counting down to my final day on the old job and first ones on the new, so of course I’m reaching for the most calming activity I know in times of stress — cleaning bathrooms. If I really hit a lick, I could get the whole house clean, but for now, I’ll settle for a couple toilets.
Fascinating holiday-weekend reader from the NYT: The Empire State Building — and other tall skyscrapers around the country — find astonishing profits in their upper-level observation decks. Sixty million in profits in one year? Yikes. (As one who bought that ticket, a few years back? Not worth it. The wait was endless and the view? Eh. The Chicago skyscrapers are far better, and I concur with those who told me that the best bargain is the cocktail lounge a few levels down from the top, where you get the same view, free of charge, and with drinks.
And as it’s late, that’s about all I have. Hope the news at your end was better.
Jonathan said on December 27, 2011 at 11:03 am
And here I thought you were going to be writing about poor Ayla, who disappeared from her father’s house last week in Waterville Maine. He said he put her to bed and this 20 month old was some how gone the following morning. And what you said about being “fucked for life” was exactly what my wife and I were thinking about poor Ayla, who’s mom didn’t have custody because of her drug arrests. So so frustrating and terrible to read about:
Deborah said on December 27, 2011 at 11:21 am
“… ask yourself that if Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world, red and yellow black and white they are precious in his sight, why he lets so many of them arrive in a world where they are, objectively, fucked for life.” Exactly. Maybe Jeff (tmmo) can explain it.
I just recently completed a brochure for one of the companies vying for the observation deck at One World in NYC and Willis Tower in Chicago. That’s what they do, operate observation decks all over the world. I had no idea they were so profitable. I think what they have now at Willis (those glass ledges) is better than before but it is still a far cry from the iconic status of the exterior of the building on the Chicago skyline.
4dbirds said on December 27, 2011 at 11:31 am
This is why I love you Nancy. I worry about these kids too and I also wonder about the people who don’t give a shit about them.
alex said on December 27, 2011 at 11:36 am
I once knew a kid from that very trailer park many, many years ago. He died climbing on one of the enormous electrical towers that double as a jungle gym in that place. It probably ranks in the top three most squalid places to live in Allen County.
Kim said on December 27, 2011 at 11:50 am
Some people rise above the ashes of their life by surviving to be old enough to realize that there is a better life out there waiting for them. The part that really scares me- I see a lot of older teens who have grown up this way, but see no reason to make the effort to better their life.
brian stouder said on December 27, 2011 at 11:51 am
While we were in Logansport over Christmas, we heard the news about the missing girl, and I thought it was just a domestic dispute between mom and baby-daddy – it being Christmas and all.
But when Christmas came and went, and she remained missing, that notion faded.
Last night when I went to bed, I popped on the tv for the headlines, and the local stations were running the sheriff’s live press conference; and then that was it.
My guess is, there aren’t many secrets in a mobile home park; who comes home late all the time, or which family fights all the time, or which men are on the Offender list, or which ones are just plain scary (despite not being on the list).
And then one day – something that WAS a secret becomes known, and then the extant ‘common knowledge’ looks at the new information and, with hind-sight, fills in blanks, and then the refrain will be “oh yeah, that makes sense; I never liked that guy” etc.
I suppose that is a “coping mechanism”.
And Alex – that park is also within walking distance of some very nice suburban neighborhoods, and several of the people I work with; all of whom are aghast at the turn of events, with some openly wondering what this will do to their home values.
Sometimes, what the darkness conceals really is bottomless.
alex said on December 27, 2011 at 11:55 am
Small, small world. Here’s the recent obit for the missing girl’s grandfather.
Here’s the man by the same name as the grandfather who was wrongfully arrested a couple of years ago for child molesting and humiliated in front of the community and denied any recourse in the courts.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 27, 2011 at 11:55 am
At the housing coalition we call it “resilience,” and why one person or family who hits bottom has it, and makes it out, and another just keeps diving back into the septic tank to see if there’s a rose on the bottom, we don’t really know. There are too few studies of that as opposed to research on the management of ongoing dysfunction, and I’m with Nancy that it ought to have more attention.
We’re in Indiana this week, and my wife & I have been talking about the same horror all morning. We both have too much data on stories like this, that are known because of the tragic end; the even larger ghastliness is that there are hundreds of similar stories within your five mile radius, wherever you are, without the grim punctuation mark of death to conclude the tale. It goes on, and we keep trying to find ways to divert and mute and change human nature at its worst, but we’re still throwing rocks into the darkness beyond the light of the campfire.
Deborah, the only short answer I can give you is that all the branches of Christianity that I work with say, not infrequently, that this world is broken. All is not as it ought to be, the way it should be. We have a variety of ways to frame that reality, poetic or theological images, whether you call it “the Fall” or “the Adversary (in Hebrew, Satan)” or sometimes just the hungry dark. Faith doesn’t say that all is sunshine and lollipops and we’re too dim to see it (well, Mary Baker Eddy says that, but she’s an outlier). We say “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
That doesn’t mean that often there sure looks like there’s more darkness around than there’s light from too few candles, but that’s where I like the non-Biblical saying “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Stories like this tempt me to sin, at least as far as spending quality time cursing the darkness. Then it’s back to lighting the candles within my reach.
Peter said on December 27, 2011 at 12:02 pm
Whoa, you’re not kidding about those observation decks. I had a project this past year remodeling the gift store for the Willis Tower, and people just basically throw money at these places.
My heart just goes out for that poor little girl. And Nancy, you are so right – the kids fight over food but the dogs are always well fed.
Connie said on December 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm
Or 2 year old Bianca Jones in Detroit, whose father claims he was carjacked while his daughter was in the car. The car was found empty. 3 weeks now.
sueM said on December 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm
Connie said on December 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm
Latest update on Fort Wayne girl: Babysitter bludgeoned Ind. girl, 9, then dismembered her, police say
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm
I believe that’s “babysitter.”
My wife’s fury is over women who will tell you over and over they are “a pit-bull for their babies” and are on guard and defensive over what the school or the counselor or well-meaning friends try to tell them, but once they decide to start “going out” with a guy, no matter his record or circumstances, he can now be trusted with “the babies.” Until of course when they break up, and then he was always no good and took advantage of the family’s trusting nature.
Sex makes both genders stupid.
Dexter said on December 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm
beb said on December 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm
This is why I stopped listening to the news.
Detroit has its tragedies, too.
Dexter said on December 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm
At first glance I thought the admitted killer was Billy Ray Cyrus.
Mindy said on December 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm
I was reading the news about the girl’s death early this morning and grappling with the ugly realization that I live only a short distance from that trailer park crawling with registered sex offenders when there was a knock at my front door. It was a cop, which made my heart stand still. A lady driving too fast down my road had lost control of her car on the slick road and crashed into my heavy steel mailbox. Which explained the loud bang I’d thought was a trash truck slamming my bin around. He was leaving a reference number for the accident, said that my mailbox emerged the winner of that contest and that the lady’s car was a real mess. But it was enough to further rattle my reclusive little Pollyanna world here in the trees since that little girl was brutally murdered not far from me in a trailer park I pass too often in order to forget this anytime soon. Maybe never.
brian stouder said on December 27, 2011 at 1:58 pm
You know, I was going to ask what “FFL” (Nancy’s headline) meant; I googled it and came up with Federal Firearm License (and Fantasy Football League), and thought “hmmmmm”.
And THEN it hit me. (Yes, I’m slow)
Connie said on December 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm
Well, brian, I’m slower.
Deborah said on December 27, 2011 at 2:57 pm
Fucked for life?
brian stouder said on December 27, 2011 at 3:04 pm
1. Deborah – you’re quicker than me!
2. Well Connie, we just have to keep plugging away, right?
3. And – here’s a morbid Motown question for you: Is Jimmy Hoffa buried in the foundation of the Ren-Cen?
I only ask because that is an example of an old, national and notorious horror – which is currently propelling sales of a new book – as opposed to a small, quiet, soon-to-be- swept-away local one, like we have today in Fort Wayne
del said on December 27, 2011 at 3:10 pm
Today’s post’s on the mark. The trailer park angle reminds me of a twenty-something man I met who bought a trailer in rural Michigan with settlement money resulting from his beating in a Detroit jail – his jaw had to be wired shut. His mom knew there was trouble in the trailer when she babysat her 2 year old grandson and the kid picked up tweezers and pretended to use them as a roach clip.
Unfortunately, resilience is the exception to the rule; the resilient are outliers.
moe99 said on December 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm
The Newtster is still lying about the circumstances of his first divorce. I thought I’d post that to cheer us all up.
brian stouder said on December 27, 2011 at 3:31 pm
moe – the article you linked got me laughing! (especially the end)
Peter said on December 27, 2011 at 3:41 pm
Moe – that old photo of Newt is priceless. Scary is as scary does, I reckon.
alex said on December 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm
The accused’s facebook page is still up. (The victim had her own page too, and was listed as a friend of the accused, but that appears to have been scrubbed.) So this is the face of a man who could cut up a child with a hacksaw. Looks like he likes him some strippers.
Suzanne said on December 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm
This story from Fort Wayne…so sad. I figured something odd was up when the search was not continued on Christmas Day. Something just seemed off.
I don’t know what to say about any of it. Out here in rural land, we haven’t seen anything this sick, but there is a lot of strange, strange stuff that goes on. Strange, but goes on so often, nobody bats an eye much. I can think of very few families who don’t have someone in them who has a DUI record, or been arrested for whomping on someone, or caught with drugs or some similar mishap. People consider it completely within the norm of behavior; alcoholism isn’t really considered a disease, just how some people are. Which leads me to believe that if someone did hear this poor little girl crying or screaming, the few people who were awake probably didn’t think much of it, because it isn’t an uncommon thing.
brian stouder said on December 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm
Alex – it is amazing, isn’t it?
It hasn’t been very many years – 4? 5? – since the “social network” slime trail of a malefactor became a standard part of these sorts of horrible stories, yes?
For example, Columbine predated this altogether, yes? (I don’t think facebook, et al, existed yet)
Whereas Casey Anthony’s partyin’ pics were a standard part of every report; and locally, Fort Wayne’s last horrible double-murder/suicide was a Facebook story in the lead paragraph, since a woman in Washington state spotted the shooter’s goodbye, and called 911.
LAMary said on December 27, 2011 at 4:47 pm
We do background checks on all applicants we’re considering for hire and the percentage of folks with DUIs is mind boggling.
David C. said on December 27, 2011 at 5:22 pm
I can’t get used to Willis Tower. It will probably always be Sears Tower to me.
Jolene said on December 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm
Just recently, I read that, by the age of 23, 30-40% of Americans have an arrest record. Pretty astonishing.
paddyo' said on December 27, 2011 at 5:47 pm
Sadly, a pitch-perfect post. Words did not fail you, Nancy.
They fail me now.
elaine said on December 27, 2011 at 5:54 pm
Alex – when I looked at Plumadore’s Facebook page earlier today, he had 625 friends. He’s now down to 570. Just an observation.
JWfromNJ said on December 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm
My thought was a single cigar = blunt. Of course some people have a thing for crappy gas station cigars but I’d give even money that it was cut open, dumped out, and loaded with some nasty brownish trailer park weed.
I’ve never been to that trailer park but I’ve visted friends of my wife’s family (who always have fine associates) in the Regency Estates on Dunkelberg Road near SR 1. Same situation – horrible 1970 vintage trailers, broken down cars, numerous kids who deserve better and numerous adults making bad lifestyle choices. In my defense I mostly sat outside with my camera shooting planes on approach into Fort Wayne Int. Airport. But I also got to know the norms of the park. Kids bouncing from trailer to trailer, parents leaving for various errands with no clear plan for their kid’s well being.
Drugs and violence were common – I guess they go hand in hand.
Nancy’s words left me a little choked up. FFL sums it up well. No positive role models, no implied sense of this isn’t how people should live. Even before hearing the outcome I was pretty sure she was dead and equally sure unless social services steps up their game that the other two sisters were doomed. But we approach stories like this with our middle class values and lives. People living in places like that and usually in generational poverty likely found the explantion that mom (said she) had the flu and stepdad needed his sleep at face value.
I have benefitted from reading Dr. Ruby Paynes, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” Her examples seem forced and likely false but her observations are astute about the values of people living in poverty to be as foriegn to most of us as the lives and worries of the very rich. Living here in Vero Beach and reporting I’ve met some extremely wealthy people who want to give back to the community but admit they just don’t get homeless people, families living in poverty, etc. anymore than I get the hassles of repositioning their 120-ft motoryacht to Europe in the summer (have to send it to Port Canaveral, Miami, or Palm Beach where it is loaded on a much bigger ship).
I’m not excusing the mother’s choices. Creepers transcend all classes and most of us can recognize a creeper’s Facebook page without any help. I sense there is much more beneath the surface here – and the recently dead grandfather.. from what I’ve gleaned from friends back in the Fort the little girls PTSD is explained. We may never know. I think it was sexual but it could have been the guy just lost his temper and crossed the line. Horrible in any event.
In part I feel like the city and the county are complicit in letting places like this stay in operation. Based on the Regency it wouldn’t be hard to condemn almost every unit. But that shifts the burden to the local authorities who suddenly have to deal with dozens of homeless families with kids when without intervention they can basically get by on their present lifestyle. A few years ago the city made a lot of noise about problems at the Regency – the place got a minor facelift, numerous vacant trailers were demolished, broken water mains were fixed, but I’d bet things are no better there today than two years ago. We tend to think of trailers as moveable resources but most of these trailers would collapse if moved and the expenses to move any trailer, even the newer ones in nicer places are pretty considerable.
If there is any upside to this story I’d bet many people who never bothered before suddenly checked the local sex offender database.
nancy said on December 27, 2011 at 8:56 pm
John, I’ve also been to that place on Dunkelberg Road. I think a young couple I followed for a bit — she pregnant, he en route to Iraq — lived there. Pretty bad, but not nearly as bad as the one where the murdered girl lived. Alex had that right when he called it squalid.
Crazycatlady said on December 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm
Here in Detroit we have a black child that has been missing for 3 weeks. Her dad claims he was carjacked. Bianca Jones is missing still. And the bet is her dad did it. Sadly, her name is fading from the front page. Hopefully, she will be found, but hope is a fragile thing. And this city is an awfully hard place to live. Not meant for the small, meek and innocent.
moe99 said on December 27, 2011 at 11:24 pm
We need more good news on such a bleak day. Here’s a baby polar bear.
Hattie said on December 28, 2011 at 1:11 am
God I lived in a poor white semi-rural slum in the 50’s and saw stuff like that all around me. Terrible that it still goes on. And yes, kudos to the resilient young people who transcended these ghastly conditions and made something out of themselves and provided stablility for others. Lots of them did, out of that place. But they had opportunities. Where are the opportunities for self betterment these days?
Dexter said on December 28, 2011 at 2:57 am
Ladies beware…spending time on Facebook can result in a real whuppin’. In a trailer court:
Dexter said on December 28, 2011 at 3:07 am
I try to keep up, really, but…hell, I have not heard of most of these celebrities:
Linda said on December 28, 2011 at 6:12 am
JTMMO at #13:
What your wife says reminds me of “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, whose parents were really “fierce” about defending their children from hospital staff and social workers, but wouldn’t go through the trouble of feeding them, or protecting them against adults who really wanted to exploit them. Reading that book made me outraged on every other page.
ROGirl said on December 28, 2011 at 6:13 am
I still remember a case from a number of years ago (more than 5 years ago) where a little boy supposedly disappeared at the mall, according to his mother. I think they found a car seat in a field somewhere with blood on it, but they never found the child.
Dave said on December 28, 2011 at 9:46 am
Dexter, ditto on not knowing who most of those people are. Watch an old TV show from thirty years ago, see faces that look familiar who were popular for a little while and then flamed out, it’s the same with these folks, the only difference is that we seem to have more people who are famous for being famous than we used to.
Sometimes, when a name comes up and I get curious, I seek out what may have happened to that person and am frequently surprised, as I was by one recently, a lady who used to be on Johnny Carson and all the old game shows:
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 28, 2011 at 10:24 am
This is no comfort, really, but as I think I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve had occasion to scroll through just about every newspaper saved on microfilm in the 1850s across Ohio, along with quite a few in Indiana, western PA, and a smattering of Kentucky, Michigan, and western NY (long story).
One thing I took away from that experience, aside from the project I was working on, was that while the framing of the stories was different, I was startled to see the same dreary, awful march past me in the news, of men killing their families and botching their own suicides, mothers killing children, children disappearing and their bodies turning up (or not) months later. The striking difference was the number of crime stories, on a level we’d think of as fairly small potatoes, such as chicken-theivery, which ended with a homeowner or business proprietor shooting the presumably guilty perps. Two men, less than half a mile from my house, were laconically and namelessly described as left twitching on a hen-house floor by shotgun wielding farmer who had mapped the last few reports of chicken-napping, and correctly guessed that if he sat up in the barnyard with a loaded weapon, he’d have a target about midnight that night.
To the assumed chagrin of the “an armed society is a polite society” faction, I saw no evidence that this casually homicidal approach to swiftly punishing class-one misdemeanors had any real effect on crime rates. The fellows who used birdshot or rock salt in their double-barreled discouragers were universally treated as perhaps over-kind interventions, where a blast of sudden death was the reasonable expectation.