Teen Locked in Basement: Let’s Get out of Our Bubbles

Watching this story today on CNN, I was horrified:

A 17 year old, developmentally delayed Missouri teen, locked with handcuffs in his townhouse basement since September and subsiding on instant oatmeal and ramen noodles…

Neighbors suspected trouble, but didn’t report anything to authorities until their fears were shared aloud by another acquaintance…

Authorities intervened on Wednesday, taking the teen to a hospital…

The report ends with the announcement that the parents in the case have not yet been charged.

A neighbor shared her suspicions with reporters:

“You know, three and a half months seems kind of long for him to not be in school,” Reppy told KSHB. “His friends would come over and knock on the door, and (the victim’s stepmother) told them that he was out of town.”


Where were school authorities? How could this happen in a “townhouse” setting without arousing suspicion? And why aren’t the parents in custody?

I don’t have those answers, but the report does have me asking myself if this could happen in my neighborhood without my knowledge. And sadly, my true answer is “Yes”.

On my block, we come and go, zipping in and out of our garages in a rush to our next destinations. We may meet in passing at our mailboxes or on “trash day”, but the most likely exchange in those moments is a simply “hi” at most. I know my neighbors on one side relatively well, but have honestly never once in twelve years conversed with the opposite side fence mates. Atrocious.

So I’m asking myself, how do we get our of our bubbles and into a more neighborly relationship in today’s day and age? If I suddenly knock on my neighbor’s door, proffering a plate of cookies and announcing my name to them for the first time in twelve years, they’re likely to think I’ve gone crazy. But this has to start somewhere, right?

Are you neighborly? Would you feel comfortable reporting a suspicion in your neighborhood? Or are we doomed to be strangers to one another in today’s “i” society, where we’re friends online, but not “in real life”?

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About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa Hendey is the founder and webmaster of CatholicMom.com and the author of The Grace of YesA Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and is a frequent television and radio guest and host. Visit her at LisaHendey.com and connect with her at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

  • http://thatmrgguy.wordpress.com Mike G.

    Yes it is weird that neighbors are seemingly less friendly now than they used to be. I remember as a kid, having neighborhood cookouts where everyone got together and had a big time.

    I guess people are just more suspicious of each other now for whatever reason.

  • http://snoringscholar.com Sarah Reinhard

    I do, in fact, know my neighbors, but they’re not close. Before we bought the house we were in, the guy we bought it from (who was getting it in shape after his father’s death) told us about how he received three phone calls one night. The people laying carpet through the day had left a light on. Knowing no one lived there, they called him to let him know.

    That said, if I lived in town and not in a small rural community…yeah, I’m as bad as anyone. And to say I “know” my neighbors implies I see them more often than when we run into each other rather accidentally.

    I think our whole way of operating has changed…being neighborly is no longer as natural as it used to be when people were home more.

  • http://mumsie2five.blogspot.com Laura Pearl

    Lisa, this blog post really hit home. When we first moved onto our cul-de-sac street, there were a lot of families with young kids (ours included), and those kids all biked up and down the street and played in each other’s yards. We had a neighborhood block party every summer. But once our boys started getting older, there was less and less interaction between them and the other neighborhood kids (most of whom did not go to the same Catholic school they did). People stopped getting together. Our street has about 30 houses on it: half of them have been lived in by one family for 20 years or more, like ours; the other half have been occupied by so many different families over the years that most of the time I didn’t even know their names before they were suddenly gone and replaced by new people.

    When you mentioned the neighbors you haven’t gotten to know in 12 years, I could relate. We know our neighbors to the right of us pretty well, but we never see the neighbors on the other side. Their house is separated from ours by lots of thick trees, and they might as well be ten miles away. They have one child, a daughter who went to school with our oldest boy. We used to see them, at least occasionally, because our kids were classmates. But once our kids grew up, we stopped seeing them at all. I might go YEARS without running into them, and then it’s usually at the grocery store! That’s pretty sad, isn’t it? But I think part of it can be explained by what Sarah said: people used to be home more. Most of the homes around here sit empty all day long. I go walking on beautiful sunny days in a nearby neighborhood filled with huge houses that have basketball hoops, trampolines, and all the trappings that say “kids live here,” but I rarely see anyone outside. It looks like a ghost town.

    After reading this post, I feel like breaking out of my comfort zone (my bubble!) and bringing a plate of cookies over to those neighbors on our left!