The neighbors couldn’t believe their eyes when they looked through their upstairs bedroom window. They were appalled; there was a tent in their neighbor’s backyard. Whoever was inside it had them calling the authorities. They wanted to get their neighbors arrested for what they were doing and they refused to stop until they were forced to leave the neighborhood for good.
It was a quiet afternoon for the residents of Holly Springs in North Carolina. Doug Jennings was a retired police chief of the Holly Springs Police Department. Since retiring, he spent his days birdwatching and serving as the leader of their local neighborhood watch patrol. He enjoyed it, proud that he could still serve his community in some way.
Doug and Ruth, his wife, had lived in Holly Springs all their lives. They were still high school sweethearts and shared two grown children who now had children of their own. Their family was respected in the community because of Doug’s position at HSPD. The day that Doug retired, the entire neighborhood got together to have a barbecue in celebration of Doug’s achievements.
Holly Springs was a pretty safe area, but Doug wanted his neighbors to know that they could always count on him whenever any emergencies popped up. After all, he did have a direct link to the police. But Doug had no idea that there was someone who desperately needed his help. He never expected to uncover something that would cause a stir in his entire neighborhood. His neighbors would be asking questions about just who lived in their beloved community.
Everyone who lived on Springside Drive knew each other. Whenever Doug spotted someone leaving their home to go to work or just tending their gardens, he would wave at them politely. But there was one family that usually kept to themselves. This family lived right next door to Doug, and they had a son, Jamie, who was friendly but reserved and shy.
The Hamils were from Raleigh, and they had only been in Holly Springs for a few months. On the day they moved in, Doug and Ruth took a cherry pie that Ruth had baked. When they knocked, Mrs. Hamil opened the door only slightly. It was clear to Doug that she didn’t want them to see the inside of the house. Perhaps the house was messy from unpacking, but Doug happened to catch a glimpse of something inside the house, and he instantly knew that he had to keep an eye on his new neighbors.
As the couple was heading back to their home, Doug looked up and spotted Jamie staring from an upstairs window. He waved at him with a friendly smile on his face. Jamie responded with half a smile, but his face was somber. Doug decided just then and there that he was going to make it his personal mission to look out for Jamie. He asked Ruth to keep sending food over to their house. Doug could feel in his gut something was not right with his new neighbors.
One afternoon, while Doug was doing his usual rounds in the neighborhood, he spotted Jamie walking down the street with shopping bags in his hands. He was looking down at his feet when he noticed Doug approaching. He didn’t want to talk to him, but Doug wanted to make sure that what he sensed was just a simple mistake Jamie refused to make eye contact.
After spending 40 years in the police force, Doug had seen cases like these many times before. He was hoping that what he was seeing wasn’t one of those cases, that Jamie was just another shy teenager who wanted to be left alone. But why did he insist on avoiding Doug? Once Doug reached him, he offered to help carry the groceries. Jamie appeared to be embarrassed by the officer but reluctantly obliged, and they walked the short distance to his house.
The bags were heavy, and Doug couldn’t help but take a look inside one of the bags. What he saw upset him. The bags were filled with cigarettes and alcohol; the only food was a few boxes of microwavable meals. Doug was getting upset, and this prompted him to ask Jamie if he was okay and where he had gotten the alcohol from. After all, he was only 14.
Jamie shrugged and mumbled out an answer about it being something he had collected from his parents’ friend, and he didn’t purchase it himself. Doug believed him for the most part, but he knew he needed to do some more digging. He decided the only way to really get to know these people was to invite them over for dinner. They could then check their behavior and see how they acted.
“Why don’t you and your parents join us for dinner tonight?” Jamie looked noticeably nervous and stood still as he contemplated what to do. By now, Doug knew that his instincts were right. “I don’t think my parents will come; they’re always busy. But I’ll come if you’ll have me.”
Doug saw a little light in Jamie’s eyes. “Of course, you’re welcome in our home anytime.” Doug left the alcohol-filled bag on the porch and walked off home. He wanted Ruth to make an extra special meal just for Jamie. Just as the clock struck 6, Jamie was on their porch ringing the doorbell.
The Jennings were impressed by the young man’s punctuality. When they opened the door to receive him, Doug couldn’t believe his eyes. Jamie was dressed in his Sunday best and looked a far cry from how he had looked a few hours ago. What was going on? They ushered him in, and his face lit up when he saw how beautifully the dinner table was set up. It was like he saw everything for the first time.
Doug watched closely; he needed to see the signs before he could turn into a detective again. Jamie seemed incredibly happy to be having dinner with them. Before Doug and Ruth could ask him any questions, he was hungrily wolfing down the roast chicken and potatoes. That was one of the signs that Doug had noted down. It seemed like the kid had not had a decent meal in ages. He looked at Ruth, and she immediately knew what Doug was thinking.
When it was dessert time, Ruth dished him a hearty bowl of peach cobbler and cream. Jamie couldn’t believe that he was eating all of his favorite foods. Ruth decided to ask him a few questions. “How often does your mom cook for you, dear?” With that, Jamie froze up, and the Jennings knew that they had overstepped the mark.
“I think I need to go, thank you so much for this delicious meal.” Before Ruth could say anything about packing him some leftovers, he was out the door. Doug felt like he now had enough signs for him to begin to monitor the house and watch over Jamie. Something was wrong in the Hamil house, and he was going to find out what it was.
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The next day, Ruth packed the leftover chicken, potatoes, and peach cobbler into containers for Jamie. Doug was going to take it over; he was going to look inside the house this time, no matter what. He needed to see what was going on inside and what Jamie’s parents were doing. Their child seemed neglected in some way, and Doug had seen some bad cases in his day. He was not going to let another child suffer.
He walked on the creaky porch; the house hadn’t even been painted since they moved in. They had left everything to decay, including the front garden. He knocked three times until Mr. Hamil finally opened the door. He looked worse for wear, like he had just awakened from a deep sleep, but a glint in his eyes told Doug the only thing he’d find here was trouble.
“What do you want, old man?” he asked drowsily.
“Morning, neighbor. Just wanted to give this to Jamie; he left without his leftovers last night.” Doug could see the red anger simmering in Mr. Hamil’s irises. He looked like the devil himself. He took the containers and said, “Jamie wasn’t home,” and proceeded to shut the door. Doug left but made sure to look up at the window. Jamie wasn’t there; he must be at school, then Doug thought.
He continued to do his rounds around the neighborhood. When it was 3:00 p.m., he sat on his porch, expecting to see Jamie walking home like the rest of the kids, but he never came. Doug realized that Mr. Ham must have lied to him. Where was Jamie? Was he safe?
Doug discussed his concerns with Ruth that night. He just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong and that Jamie needed them. That night he didn’t sleep a wink; he stayed up thinking about whether Jamie was all right and if inviting him to dinner caused a problem in his household.
The next day, Doug was basically a zombie, but he promised Ruth he would go to Lowe’s to get a new outdoor couch for their porch. He dragged his feet through the aisles, trying to find the perfect couch. As he turned a corner, he spotted Jamie. Thankfully, he was okay, but Doug noticed he was buying a tent.
“Going camping, son?” Doug inquired curiously.
Jamie looked startled, and Doug sheepishly backed away, showing him that he meant no harm. “Yes, my dad and I are going,” but Doug could see that it was a lie. There was no way a guy like his dad was taking him camping. Doug said goodbye and went on his way.
That night, Doug lay awake in his bed. He couldn’t stop thinking about this strange encounter he had with Jamie. He got up and went to the window for some fresh air, and that’s when he saw it. He was looking straight into the Hamils’ backyard, and in the middle was Jamie, rolling out a sleeping bag to put in his newly acquired tent.
Doug instantly woke Ruth to come and see what he was seeing. They remained quiet; they didn’t want the boy to know they were watching him. He was wearing a thick jacket; it was freezing outside, and Doug was furious that this young boy was made to sleep outside in freezing temperatures in a tent. There was no way Doug was going to leave this.
At the crack of dawn, he marched next door. He hammered so hard on the door that the other neighbors came running out to see what was going on. In turn, Jamie also appeared from the side gate to see what the commotion was about. Jamie was holding Doug back, begging him to leave and go back home and not interfere, but Doug couldn’t. He could see the boy was neglected and malnourished; he was living outside. Something had to be done.
He kicked down the door, and out wafted a smell so bad he had to hold in a wretch while covering his mouth and nose with his arm. The windows were blacked out, and all the walls were covered in soundproofing. The Hamils were each passed out on living room couches. The house looked like a tornado had hit it. This was clearly not a place for any child, and the police and child services were swiftly called in.
The Hamils were taken into custody for child abuse and neglect. But as Doug would soon learn, this would only be the start of their long list of questionable behaviors and activities. Through his connection with the department, Doug was able to learn more about Jamie’s parents. What he found more than shocked him.
Jaime’s parents had a long history of drug abuse, which had landed them in trouble in more than three cities across the Midwest. Additionally, they were on the run from several loaning companies looking for them, some of which had lent them thousands of dollars. But that was the least of their atrocities. The two had formed a Bonnie and Clyde duo over the last decade.
Right before they had Jamie, their criminal record detailed the many small diners, convenience stores, and food trucks that had fallen victim to their wrath. But over the last few years, they had seemingly stopped their nefarious activities, seemingly focusing their energy on Jamie. And not in the best way.
The two didn’t have their son’s best interest in mind. A few of their neighbors from the many places they lived had called the authorities on them. But the two had always seemed to be a step ahead; they would skip town so as not to draw attention to their bad habits. But their day had finally come.
Jaime’s parents already had a long list of felonies that they had been avoiding for years when the authorities brought them in. But now they were also facing child abuse and neglect charges. Judging from the staging amount of evidence, even they knew they would be going away for a very long time.
But how did they feel about leaving their boy behind? The two couldn’t care less about Jamie. In fact, they cursed him out for leading the police to them and promised Doug he’d regret ever crossing their path. Jamie watched silently as the squad cars drove away from his house with his parents in tow. Although they’d not been the best parents, they were still his dad and mom. But now he needed to start living his life.
Jamie had been living outside for a few months when they moved in and 3 years previously before Doug uncovered the truth. He just couldn’t bear living with a putrid stench inside his parents’ home. It was even worse because he felt like he couldn’t talk to anyone about his issues. He tried before but had soon found out that there were dire consequences for such actions.
His parents decided to punish him by not giving him regular meals. They would order in and finish most of the food before Jamie got to eating. Once he’d tried to talk to a local convenience store owner looking for a job. He had hoped to find a way to feed himself and buy some supplies for the house, but his parents beat him to the punch. They reprimanded the store owner for talking to their son, claiming Jamie was mentally ill. They also said they were perfectly capable of looking after him and even warned the owner not to speak with him again.
Of course, the owner phoned the authorities, but they found that the whole family had moved when they reached Jaime’s house. Doug and his wife decided to take Jamie in after his traumatic childhood. He was glad he could finally live a normal life. Doug enrolled him in the local school while his wife was sure to fill his stomach with all the delicacies he craved.
Doug was honored for his heroism while Jamie was promised a lifetime of love and attention. But as the months passed, Jamie decided he needed to step up. Jaime had already wondered what he wanted to be growing up. He’d considered teaching or being a banker; he’d even considered being a fireman once. But after witnessing what Doug did for him, it was clear that there was only one calling worthy of his time on Earth.
Yes, Jamie wanted to be a police officer. Now an older man, Doug was delighted when he got the news. Jamie shared how, through him, he had a better teenage life than he would if Doug weren’t in the picture. He talked about how many other kids out there needed the same help that he needed. To him, the best way to honor Doug would be to join the force and serve the way Doug had served.
Jamie didn’t waste any time chasing his dream. After graduating high school, he went after all the prerequisites needed to join the police academy.