Last Tuesday, the office staff at the paper took a message from a caller who wanted to speak with the editor, and no one else.
That usually means the caller is having a problem with delivery of the paper. Those are easy to handle.
This one, as you will see, was a different situation.
Unfortunately, I did not get to call her back that day. I had to write a story about the McComb school board’s lawsuit over the appointment of a trustee. I also had to write an editorial for Wednesday’s paper and then cover the school board meeting that evening.
In the rush, several things did not get done, and this return call was one of them.
So she called back on Wednesday afternoon, asking the office why I didn’t want to talk to her. Ouch!
Finally at about 6:15 p.m. the paper was finished and I called. Her concern was about as far from “failure to deliver” as possible.
She lives in McComb, and claimed that for at least two months, one or two people have been slipping into her yard late at night and sleeping on her back porch.
Sometimes it apparently was just one person, but other times it was more than one because she could hear them talking. She has never seen any of them. Her bedroom is next to the porch but does not have a window facing it.
She said she has called the police several times. Officers had come out to the house but the trespassing continued.
She said no one on the porch has ever tried to get into the home. The closest anyone came to that was when one of them knocked on a porch door to the inside of the house one night. (She didn’t answer.)
Her question to me was, “What should I do?”
I told her to stay in touch with the police department if the trespassing continued, and if officers came to her house again, make sure to talk to them and tell them everything that was going on.
I got more curious, so on Friday morning I went over to her home for a look around.
The back yard is fenced in except for an entrance by the carport. But it would be easy to vault over the chain-link fence.
Near one corner, there was a vertical, three-foot opening in the fence. Someone could get in that way, but it’s really not necessary when the fence is so easy to climb.
She said some members of her church had tied together the hole with barbed wire, and also strung some other pieces on top of that corner. They also ran one strand of barbed wire across the porch.
She suspects her intruders are coming onto her property through the unfenced yards behind hers. But if you are walking along the street in front of her home, you can see the porch. That might let trespassers know it was there.
On my visit Friday, she told me she had called the police again at 12:30 that morning when she heard voices on the porch. An officer arrived and, she thought, took two people into custody.
Now the story gets more difficult. A city official told me that an officer did go to the house Friday morning, but he found no one on the porch, and no one got taken away by the police. In several visits to the house, he said, police have never found any intruders on the porch.
Unfortunately, that matches my assessment. I asked the lady where she thought the people were sleeping, and she said on the concrete floor of the porch. But it is dusty and there was no evidence that anyone has been on it.
No shoe prints, no body-sized spaces where someone might have been lying down. The chairs on the porch didn’t look used, either.
The resident said she is terrified. She worries that nobody believes her, and it pains me to say there is no evidence that anyone’s sleeping there. But on the phone and in person, her story sounded very real.
Here’s what I think. When the next city board takes office in July, its members ought to keep things like this in mind. Police have not found any trespassers at her house, but I’ll bet everyone reading this wasn’t surprised by the claim. I certainly wasn’t.
The felonies like homicides, shootings and robberies obviously require most of the police department’s attention. But lesser things can be just as damaging to the public’s sense of safety, and ultimately to a city’s reputation.
A big task for the next board will be leading any reputational damage control that may be necessary. This can be done, but it will require tough decisions and especially stability in both City Hall and the police department.