Risking children the worst drug crimePublished 5:00am Thursday, May 23, 2013
So there I was, standing in front of an active crime scene with a chubby little red-headed baby in my arms.
Less than an hour earlier, the only company this little guy had were the pair of alleged methamphetamine cooks who Elmore County Sheriff’s Deputies had just taken away in the backs of their squad cars.
The 9-month-old’s mother, along with the mother of a little blonde cutie — maybe 4 years old — were also in custody. All four were charged with manufacture of a controlled substance, the deadly, addictive drug that Little Red’s grandmother called “an evil drug, straight from the gates of Hell.”
The four also face charges of possession of drug paraphernalia and the chemical endangerment of a child.
It was the culmination of an ongoing investigation in the Willow Springs community. They’d been watching the house for a while, Sheriff Bill Franklin told me. When a powder blue Cadillac carrying little Blondie and her mom left the house, deputies stopped her. But one of the men spotted the surveillance car, Franklin said, shifting the operation into overdrive.
Members of the county’s Special Operations Unit and the Central Alabama Drug Task Force descended on the quaint neighborhood just a stone’s throw from Jasmine Hill Gardens. With a blast of flash-bangs, they rushed into the slightly tattered doublewide to make sure the suspected cooks had no time to destroy the evidence.
In a front bedroom, they discovered the two men sitting next to Little Red, who was working on his afternoon bottle with SpongeBob cackling from a TV in the corner. The smell of marijuana smoke hung heavy in the air.
All around the house, and scattered across the back yard, were the tell-tale indicators of meth production. The remnants of cold medications, the cracked and harvested lithium batteries. The sources of almost a dozen lethal compounds that cooks mix and match to make the deadly addictive crystalline drug.
Considering the recent shock and awe of a SWAT team raid, Little Red and Blondie were in remarkably good spirits. I watched Blondie grab a couple of toys from the dust and give them to one of the two men. Handcuffed in a dining room chair, he held the gifts under his chin.
Little Red’s grandma said that, besides being hot, and a little hungry and thirsty, he was fine. His curious smiles and giggles showed no ill effects. The grandmother cried with regret that she’d trusted her daughter again to take care of the little treasure.
I was watching the search operation when I heard her call my name. A CADTF agent needed her to witness as he counted out some cash they found.
I haven’t held many babies that young since my son was out of diapers. I knew Little Red’s was clean, though, since I watched him baptize his grandma and one of the deputies while his diaper was being changed.
“They are the motivation for us to do this,” one of the agents said.
Little Red was perfectly behaved. He was very interested in the press pass that hung on a yellow lanyard around my neck. He seemed fascinated to see his own face in the self portrait I took of us to keep him entertained.
That this curious youngster, in all his curiosity, was left in the same home with meth ingredients that are all flammable, corrosive, explosive, or all three is beyond comprehension. But the bond on the chemical endangerment charge was just $5,000, a tiny slice of the total $260,000 bond keeping the four in jail.
It seemed more like attempted murder to me, because it doesn’t take the mother of the year to realize tragedy was just a chubby curious arm away.
When I left the scene, Little Red’s grandmother was waiting for DHR to loan her a car seat, since his car seat was inside, potentially contaminated by the fumes of the meth-making process. I don’t know what happened to Blondie, since the only relation she had nearby was taken away in handcuffs, and left with a case worker.
I went home that night and added Little Red and Blondie to the prayers I say with our children. I can’t even fathom the future they face, but I pray they never return to a place like I met them Thursday.
David D. Goodwin is political editor of The Wetumpka Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.