It seemed harmless. My eleven-year-old autistic daughter had been making friends at school, and was getting invited to parties. I was thrilled, as was she, to find that she wasn't being invited because they felt they "had" to. They wanted to.
A pair of eighth grade girls were best friends and had invited my daughter to join their circle. One of them gave her a printed invitation with the date and time of their Halloween party, promising food, drinks, fun, music, dancing... Even a haunted house. The kids were supposed to come in costume, bring unneeded clothing for a charity project (a nice touch!) and to RSVP. My husband called and left a message.
As we drove to the party, my daughter chattered away about her friends, how she met them, etc. I gaped as I drove into the long circular driveway before a house that sprawled in all directions, easily 8000 square feet. I told her I would pick her up at ten (even though the party went until eleven thirty).
The door was ajar and we entered, following the music to a family room off he kitchen. I was greeted by a pleasant young man who introduced himself as one of the chaperones. I asked if I could meet my daughter's friends. He said they would be there between eight and eight thirty. I introduced myself to some of the other kids, and found that none of them went to my daughter's school. In a roundabout way, I learned that this was a faith-based youth group, and that the party was to collect donation for a service project benefitting a prominent charity in Tucson.
Everyone seemed very nice, and, being a youth group leader myself, I was happy to see the kids were off the streets and volunteering for the community. I saw my daughter talking with some other kids, and, seeing that she was holding her own, said goodbye, and went out to the car to call my husband to make sure he thought I was doing the right thing by leaving her there. He asked how old the chaperones were (mid-late twenties) and did anything seem 'off'. I said other than no parents being there, and my daughter's friends hadn't arrived, I said no. He suggested I give the chaperones our number, give Logan my phone, and inform them of her food allergies (she is pretty good about monitoring herself) and mild disability. I returned, explained what I felt I needed to, and exchanged numbers with the lead chaperone.
As I left, I questioned my judgement. I looked back and realized the guests were primarily adolescent girls, and the chaperones were primarily mid-twenties men. I got in the car and started to drive away and run a quick nearby errand, but I looked at the invitation again. I looked at the number the chaperone gave me, and with a quick few taps of my iPhone, realized it was a north Los Angeles area code. On a hunch, I called the RSVP number. One of the girl's parents answered.
Relieved I had reached someone who could give me answers, I started asking about the youth organization and how was the girl affiliated with them, and why she wasn't there. The mother said I was the second person who had called her, and people were showing up at her house looking for the party. I told her everything I had seen and done, but that I was turning around to go get my daughter, and on the way was calling the police because things weren't adding up. She confirmed that her daughter was currently at a different party than the one we were talking about, and would try to find her to find out what was going on. She concurred that the 'friend of a friend' connections seemed vague and that the invitation was misleading, so she didn't think it was out of line to make the call. She and I agreed to keep each other informed.
My next step was to call the cops. I was transferred to a local station, told them what I knew, and asked if there were any unusual happenings that this would fall into a similar category. They said not that they were aware of, but to trust my instincts. I went back to the party, waded through the dozen or so girls who were chatting and found the chaperone. I showed the invitation to him and let him know I called the RSVP and the girl's parents knew nothing about it. He looked at it and told me he had never seen the invitation before. I asked him to show me where my daughter was, which he did, and I informed them both we were leaving. He understood, and we collected her things and left.
As we walked out the door, I got a call from an officer who was approaching the house. We agreed to meet so I could give him the details, the actual invitation, and he could talk to my daughter. She was concerned, but provided information. As we left, I counted three police cars.
By this time, the mom of one of the girls had confirmed the identity of the youth group leader, as she checked out websites and Facebook that he was who he said he was. The officer called me as well to let me know my daughter's two friends had arrived and that the other girl's mom knew the youth group leader. I still don't know whose house it was.
Did I do the right thing? A raid on a faith-based youth group is certainly going to get around school on Monday.