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August 13, 2014 12:18 PM   Subscribe

A 14-year-old Texas boy ran away from home on July 28. Rather then flee to a friend's or relative's home, or hiding out in nearby woods, the boy chose a location with more abundant resources. A Corsicana, Texas, Wal-Mart. The boy managed to remain undetected inside the store for roughly two and a half days (some reports count it as four days based on the dates) through some surprisingly sophisticated techniques to avoid discovery using the materials available to him. The boy is now back with his family, and Child Protective Services was not formally brought into the case as police report he did not appear to be suffering from neglect or otherwise living in a dangerous environment.
posted by Naberius (64 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't like this gritty reboot of "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler."
posted by Countess Elena at 12:20 PM on August 13 [71 favorites]


He should've declared Sporting Goods his own nation.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:22 PM on August 13 [16 favorites]


I used to dream about doing this as a kid.
What is it about department stores that's so captivating?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:22 PM on August 13 [9 favorites]


Oh my gosh, Countess Elena, I came to post exactly the same thing.

I sell a lot of that book, always with the comment that it's very old-fashioned and of course you couldn't do that sort of thing now.
posted by BibiRose at 12:23 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


He had been there after running away from his aunt’s home and lived there for about 54 hours by building secret makeshift lairs behind rolls of toilet paper,

So, he got the idea from that episode of King of the Hill, then?

I am interested in his long career of running away to live alone. Maybe they could just build him a shack in the woods and let him live out there?
posted by emjaybee at 12:25 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]


Dammit. I read the title and was ALSO going to comment on some VERY mixed-up files...
posted by entropone at 12:27 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


This was an episode of Dawson's Creek. Joey and Pacey were trapped inside a K-Mart. I just needed to share that.
posted by Fizz at 12:27 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]


You know, while I don't support 14 year olds with seemingly perfectly good homes (yeah, I know we don't know what goes on behind closed doors, but the police say there's no reason to think it's anything bad) running away. I hope this becomes a thing. I hope that from now on when kids run away, they go live in a 24 hour Walmart.

It's not ideal. There's no family, no guidance, no routine and many other things missing, but compared to the life runaways normally live, this seems much better and safer. I realize he was stealing from the store, but Walmart steals so much from it's employees and costs entire nations so much, that I'm inclined to call it karma. Please kids, don't go to the woods. Don't go to abandonned houses. Don't head for a major city where you may end up feeling sex work is your only option. Run away to Walmart.

Also, this was an episode of My Name Is Earl, and I'm kind of thinking Malcolm in the Middle, but I might be imagining that one (Craig? Did Craig live in the store for a while?)
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:29 PM on August 13 [8 favorites]


Wasn't this a book? A pregnant girl lived in a Wal-Mart for a while? I think they made a movie out of it.

I read it for some reason. I have no idea why.
posted by bondcliff at 12:30 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]


I was just about to bring up the movie adaptation: Where The Heart Is (2000)
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:31 PM on August 13 [9 favorites]


I liked this better when it was called Where the Heart Is but I guess this story is okay too.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:31 PM on August 13


So essentially living in a department store is the modern-day sitcom equivalent of guy out on two dates at once.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:33 PM on August 13 [9 favorites]


The teen wasn’t just hiding in the store. He built a secret hidden compound and was able to call the 24-hour store home for 2 1/2 days before being discovered.

Yeah that's...hiding in the store. These articles sure are invested in the "actually living in the store!" story.
posted by desuetude at 12:33 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]


No, the earliest antecedent to this is clearly the completely forgettable 1990 John Hugh's movie Career Opportunities.

I bet this kid's adventure was just as hilarious as the movie!
posted by skewed at 12:34 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]


What is it about department stores that's so captivating?

I'm still a little in love with Kim Cattrell's Egyptian wisher in Mannequin.
posted by carsonb at 12:35 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


When I was about six years old, my momma took me to the city. We went to one of those big old department stores, and I got lost. They tried to page her, but the PA system was on the fritz. I never saw my momma again.

Some people from the cosmetics department fed me a bowl of soup and some bread. Days stretched into weeks.

One February they got jammed up during the semi-annual Lincoln's birthday sale. They asked me to help out in Pre-Teen Maternity.

Then one day I overheard a conversation in Personnel about them needing a new jingle for their radio ad. So I picked up my guitar and I wrote down a tune that had been mullin' and creepin' and crawlin' around in my head.

It went something like this...
posted by XMLicious at 12:35 PM on August 13 [16 favorites]


Please kids, don't go to the woods ... Run away to Walmart.

Dibs on My Side of the Walmart.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:39 PM on August 13 [22 favorites]


Wow, watching the trailer for Where The Heart Is is eerie in 2014. The movie was made in 2000 before the economy crashed so it's "cute" and "whimsical" for a young, poor single mom to give birth in a Wal-Mart. Today she'd probably be arrested with lots of muttering about bootstraps and handouts.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:40 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]


Dibs on My Side Of The Walmart.

"In Which I Steal A Package of Skittles and Hide From The Greeters."
posted by bondcliff at 12:41 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]


Eventually, a trash trail led to the teen’s discovery.

Yup - "sophisticated" maybe, but still a 14-year-old.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:42 PM on August 13 [7 favorites]


"...and wearing diapers to avoid being seen running to the bathroom."

I'm trying to imagine the moment when he realizes what he must do and with steely-eyed determination dons that first diaper.
posted by griphus at 12:45 PM on August 13 [27 favorites]


My cousin accidentally did this when he was about nine or ten. There was a Kmart within walking distance of his house so one day he walked over there, alone. There was a tent display in the store so he crawled inside it and fell asleep. When he woke up the store was closed.

By then my aunt and uncle were, of course, freaking out. I don't remember how he got out--maybe he used a phone in the store?--but eventually the police and the store manager showed up to let him out. A local news station found out about it and they interviewed my cousin. He was pretty excited about being on TV.
posted by mcmile at 12:48 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


I just recently read John Collier's Evening Primrose, published in 1940. Man decides to abandon his old life and live in his favorite department store. Discovers he's not the only one there. Hilarity and nightmares ensue.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:52 PM on August 13 [13 favorites]




I don't know. Maybe he's just a disturbed teenager, but when young teens like that repeatedly run away and it's not to someone but to live somewhere shitty... I'd suspect some kind of abuse or neglect going on, if only emotional. Maybe not to a legal level, but you have to be pretty unhappy.
posted by tavella at 1:07 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]


There are people who camp out in WalMart parking lots, why is camping out inside the WalMart any different?
posted by tommasz at 1:12 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


In HG Wells' original The Invisible Man, the titular character attempts to hide out in a department store but is inevitably discovered and nearly captured. From Chapter 22:
"And then I had a brilliant idea. I turned down one of the roads leading from Gower Street to Tottenham Court Road, and found myself outside Omniums, the big establishment where everything is to be bought—you know the place: meat, grocery, linen, furniture, clothing, oil paintings even—a huge meandering collection of shops rather than a shop.[...]"
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:13 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]


In the Wall-E timeline, we pretty much all end up living inside a Buy-N-Large.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:16 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


the completely forgettable 1990 John Hugh's movie Career Opportunities

That was a decent movie but I take offense at the notion that anything with Jennifer Connelly could ever be considered forgettable. She's a National Treasure and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:26 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


No, the earliest antecedent to this is clearly the completely forgettable 1990 John Hugh's movie Career Opportunities.

That movie is far from forgettable if in 1990 you happened to be a teen boy with an outsized crush on Jennifer Connelly. "Connelly in a white tank top on skates" finally knocked "Carrie Fisher in a bronze bikini" off of the number one spot in my adolescent movie dream girls list.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:31 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]


I almost did this at my local mall when I was of a pre-teen or tween-ish age, going as far as scouting out the security/alarm system, taking notes of how many security guards and mapping out the rather few video cameras of the day, any mirrors that might be two way and inspecting various doors for sensors and whatnot. And, of course, looking for places to hide until the place cleared out. Inside of clothing racks seemed like a good idea, or maybe up in one of the indoor trees in the landscaping.

(I had also read "My Side of the Mountain" and thought about running away to wilderness, but I lived in LA, where one simply didn't hitchhike to the Catskills, and my local mountains were mainly bone dry chaparral not very well suited for sustenance foraging, but when I did end up homeless as a young adult, I found some of the skills I book-learned there to be transferable.)

And I had plenty of reasons to want to run away, but I remember part of the plan was a "massive" toy store and Radio Shack heist, well, as massive as a small boy could carry away in a backpack with vague plans of selling some of it to fund running even further away from home.

What ultimately put the stops to this (beyond abject terror of getting caught and moral concerns of doing the wrong thing) was being at the mall at closing time and suddenly realizing that every single store had roll up security doors that I'd somehow never seen or thought of before, which effectively quashed the plans most of my hiding places and schemes for ill-gotten loot.

There have been a number of stories of adults effectively living in a Walmart, There was one on reddit recently of a young adult who was homeless who had managed to partially live in the camping/tent area, and had also set up a hiding/living spot behind some shelving or something, complete with furniture and some small appliances.

And there is, of course, the people who actually do effectively live in a Walmart by virtue of owning an RV, camper or car and making good use of Walmart's rather liberal policy of letting people camp in their lots for (I think) up to 3 days at a time, and they just move from Walmart to Walmart, buying what they need as they go, and probably hanging out in the store a lot.

There have been also more than a few tales about meth addicts getting caught actually making meth in a Walmart, since it basically had all of the ingredients and equipment needed for the incredibly dangerous "shake and bake" recipe available on the shelves, including the pseudoephedrine, hydrochloric acid (plumbing lye), batteries for lithium, plastic mixing containers for labware and whatnot. And humanity (and Walmart!) being what it is, I bet there have been dozens if not hundreds of successful meth-making projects in various walmarts, and that the people who got caught were just a small fraction of the attempts.
posted by loquacious at 1:43 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]


I'm reminded of this AskMe.
posted by trip and a half at 1:56 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


I would not be surprised, seriously, if millions of us end up living in WalMart housing projects in the future.
posted by juiceCake at 1:58 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Comedy is the wrong genre for holing up in a department store. Zombie film (alluded to by shakespeherian) is the genre of origin.

Kid knows better than to barricade himself in his aunt's basement. You hafta commandeer a down-market department store that stocks weapons and canned goods if you plan to make it the sequel.
posted by mistersquid at 1:59 PM on August 13


I don't think they make meth at my local Walmart. All of the meth-heads are too busy shaking people down for money in the parking lot. I've seen up to four people at one time wandering the lot with empty gas cans and hard luck stories.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:00 PM on August 13


"More like, 'Where the Fart Is'" - what I'll say to Natalie Portman, shortly before she says "I'm not Natalie Portman, and I don't know why you'd think I was. I'm afraid that I must ask you to leave this Bennigan's"
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:04 PM on August 13


What is it about department stores that's so captivating?

I'm still a little in love with Kim Cattrell's Egyptian wisher in Mannequin.


For me it was Jennifer Connolly in Career Opportunities. 13-year-old me was like "I wish I worked at Target"
posted by Hoopo at 2:09 PM on August 13


hydrochloric acid (plumbing lye)

Hey, now. Let's not get our plumbing products confused with our pool chemicals.
posted by ryanrs at 2:11 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


I'm reminded of the Y2K episode of My Name Is Earl.

I guess I should be sad about this kind of thing, but mainly I'm impressed he pulled that off for 2.5 days in 2014.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:24 PM on August 13


I seriously can't believe no one's mentioned Richard Peck's Secrets of a Shopping Mall! It was the first time I came across the term "mouth breathers."
posted by kinsey at 2:43 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


I feel sorry for the parents. There is almost literally nothing they can do to stop him from running away, and yet they are legally responsible for him.
posted by Sophont at 2:45 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


honestcoyote, Stephen Sondheim turned Evening Primrose into a TV musical. There are a few great recordings of the songs, including one with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters and another with Neil Patrick Harris and Theresa McCarthy. (Oh, and the TV show is available on DVD now.) "I Remember" is one of my favorite Sondheim songs - so moving, and so perfectly crafted.

When I was a Mixed-Up Files-inspired kid, I ran away to the library.
posted by kristi at 2:54 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


What is it about department stores that's so captivating?
Perhaps they are the Great Cathedrals of Materialism?
posted by b1tr0t at 3:39 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Sources said the 14-year-old was so concerned about being caught he wore diapers instead of using the store restroom.

This doesn't make sense to me. Doesn't Walmart have a public restroom shoppers are allowed to use? I would think stealing diapers was more likely to draw attention that using the john. Also the story noted that the child did leave a trail of garbage that ultimately led employees of the 24-hour store to discover him which doesn't sound like the behavior of someone willing to bear any burden to avoid discovery. And I'd have to guess that used diapers were part of the trail of garbage that compromised the boy's stay at the store.

"Sources said"? I think the reporters are just making stuff up.
posted by layceepee at 3:39 PM on August 13


Apparently Chuck Mangione was on to something.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:09 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]


Comedy is the wrong genre for holing up in a department store. Zombie film (alluded to by shakespeherian) is the genre of origin.

But if you stop moving you die. Zombie Movie 101. The correct holing-up-in-a-department-store genre is the wistful coming-of-age film where a young, misunderstood Michael Cera sleeps in the canned beans aisle of an Elko, Nevada grocery store. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with career stockboy Paul Rudd, and at night they smoke cigarettes on the roof with bored cashier January Jones.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:35 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


I have dreamed of doing this in IKEA! All those imaginative bedroom layouts!
posted by nicebookrack at 4:39 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


Perhaps they are the Great Cathedrals of Materialism?

Indeed. Grave Architecture...
posted by juiceCake at 4:57 PM on August 13


One day, he and the NASA astronaut who supposedly drove cross country wearing diapers can be partners on Dancing with the Stars.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 5:07 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


This one time? James Brolin? got rolled by some hoodlums in a dept. store restroom and ended up locked in overnight?

And then the security team changed over to the night shift: a bunch of dobermans.

Man, THAT was a movie!
posted by allthinky at 5:20 PM on August 13


In more modern fiction, in the June 2014 issue of Lightspeed (Women Destroy Science Fiction!), there's "In the Image of Man" by Gabriella Stalker, which posits a near future when shopping centers have evolved into arcologies. Middle class folk live in the mall with a view of the food court. The poor live at Wal-Mart.
posted by honestcoyote at 5:39 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


Dibs on My Side of the Walmart.

Dammit. I came in here specifically to make that joke. (Only I was going to say "My Side of the Megamall.")/small>
posted by 256 at 5:51 PM on August 13




This reminds me of a book I read when I was little. It was one of the Freddy the Pig books. Google suggests that it might be The Clockwork Boy, in which a young boy named Adoniram, who has run away from his cruel aunt and uncle, is trapped by for some days by flooding in a department store with Freddy and some of his friends. They set up comfortable bedrooms for themselves with the furniture, wear nice clothes from the clothing department, eat all the food they want from the grocery (the candy department was on the first floor and therefore flooded, alas) and amuse themselves with books and toys from the book and toy department. This was all especially wonderful for Adoniram, who had never had enough to eat or nice clothes to wear or known what it was to have fun or friends — Freddy made him practice laughing every day until his laugh sounded natural.

I remember thinking as a kid how amazing this all sounded, and it was a go-to fantasy of mine for awhile. Except I never imagined I had a pig as a companion. Saw all I wanted of those on the farm I lived on growing up, thanks.
posted by orange swan at 8:05 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


So how and where did this kid sleep, since it was a 24-hour Walmart?
posted by yellowcandy at 8:15 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


I was going to suggest trying this at Whole Foods but they no longer seem to make the double chocolate muffins at my nearest so that place is now worse than Chernobyl.
posted by srboisvert at 9:16 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


honestcoyote: "I just recently read John Collier's Evening Primrose, published in 1940. Man decides to abandon his old life and live in his favorite department store. Discovers he's not the only one there. Hilarity and nightmares ensue."

I just wanted to say, holy fuck archive.org's HTML5 ebook reader is good.
posted by pwnguin at 9:32 PM on August 13


There was an 80s young adult novel about girls who live in the mall. Having exhausted Mrs. Frankweiler and My Side, as well as The Girl Who Owned a City, I guess Secrets of the Shopping Mall seemed plausible. it was Richard Peck and the 80s, so it seemed less bizarre than now.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:38 PM on August 13


yellowcandy: "So how and where did this kid sleep, since it was a 24-hour Walmart?"

They're pretty boring at 1am, except for the overnight stockers. If you do the stocker's job of bringing inventory forward, they might skip your isle, or at least your section.

But where? Your criteria here are:

- soft, so it won't injure (or wake) you if it falls
- stackable, so that retailers use fewer shelves
- deep, so you can create a forward facade, preferably 2 items deep
- opaque enough to block out light and visibility
- low turnover, so stockers and shoppers don't discover you

The video says his shelving of choice was baby strollers. They're boxed, so they're stackable, low density, and opaque enough you could fence out light. They have second level for displaying the strollers, so the top is covered. And I don't hear too many stories about emergency trips to the store for baby strollers, so I doubt WalMart stockers try to cram as many onto the shop floor as humanly possible nightly.

This also explains the diapers. Why go out in the middle of the night to pee when you can just use a diaper five feet away? Of course explaining why a 14 year old is carrying around a used diaper is going to be a trick.

Reducing the trash footprint is an interesting exercise. It's not like they have lots of trash cans around the store, and there's a risk of employees finding a huge stash of wrappers. If you generate a lot of trash, you'd have to transport it out of the store, at which point "I was gonna pay for it on the way out" no longer holds. Ideally, you'd stick to produce, so you can eat the evidence. But you probably want to give it a rinse first, and you don't have a private sink. If you allow for easily unmarked bags, bakery goods suffice. They tend to just be a plastic bag with a nutrition facts / barcode sticker, so you could remove the sticker carry the plastic on your person to be discarded discretely. Protein-wise, you can pull a similar trick at the deli counter, but if you do that often enough to matter you'll be recognized. You could try to restock an empty jar of peanutbutter I guess, but whoever finds it will be more than a little interested in getting to the bottom of how that happened.
posted by pwnguin at 11:40 PM on August 13


I just recently read John Collier's Evening Primrose, published in 1940.

Stephen Sondheim turned Evening Primrose into a TV musical.


Yes, with Anthony Perkins as the male lead, one of his earliest roles. Made for TV, only aired once... It's available on Daily Motion and SnagFilms. Originally broadcast in color, we only have this b/w record of the event.

It's the first thing I thought of when I read about this. And now I must watch.
posted by hippybear at 1:50 AM on August 14


The trash goes into an empty product box and is shelved somewhere where it's unlikely to be the first, or even fifth, box a buyer reaches for. I would think one empty stroller box would last for weeks easily if you're stuffing it with plastic bags and flattened cracker boxes and the like instead of organic food waste that will start to smell. And this a 14 year old boy. And this is Wal-Mart. I'm not thinking fruit peels and vegetables were a major issue.

Of course you can't do that with the diapers. Honestly, I'm not convinced that was the right idea. If you're already changing your appearance every few hours, I'd think just using the restroom would be less risky than figuring out what to do with a used diaper. Beyond the just, yuck, factor.
posted by Naberius at 7:55 AM on August 14


> If you're already changing your appearance every few hours, I'd think just using the restroom would be less risky

I don't know, but I would presume that the entrance to the restroom area is more closely monitored by loss prevention/security personnel since that's the one part of the store where people can go and stuff merchandise down their pants without being seen (assuming that the bathrooms are not monitored). So, even if he was able to slip around on the main floor undetected a relatively awake person at the monitors would probably notice the same guy going into that area over the course of a shift. Or not.

Dude should've stolen a camping toilet while he was there. Maybe they didn't have any in stock. Here's hoping a full debrief of his experience is posted. Or not.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 8:05 AM on August 14


I'm not sure where that FPP title comes from, but I can't not hear Ed Wood saying it.
posted by gern at 9:53 AM on August 14


The whole time I was reading the comments, I was singing the theme song of Today's Special. Anyone else remember that show?
posted by bluebelle at 8:27 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


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