A 12-year-old Centralia, Washington, boy disappeared Wednesday morning — and before he made it home, a neighbor turned the boy and his family into yard work “slaves,” police said.
The boy was supposed to be starting his mother’s car before school when he went missing, police said. When the family began looking for him before 8 a.m., the mother and her two other children, 13 and 15, quickly discovered the missing 12-year-old in a neighboring yard, which belonged to Wellington Waggener, 29, according to police.
But the boy hadn’t gone of his own volition, police said: Waggener had instructed the boy to “come here” and then had grabbed the hesitant child by the coat, forcibly moving the boy to Waggener’s yard, the family said. That’s where Waggener struck the boy in the face and made him do chores like sweeping, the Lewis County Daily Chronicle reports.
“Basically, he had the kid start cleaning up his yard for him,” Commander Pat Fitzgerald of the Centralia Police Department said.
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Once the boy’s family got to Waggener’s yard, the mother and siblings tried explaining that the boy needed to go to school, Fitzgerald said. It didn’t go well.
“He wasn’t making any sense to anybody,” Fitzgerald said.
Waggener insisted to the family that he needed the boy’s help — and then forced the other family members to help with the yard work as well, telling them that now “they knew what it was like to be slaves,” the 15-year-old boy told police, according to the Daily Chronicle.
The chores the family told police they were forced to do included piling firewood and picking up garbage, KCPQ reports. The family described Waggener as “huge and intimidating,” police said.
Even when the family explained that the boy had a test he was going to miss, Waggener wasn’t willing to lose his yard workers, the family said.
“He’s got a test?” Waggener responded, according to Fitzgerald. “Well, let’s all do the Pledge of Allegiance.”
The family did the pledge, police said.
“They were trying to appease him long enough to get an opportunity to get away,” Fitzgerald said.
After about an hour of forced labor, the man walked across the street, the family said — giving the 13-year-old girl a chance to call police, KCPQ reports. It also gave them all an opportunity to flee.
Waggener was arrested Wednesday without incident around 8 a.m., police said. He was charged Thursday with malicious harassment, unlawful imprisonment and fourth-degree assault, the Daily Chronicle reports. He is being held without bail at a Lewis County jail, according to online jail records.
But why not just flee the rogue neighbor earlier? Waggener is 6 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds, according to police. The family told police that they were worried that if they tried to run Waggener would just chase after them, police said.
“He’s kind of an intimidating guy,” Fitzgerald said, adding that Waggener is no stranger to the local police department. “It’s taken five police officers to get him into custody [before].”
Waggener was previously sentenced to nine months behind bars after he was convicted of assaulting jailers. He had already been facing 2014 burglary charges (accused of sexually assaulting a woman after going into her hotel room uninvited) when the jail assault occurred, the Daily Chronicle reports.
In 2016, he was accused of kicking out the rear window of a Centralia police patrol car, according to local arrest records.