Although I’m a novelist, I sometimes find real-life events more unbelievable, and yes, even more horrifying than fiction.

Consider what happened to my grandson, Nicholas.

Nicholas is 28 years old, mentally disabled and hearing impaired. For all that, he’s friendly, outgoing and high functioning. High functioning means he’s able to hold a job, care for himself and interact with people, many of whom don’t immediately realize he has significant limitations.

Nicholas was 13 when his father died. His mother left the country a few years after that. From that point on, my wife and I were Nicholas’ de facto parents.

Early this year, Nicholas was living in an apartment in metro Atlanta with another disabled young man and a 24/7 overseer. Nicholas had a job at a high-end deli. He found the work rewarding and was doing quite well.

But his tendency to be outgoing and everybody’s friend, while his greatest asset, is also his greatest weakness. His friendliness coupled with his below average IQ makes him unusually gullible. It’s a characteristic easily exploitable by the wrong people. And boy, did he run into the wrong people.

Nicholas, though handicapped, harbors the same hormones and desires we all did in our twenties. He thought he’d fallen in love. The girl, the Lorelei of his life, and several of her friends, convinced Nicholas, against our advice, to leave his closely monitored environment and move with them to a small town in northeast Georgia.

When he left–in the eyes of the law he’s an adult and can make his own decisions–it happened to be on the same day his rather substantial social security disability (SSDI) check arrived, and the same day the group signed a lease on a house.

That was a red flag to us and all the people who knew and loved Nicholas. But not to Nicholas. He was finally free and independent, or so he thought.

We did some research on the girl he’d met. It turned out she had a criminal past and, we soon discovered, a mouth that would make a drunken sailor blanch. Her cohorts were characters straight out of Deliverance.

To make a long story short (and I will someday make it much longer) Nicholas during the next two months became the victim of intimidation, brainwashing, and abuse, both mental and physical. The group he was living with confiscated his SSDI check, stole his property, took out loans in his name and virtually severed his contact with the outside world. Most frightening of all, they took out life insurance policies on him.

Since communication with us had been cut off, we didn’t know exactly where Nicholas was living. We desperately wanted an address. We hired a private investigator and filed a missing person report with our local police. Neither effort bore fruit.

It was only after his mother, miraculously reentering his life after a decade of absenteeism, his aunt and a friend literally snatched Nicholas from “captivity” that the true peril of his situation came to light.

To free Nicholas, his mom engineered a not-necessarily-by-design sting operation involving–what else?–money, to obtain the address where Nicholas was living.

But all did not go smoothly, and the rescuers were briefly held at gunpoint by the town police who initially thought them kidnappers. As I said, I’ll write a much longer version of this someday.

Things were quickly sorted out, however, and the bottom line is this: Nicholas is safe and spending time with his mother. Five people, including his faux fiancée, are in a northeast Georgia jail (or out on bond) charged with a long list of serious felonies including theft by extortion, theft by taking, aggravated battery, fraud, and terroristic threats and acts.

So much for true love.

PHOTO: My grandson, Nicholas.


  1. Sheila Hudson on June 8, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. It is a scary thing for all of us to know that there is an element who takes advantage of others' disabilities and their good nature. As a grandmother of a child who has special needs my heart goes out to Nicholas and your family.

  2. Robin Ives on June 10, 2011 at 1:25 am

    That is unbelievable, yet believable … Sorry to say. As a sister to handicapped brothers, this is a nightmare and I'm so happy for a good, albeit poorer, ending. He's lucky and blessed to have you in his life, and you in his. Thanks for sharing!

  3. shelton on August 29, 2011 at 12:05 am

    WE also know Nick and I am so glad he is safe. We will have to one day allow our son to live in this not so nice world as an adult. It is our biggest fear that as a high functioning adult with disabilities he could and would be taken advantage of. Oue son knows Nick and will be glad of his safety now, it's the aftermath of the ordeal that hangs around awhile. I pray he is getting the help he needs to deal with so many complex emotions. We wish him well,
    The Sheltons

  4. sonja on December 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    How absolutely awful! I hope those people receive the same kind of treatment within the confines of prison. Nicholas is lucky to have you as grandparents.

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