Parents find used drug needle in yard where children play
Wheaton parents share anger, concern on social media
Of all the things a parent would expect to pick up in their yard — kids toys, lawn equipment, and the like — the last would be a used hypodermic drug needle.
But, that's what Kelly and Glen Johnson found while walking their dogs on the evening of July 14.
The Johnsons live in a quiet, family-oriented neighborhood on Main Street in Wheaton where kids play often, just down the street from L&S Grocery Store.
When Kelly Johnson spotted the syringe in her yard, just feet from the family pool where her two sons and other children often come to play, she was stunned.
"We had taken the dogs out, and I glanced down and saw the orange tip of a syringe laying in the grass," Johnson said. The first thing my husband said was, 'What's this?' He pulled the top off and the needle was broken off. It really surprised me. It's not like we live in a bad neighborhood. We debated on what to do, and I called the police."
Wheaton Officer Clint Danforth tested the needle, which was positive for the presence of methamphetamine.
The boys were at a neighbor's house at the time of the discovery. Preston, 11, likes to run barefoot in the yard, so the discovery worried him, and his parents, for good reason.
"If it would have poked anyone, you've got a chance of getting hepatitis," Danforth said. "That's where a lot of that is spread, from sharing needles. Not only that, but AIDS."
Earlier this month, a Washburn woman, Lee Ann Mahurin, was arrested in Wheaton for possession of methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia, including a syringe, in her vehicle, who allegedly admitted to attempting to sell controlled substances to make money.
Johnson, who has lived in the city for five years, said on social media that she moved to the small community of Wheaton from Springfield to get away from crime.
"I've lived all over, and I love Wheaton," she said. "This is a great community, and I'm not afraid to live here. I don't think there's a lot of crime, but the crime that does occur gets a lot of attention because it's a small community."
About two weeks ago, Danforth, who has worked narcotics in Barry County for years, and has policed Wheaton since 2016, said a report of two syringes and a spoon found in a trash can of the girls' city park restroom was made.
"Unfortunately, we see this [problem] often," he said. "It's everywhere, just not often in Wheaton. If you go to the Monett or Cassville city park, if it's there, it's going to be there. Here lately, it's been picking up. I don't know if people are throwing them out because they don't want to get caught with drug paraphernalia because if found to test positive for drugs, they could be charged with a felony."
After Kelly shared the finding on Facebook, a litany of parents, some of whose children play in the same neighborhood, expressed anger, shock, and concern about going for walks or to the park.
Danforth said parents need not overreact, but should be cautious, and if they see a needle or other drug paraphernalia, urged them not to touch it and to notify local police.
"I wouldn't prevent my children from going places [because of these discoveries]" he said. "We just have to educate people not to touch these items."
Wheaton Police Chief Clint Clark said law enforcement is very concerned about the issue, as he has found used drug needles, too.
"It's not uncommon," he said. "A while back, I found two needles by the Blue Ridge Apartments behind the building. Sadly, it's part of our times, and people are not very careful of where they throw their trash. Normally, this is a quiet little community, but this drug problem is epidemic every day.
"And now the opioids — the prescription drugs — are prevalent, too. We haven't located any heroin in this immediate area, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was here because it's cheap."
Clark said he was hopeful that a recent order signed by Governor Eric Greiten to create a prescription data drug base tracking system may help.
He advised residents and parents to be vigilant, and if they find anything, to call the Wheaton police immediately.
Moving forward, discussions are planned about establishing a Neighborhood Watch, and public education.
"It's in the works," Danforth said. "I'd like to do a community awareness class to meet with the public to answer any questions or concerns about drug-related crimes, drug paraphernalia, needles, provide examples of what items look like and what residents should do if they find any."
As for the Johnsons, they plan to watch where they step a little more closely, watch the neighborhood for suspicious activity and install a video camera on every corner of their home to discourage crime.
"If we'd had that, we would have seen who threw the needle in our yard," she said.
As a hardworking parent who works for Wheaton schools, Johnson would like to keep her hometown just that — a safe place for parents to work and raise their children. And, she trusts local law enforcement to keep it that way.
"I know the police department works really hard to be on top of this and they're doing they're best," she said. "I think as a community, we need to do our part. I like that Wheaton is a small town where everyone watches out for each other. Not in a nosy way, but a concerned way. It takes a village, and this is a good village."