How do you tell someone with the mind of a child about the baby inside her?
She barely understands that she’s pregnant, how pregnancy happens or even where babies come from, but she’s going to have one. And she’s acting up.
The doctors tell you it’s her hormones. That’s why she set the mattress on fire. That’s why she’s now cursing. That’s why she keeps hitting herself – sometimes with repeated punches to her own belly.
She does that, she says, because the baby is taking all her food. It’s you who has to stop her, to let her know how biology works and how children grow inside their mothers.
Welcome to the world of Charles, a man who’s gone through all of that.
His full name is not being used by The Journal Gazette to protect the identity of the 23-year-old woman he had guardianship of for the past eight or nine years.
This woman is so severely mentally impaired she functions at the mental capacity of, at the maximum, a 4-year-old, according to specialists who have met her.
And Allen County prosecutors contend she was impregnated by a Fort Wayne man accused of raping her.
“He didn’t just destroy a family, he destroyed this child’s life,” Charles says of the accused. “How much trauma is she going to go through?”
This is a story of violations – both physical and mental.
It’s a story of a woman with the mind of a small child suffering physical harm and the man who cared for her who now says he can no longer trust anyone.
It’s the story of a family scarred and fractured, living in different homes with the possibility of never being together as one complete unit again – or at least not as before.
It’s the story of a police investigation that goes on for almost a year, while the man eventually arrested in the rape of the woman lives just four houses away.
Welcome to the world of Charles.
Since he was young, Charles wanted to live on a lake.
So when the opportunity came to move into a home in a neighborhood surrounding a small body of water in northwest Allen County, he packed his family up and came from what he described as a ghetto of Detroit to Indiana.
That was late 2010.
This is when he first met Jarrod Vroom, who is described by Charles, as well as by Allen Superior Court documents, as a “handyman” for the owner of the home.
“Some people told me to be careful of that guy, but he hadn’t done anything to me,” Charles said.
Charles said he and Vroom became friendly after they met.
The home Charles’ family moved into needed a lot of work, and Vroom, who lived down the street, said he would help with the repairs, Charles said.
According to Charles, he laid out to Vroom almost everything about his family, including the mentally impaired woman he and his wife were taking care of at the time.
Her life, by all accounts, was one of constant tragedy.
She was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Charles said she suffered abuse early in her life, and years ago her parents were killed in a liquor store robbery in another state.
She was supposedly unwanted by other members of her family, Charles said, so he and his wife took her in and obtained guardianship.
“She started calling us ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ because that’s what we were to her,” Charles said.
About a week before the day Charles believes the woman was raped, Vroom was coming over daily to fix a leaking roof, Charles said. He’d arrive at 6 or 7 a.m. and sometimes stay until the evening, according to Charles.
“The thing is, I trusted the guy,” Charles said. “I trusted him like a brother. I opened my door to him. He knew everything about my family.”
It was August 2011.
In November 2011, Charles ended up at a hospital.
He had fallen, and for a variety of reasons, he was still living part time in both Detroit and Allen County. He received treatment at a Michigan hospital.
It was at that hospital that the woman he had guardianship over began feeling ill.
“She’s throwing up, so they say they want to take a look at her,” Charles said. “Twenty minutes later, they’re telling us she’s pregnant.”
Charles said he and his wife both knew in an instant who might be the father.
They didn’t let the woman be with anyone alone, but they thought back to that one day in August while they were working on the home in Allen County, Charles said.
Vroom had shown up as usual.
He did a little bit of work before asking whether Charles could drive to a store to get some supplies. He needed paint and other items, Charles said.
Vroom always went on supply runs, according to Charles, but for whatever reason didn’t want to this time. Charles thought nothing of it, and his wife even gave him money to bring back a pizza and some chicken wings.
Before leaving, Charles told the mentally impaired woman in his care to go inside.
What happens next is described in Allen Superior Court documents:
Instead of going inside, she stayed out with Vroom, who is accused of pushing the woman out of a chair and onto the ground. That’s when he removed her clothes and had sex with her.
Later, when interviewed by a detective, she said Vroom told her he’d be her boyfriend and had to use hand gestures to describe the sex, according to court documents. Because of her mental capacity, the woman is unable to legally consent to sex.
Upon Charles’ return to the home an hour or so later, Vroom, who has yet to be tried and has not been convicted of a crime, abruptly left. According to Charles, his daily visits to the home ceased the next day.
“I couldn’t understand,” Charles said. “I thought maybe it was the pizza.”
How would you tell a 4-year-old she was pregnant?
How could you even make her understand? And how would you find a way to care for the child she would ultimately give birth to?
Those were questions Charles began to deal with in the late fall of 2011.
“I’m against abortion, but I was going to have it done,” he said. “She couldn’t take care of (the child).”
Because of the adult woman’s mental capacity and her inability to consent to the procedure, the abortion never happened, and for the next few months Charles continued to care for the woman. Sometimes she’d talk about Jarrod being her boyfriend, an idea he’d try to squash.
“I’d tell (her), ‘You can’t have no boyfriends,’ ” Charles said. “I’d tell her what he did was wrong.”
About this time she became unruly, Charles said. She stole. She cursed. She began hitting herself, including her stomach in frustration with the child, he said.
The police investigation into what happened – in Charles’ mind at least – began to drag on too long.
November became December and then the new year rolled in, and it seemed there was little movement in the case. That became hard to swallow, Charles said, with Vroom living so close.
“Do you know what it’s like to go by his house every day?” he said.
At one point in November, before Vroom supposedly knew about the pregnancy, he pulled up to Charles’ home. That’s when a verbal confrontation happened, Charles said.
“I told him to his face, ‘You (expletive) me over, I’ll (expletive) you over,’ ” Charles said.
According to Charles, the woman at one point told him and his wife that Vroom threatened to kill her and her family if she ever spoke about what happened.
Fearing the worst with police involved, Charles gave up his guardianship of the woman in February, he said. She was placed in a group home in another state, where she currently resides.
“I did the best thing I could,” Charles said. “I needed to keep her safe.”
An Allen County sheriff’s detective interviewed Vroom in January, according to court records.
He also served Vroom with a warrant to take DNA from the inside of his mouth. Still, no DNA sample had been taken from the fetus growing inside the woman.
While he could not speak on the specifics of this case, Allen County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Michael McAlexander said it was not unusual for investigators to wait until a baby is born before determining paternity.
This saves the fetus and mother from any possible harm, he said.
Once a baby is born, though, everything typically moves fast.
“Some DNA doesn’t take very long,” McAlexander said. “For example, in our paternity cases, we get a turnaround on those in three weeks or so under ideal circumstances.”
With the woman in the care of another state, however, circumstances have proved less than ideal.
In court documents, a detective wrote about his repeated attempts to communicate with child services officials in that state once the woman’s baby was born.
After months of hearing nothing, he finally found out that the woman’s baby had died while in foster care, possibly because of an unsafe sleep environment, court records said.
Charles expressed his frustration in learning about the death. His own repeated calls about the health of the baby were also rebuffed, as were as his inquiries into how the baby died, he said.
Still, the sheriff’s detective was able to obtain a DNA sample from the baby, which showed that there was a 99.9999 percent chance Vroom was the father, according to court documents.
This month, prosecutors formally charged Vroom with rape.
“I lived in some bad areas of Detroit, and nobody ever touched my kids or nothing,” Charles now says when Jarrod Vroom’s name comes up. “I cry over this all the time.”
How do you let a child go?
How do you do what’s right for them when you know it’s going to hurt you?
Welcome to Charles’ world.
The people running the group home where the woman now resides have told Charles she’s no longer setting fires or hitting herself. She’s calmer, and she’s around other people her age.
Just the other day, he said, he asked her whether she wanted to come home.
“She said no,” Charles said.
Charles and his wife at first planned on getting the woman back once Vroom was behind bars, a time when they felt the supposed threats he issued were truly empty ones.
This month, just one day after prosecutors filed the rape charge against Vroom, police searched some woods for him after they were told he was threatening to harm himself.
Days later, he turned himself in to the Allen County Lockup, where he remains, making him unavailable for comment. An attorney has yet to be appointed to represent Vroom.
He’s now also facing drug possession and drug dealing charges in U.S. District Court. In that case, he’s accused of cultivating and owning hundreds of marijuana plants in a growing operation he took part in with another man.
Now that Vroom is in jail, Charles and his wife are debating whether it’s even right to get the woman back.
Despite being devastated over the situation, Charles plans on staying in Allen County, he said.
He no longer trusts many people because of his experience with Vroom, he said.
He called what’s between him and Vroom “personal,” and he plans on attending as many court hearings – whether it’s for the drug case or the rape case – as he can.
He wants to be visible, he said, for someone like Jarrod Vroom to see.
“He was told everything about her,” Charles said. “That’s the thing. He knew. He knew everything about her.”