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Teddy bears occupy a memorial for Aliahna Lemmon at the mobile home park.

Site of girl's slaying under ‘black cloud'

Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The entrance to Northway mobile home park stands silent after a weekend full of police searches and horrific discoveries.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Its location makes the mobile home park a legal place for sex offenders to live.

The woman in the gray jacket squinted against the mid-afternoon sun Wednesday, looking over at the white cross, stuffed toys and burned-out candles in front of Michael Plumadore's mobile home.

"I've not been able to come up here," Norma Haskins said, brushing away tears. "She was just a sweet little thing."

Much has been made of the makeup of Northway mobile home park at Clinton Street and Diebold Road just north of Fort Wayne, of the disproportionate number of registered sex offenders living where 9-year-old Aliahna Marie Maroney Lemmon went missing and was found the victim of a grisly homicide.

Plumadore, 39, a family friend with whom Aliahna was staying, has been preliminarily charged with murder.

A state website shows that 14 registered sex offenders live in the park's two dozen or so mobile homes.

Haskins wants people to know there are other people there, too, many who care deeply about the little girl lost in their midst.

She was one of them – "Miss Norma" to Aliahna, who would pop in to her trailer a few doors away from Plumadore's to play with Haskins' 7-year-old granddaughter and Pomeranian dog.

Often in tow were Aliahna's younger sisters, who also were staying with Plumadore when police say he killed Aliahna.

"She wasn't bossy, but if she saw them doing something they shouldn't be doing, she played 'little mom' with them," Haskins said.

Many of Northway's homes, their siding faded, rust-stained metal, are boarded up. The streets and drives are in disrepair, mottled with potholes and giant puddles Wednesday afternoon.

Haskins, who has lived in the park since June, said most of the park's residents are friendly. And in any case, Plumadore wasn't one of the registered sex offenders being so often discussed in the news, contrary to some published reports.

"It's been so somber around here," Haskins said. "It's like a black cloud has descended on our little community and just sort of hovered over."

At the park Wednesday, yellow tape surrounded the trailer home, and investigators occasionally walked in and out. The presence of a sheriff's department car in the asphalt lot across from it made sure the occasional passer-by who stopped to add to the memorial did not get too close.

The owner of the park has remained silent on Aliahna's killing. The park manager was unavailable Wednesday afternoon, and an employee in the park office said she did not know who owns the property.

The park's ownership changed hands over the summer, according to Allen County treasurer's records.

The records show a company called U-Store Family Trust owns the property, and Tin Lizzie Inc. is listed as trustee. Tin Lizzie president Neil Wingate of Lowell, Ind., declined to confirm Wednesday that he owns the property.

"I have no further comment," he said – and hung up.

Offenders' dilemma

According to an Associated Press report this week, self-identified sex offenders living at the park said that upon release from prison, they were given aerial maps by the Indiana Department of Correction and a local mission showing where they were legally allowed to live, away from child-care centers and schools.

But Department of Correction spokesman Douglas Garrison said Wednesday the agency does not provide such a map, although it tries to provide guidance to offenders being released. Sharon Gerig of the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission said the mission does not provide a map, either.

Allen County Sheriff's Department detective Cpl. Mike Smothermon is one of the officers tasked with maintaining Allen County's sex offender registry and investigating cases of failure to register.

The cluster of sexual or violent offenders, now numbered at 14, at the Northway mobile home park is due largely to the fact that the location is far outside the 1,000-foot cushion surrounding parks, schools, churches and youth program centers required by Indiana law.

"It's just a natural thing that happens," Smothermon said. "When you push people out of one area, they tend to go to another."

While the law makes people feel better or safer, it has had unintended consequences, such as bunching sex offenders in certain neighborhoods or motels, he said.

The sheriff's department does not provide offenders with any information about where they can live but advises them that the further they can get from areas with a lot of schools, churches and parks – such as downtown Fort Wayne – the easier it will be, Smothermon said.

"We're just stating the obvious," he said. "We're not pointing them in any direction."

The public might think of the 1,000-foot rule as some kind of magic force field that prevents convicted sex offenders from being present at areas where children congregate. But that is simply not the case, Smothermon said.

The rule applies only to where sex offenders can live, not where they can visit or spend their time, he said.

"We haven't jerked their permission slip to go to the park," he said.

It can often be difficult for those who have served their time for sex offenses to find affordable places to live that fulfill the requirement of the law.

That can become frustrating to them, and some simply stop trying to comply or register, Smothermon said.

"Eventually they give up hope, so to speak, there's nowhere they can live that they can afford," he said.

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