As incredible as it may sound, an eleven-year-old girl in Cape Cod is in trouble with the law for doing what most of us did when we were kids — she cut through her neighbors’ lawns. The Harwich Police Department hit sixth-grader Autumn Blanchard with several no-trespass orders after she cut through adjacent yards to shorten her trip to the bus stop.
“I am beyond distressed by this situation,” said Krystal Blanchard, Autumn’s mother. “I can’t imagine why it had to go to this level. Someone should have spoken to me.”
The neighbors who took out the complaint spoke to school officials, who warned 11-year-old Autumn against taking a shortcut to a friend’s house on the way to the bus stop.
But no one involved Krystal Blanchard, who said she already had been lobbying school officials for a bus stop closer to the family’s rental home on Bells Neck Road.
“I found out about it when the police showed up at my door with a no-trespass order,” Blanchard said of the March 2 visit. “It’s making it a hostile environment for my child to go to school.”
The Blanchards, who moved into the neighborhood in September of 2015, think the whole thing is ridiculous. Krystal told the Providence Journal that the hostility might have something to do with their flamboyant looks. She has pink hair and piercings, while Autumn has long, rainbow-colored hair. “That’s the only thing I can think of,” Blanchard said.
But Patricia Taylor, who lives next door to the Blanchards, said she did not want to be liable if a child cutting through her yard injures herself. She told the Journal that her family was the target of a lawsuit some years ago.
A girl who came onto the property uninvited to visit a pet dog tripped and broke her leg, Taylor said.
“I was sued because she had fallen in my yard,” she said.
Her concerns grew after she spotted Autumn climbing over debris from a fallen tree in her backyard, Taylor said.
Taylor and another neighbor, Jacqueline Leger, have complained about Autumn cutting through their yards, the Harwich police report said. “They have asked her to walk around on the street and she ignores their wishes,” the report said. Autumn could be arrested and fined up to $100, imprisoned for up to 30 days, or both if she steps onto any of the properties listed in the no-trespass orders.
According to the police report, Autumn also got a talking to by the school resource officer and principal, which aggravated her mother. “If I’d had a chance to speak to her it wouldn’t have got to this level,” Krystal Blanchard said. “My daughter respects me and would listen to me.”
Autumn said she felt she was obeying the adults when she scooted over to a clamshell driveway of another Bells Neck Road address, which is adjacent to Taylor’s driveway. But that property was also included on one of the three no-trespass notices, which listed Leger as the “person in control” of the property.
So Autumn received a total of three pink no-trespass notices in one day.
Two of them were signed by Jacqueline Leger of Arbutus Lane and one by Leger’s mother, Patricia Taylor, who lives next door to the Blanchards on Bells Neck Road.
According to both Blanchard and Taylor, Autumn would cut through Taylor’s property to get to Leger’s driveway so she could walk to the bus stop with Leger’s daughter.
Autumn said she considered the girl a “bus friend” who attended her Harry Potter-themed birthday party last summer and was kind to her when she first arrived in West Harwich from Rhode Island.
The shortcut, which she also took on the way home from school, greatly shortened her walk to and from the school bus stop, which was located down a series of country roads where cars are infrequent but fast.
“I’m a good kid,” Autumn said. “I just wanted to get home and be warm inside my house.”
To make matter worse, rather than talking to Blanchard about the problem, the neighbors took their complaint to the school because they believed the message would “be better coming from an adult (Autumn) respected.”
“It was so rude,” Blanchard said.
Monomoy Regional Schools Superintendent Scott Carpenter agreed. “The mother ideally should have been contacted,” he said, adding that an unnamed school employee reached out to a school resource officer. (The Journal helpfully pointed out that Leger is listed on the Monomoy Regional High School website as a cafeteria worker.)
“We on that level shouldn’t have been getting involved” other than in bringing both parties together to mediate the issue, Carpenter said.
“We don’t have parties. We’re not loud. We’re not rude,” said Blanchard. “Autumn is a nice, polite kid. It should have been a note in the mailbox.”
But Taylor said she was too intimidated by the Blanchards’ dogs, which at one point included a pit bull, or pit bull mix, and a mastiff, to ever approach the family.
A man who was out in the yard with “three big dogs” refused to greet Taylor when she walked by and said “‘hello,'” Taylor said. “I’m not going to go knocking on the door with the dogs I’ve seen over there.”
Taylor said she barely knows the family.
“I have never seen the mother,” Taylor said.
Blanchard said her neighbors are not particularly visible or friendly either.
“I didn’t realize it was so cliquey,” Blanchard said. “No one ever said ‘hello’ to me or ‘come over.'”
After the no-trespassing order was served, Blanchard said she succeeded in getting her daughter a bus stop located closer to home.
“It makes me just kind of feel sad that I can’t hang out with one of my friends that’s nearby,” Autumn said. “There are barely any kids here.”
“She just cannot ever go on those properties again,” Blanchard said. “She can’t even trick-or-treat there. Imagine that.”
Carpenter seemed to find the whole thing rather distressing. “I find it a very sad statement about society on some level,” he said, adding that he took shortcuts through neighbors’ yard on the way home from school up through high school.
“It was just a breakdown in communication that occurred,” Harwich Police Chief David Guillemette said. He said police should have met with Krystal Blanchard first to explain the consequences of her daughter’s trespassing.
He added, “I would have preferred it would have been handled with more tact.”