“Mom, there’s a girl out front that wants to talk to you.”
Theresa Fogel had just returned home after calling the police about her sons, who had been gone for hours now.
Rylenn Johns, her 9-year-old daughter, ran to the front of the house and saw a woman outside.
Theresa unbuckled her other daughter from the booster seat, grabbed her things and walked over to see who it was.
Exactly what happened next is not clear. This is Theresa’s account:
“This woman does not tell me who she is, she doesn’t tell me anything. She says, ‘Do you know where your boys are?’ And I’m like, ‘No, but I just called the police because they’ve been gone for a little while.’ … And she’s like, ‘Well, your boys are at the library, but I have some concerns.’ And I’m like, ‘You have some concerns!?’”
Theresa told the woman the police were on their way.
“She was like, ‘Well, I think that it would be best, and my supervisor feels like it would be best, if we sent your kids to a relative’s house for the evening or to foster care.’ Now at that point we’re talking about the boys. So I’m like, ‘Okay. First of all, I don’t know who the f*** you are. You haven’t told me your name. Who is your supervisor? Where is she at?’
“I said, ‘You’re not taking my children anywhere until a police officer arrives here. I just moved here. I don’t even know where the hell I am, and I don’t know who you are. So until you can prove that to me, you’re not doing s***.’
“And she said, ‘I’m talking about all of your children.’ I said, ‘F*** you, bitch. You’re not taking my kids nowhere.’”
Theresa got her two daughters back into the car and drove off.
Time for a change
Theresa had her first two children, sons Josiah and Azriel, with her ex-husband, Blake Fogel. Blake was her first love, and she married him in 2004 when she was 18. But his struggles with drug addiction, and his violent outbursts during these episodes, pushed her to the breaking point.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I deserve way better than this, and my children deserve way better than this, and I’m done,’” she said. “So I left him.”
That was in 2009. The following year Theresa got together with Justin Johns, a childhood friend. They soon moved in together, renting a home for several years then moving into a two-story stucco house Justin bought in the suburbs of Butler County, halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton.
Over the years, Theresa and Justin had two children, Rylenn and Everly. The household also grew as Theresa took in two extended family members in need of a home.
Three days after Thanksgiving in 2017, one of Blake’s sisters, who had long been struggling with drug addiction, left her infant son, just over 6 weeks old, with Theresa to watch because she wasn’t feeling well.
She never returned.
Theresa, who was pregnant with Everly at the time, decided to keep the boy, Dillan, who had serious health conditions that almost killed him and required considerable medical care and personal attention.
Theresa also took in a half-sister, Demi Richardson, who had been removed from her mother’s home. Demi was placed with Theresa three times.
Then in July 2020, Theresa and Justin, who were not married, broke up and Justin moved out. Theresa was now taking care of six children on her own, one still in diapers and another too young to go to school.
Theresa made do until April 2022, when over a span of four weeks, life at home unraveled and she found herself desperate for a way out.
Azriel, who was in eighth grade, was suspended and then expelled for bringing vaping devices to school.
Theresa then discovered that Josiah and Demi were in what she believed was a romantic relationship. Demi was a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday. Josiah was about to turn 17.
Azriel was so upset by this he got into a fight with his older brother and ended up in juvenile detention for a night on a domestic violence charge. Josiah claimed Azriel held a kitchen knife to his throat. Whether Azriel did or Josiah made this up, it was a disturbing turn of events.
Theresa was furious over Josiah and Demi’s relationship, and it seems she had reached her limit with her older son. “I want him out of here!” she wrote in a text message to her mother. “I need somebody to HELP ME. Before something bad happens.”
It didn’t take long. Theresa had kicked Demi out after the fight. Two weeks later she found Josiah was still in contact with her trying to maintain the relationship. Theresa confronted him about it and the two got into an argument that ended with Josiah shoving her out of his room and slamming the door on her bare foot, leaving a bruise.
Now it was Josiah in juvenile detention on a domestic violence charge, where he remained for several days.
Theresa decided it was time for a major change. She and her live-in boyfriend, Tyler Tingley, drove to Athens County, a part of southeast Ohio they had first visited in early April on a family camping trip to celebrate her 36th birthday.
Theresa and her children spend a lot of time in the outdoors. It’s where they bond as a family. She was drawn by Athens County’s natural landscape, its rolling hills blanketed in a patchwork of lush pasture and thick forest. This seemed far removed from the turmoil back home in Middletown.
She found a three-bedroom home for rent in Glouster. It had some issues, but it would do. She and Tyler signed a one-year lease on May 8. Then she came home and got Josiah released from detention.
“I was like, look, I’m going to drop the charges because we’re moving almost three hours away,” Theresa said. “I’m getting my children out of here. We’re going to go start fresh in this new place. I’m going to get them in counseling there, and he’s going to be away from the drugs and my sister and from all of this. He’s not going to have the opportunity to get in trouble like he has been here.”
Theresa had no choice but to move somewhere. Justin was evicting her.
Justin had already twice taken steps to evict Theresa after their breakup but agreed to let her stay in the house if she kept up with the mortgage payments. But she was unemployed and kept falling behind. The third eviction notice came in mid-April, just as she was dealing with the conflicts involving her sons. This time Justin wasn’t budging. She had a month to move out.
On May 24, their possessions loaded into a U-Haul truck, Theresa and her family began the drive that would take them from suburban Middletown to Glouster, an old coal mining village with a population around 1,600.
She was ready for her fresh start.
“We are literally so screwed”
When Theresa and her family arrived, no key had been left for them to unlock the front door. It didn’t matter because the back door was open. It still had no handle or lock to hold it closed.
Furniture left behind by the previous tenant was still in the house, along with trash both inside and outside. The two dead rats were still on the floor.
These were things Theresa had asked the landlord to take care of before they moved into the Glouster home.
“Nothing that I asked to be done was done,” she wrote in a text to the landlord’s property manager. “We need to meet with you to discuss what to do about this.”
The landlord came over the next day.
He explained that his maintenance worker had quit. He was looking for a new one and asked Tyler if he was interested. According to Theresa and Tyler, he offered to pay $12,000 a month for the maintenance on his properties. This was to cover all costs for supplies and whatever Tyler paid himself for his labor. It would be up to Tyler to manage the expenses.
This offer might have seemed almost too good to be true, but Theresa and Tyler had moved to Glouster with little cash on hand and no jobs. Tyler accepted. The agreement was not put into writing.
Tyler started work the next day. He wouldn’t receive his first payment for another five weeks, so he was going to have to pay for the supplies he needed out of his own pocket. The landlord said he could help with the costs.
There was plenty of work to be done, but most of the properties were at least a 30-minute drive from Glouster, and some closer to an hour. What little money they had was going fast.
Their situation grew increasingly desperate, which Tyler communicated to the landlord and his property manager through text messages. In one of his final messages, Tyler says he’s run out of gas and has no money to buy more: “We are literally so screwed,” he wrote.
Things came to a head when Theresa received a reminder that the June rent was due. She tried to make the case that because they didn’t move into the house until the last week of May, the first month’s rent they paid when they signed the lease should cover the month of June, and they should only have to pay now for the one week in May. But the property manager said the rental period began on May 8, when they signed the lease, not when they moved in, and so the couple owed $750 for the June rent.
Theresa and Tyler were broke. Tyler, who had just found another job, asked if he could get paid for the two weeks of work he did on the rental properties. The landlord reminded him that under their agreement, he would get paid the first week in July. “I’ll pay you absolutely. When are you paying me?” the landlord wrote in a message to Tyler. “I’m still within my time but you’re not.”
Theresa talked to an attorney with Southeast Ohio Legal Services, which provides free legal aid to low-income people. The attorney told her that, absent a written agreement, the most Tyler could hope to get paid was minimum wage for the hours he worked.
This was not going to be enough.
Theresa was now facing eviction again. Her fresh start was starting to look like more of the same she had been trying to escape.
And things were about to get much worse.
Back to Butler County
A week after the move to Glouster, Josiah had had enough. He hated it there. And he was complaining a lot, especially about how money was tight and they couldn’t afford to do the things they used to do.
“So I’m like, ‘You can go get a job, Josiah. There’s a bus. You have to give it a chance. We are starting our life over. When you start your life over again, we start over from scratch. We have to establish ourselves out here. It’s not something that you can just snap your fingers and do,’” Theresa said. “He didn’t understand that because that’s not what he wanted. He wanted to go back to where the trouble is. He wants to be there in the chaos of where I tried to escape from, to leave that path. You would think that with his record, he would want to leave there, right? Obviously not.
“So he started flipping out, saying that he was going to run away, he was going to do this or that, and he wanted to go back. And I’m like, ‘Josiah, you can go back for a few weeks.’ It wasn’t even supposed to be the whole summer. It was only for a few weeks. ‘You can go back for a few weeks because you’re not bringing what you did to me here. We’re not doing that.’ Nobody knows me out here and I want to keep it that way. I don’t want to have to call the police on my child somewhere I just moved to. That’s embarrassing. I don’t want my neighbors that don’t even know me seeing the cops in my house six days after I move somewhere. That’s embarrassing. I’m not like that.”
Josiah went back to Butler County and stayed first with his grandmother, Cheryl Boger, in Monroe, just a few miles from Middletown. Soon after arriving, he sent a text to Azriel to assure everyone this was just temporary.
“Tell mom I don’t want to be here permanently,” he wrote. “I just want a brake I love y’all so much and I just need to clear my head and s*** but I want to be with y’all and everything but it’s been a crazy week I just need some time I love y’all so much.”
Josiah then began staying with his aunt, Jamie Boger, Theresa’s older sister, who lives a few blocks from his grandmother. Josiah is close with Jamie, and she seemed happy to have him.
He got a job doing landscaping work and told his mom he wanted to stay with Jamie a few weeks longer so he could save up more money before coming home in case he couldn’t find a job in Glouster.
“I’m like, ‘OK. Those are valid points. I get it,’” Theresa said.
Theresa’s other children were adjusting better to their new life in Glouster.
Rylenn quickly befriended a neighbor boy, Xavier, who was also 9, and spent much of her free time hanging out with him.
The two were inseparable, said Xavier’s mom, Sue McGee. “As long as he was home or she was home, they were together,” she said.
Theresa brought Xavier along on a family trip to a lake and on a trip to the Hocking Hills, a top hiking destination in southeast Ohio.
McGee said she had no reservations about letting her son spend time with Theresa’s family. “He would’ve never been allowed to be down there by himself if I had any small ounce of worry at all,” she said.
Azriel started going to football practice and planned to join the football team when he started his freshman year after summer break. He was doing so well that Theresa agreed to let him spend a week or so visiting his girlfriend back in Middletown. She checked in with him daily, but one day, a week into the visit, she couldn’t reach him. She tried Josiah but couldn’t reach him either.
This was June 24, a Friday. Theresa said she learned later that evening that the girlfriend’s father had gotten into an argument with his daughter. The girl, who has a brain tumor, started having seizures. She was rushed to a hospital and Azriel was taken to his aunt Jamie’s house.
Theresa was livid. “I’m like, ‘I’m done. You’re not going back over there and hanging out with those people,” she said. “Obviously, I cannot trust anybody, and that’s why we just moved away from there. So, you and Josiah need to get ready to go. I am coming to get you both. Period.’”
On the drive there, Theresa called the Monroe Police Department. She asked if officers could accompany her to Jamie’s house because she was concerned about how this was going to play out, especially with Josiah.
She arrived at Jaime’s house around 3 a.m. with three officers and gathered her sons.
Rylenn and Everly were in the backseat of Theresa’s car, and one of the officers asked her if all four children were going to fit. Theresa said she told him the four could squeeze in but one of the boys would not have a seat belt. She said the officer told her that was OK, so long as the girls were buckled.
When they reached the first stop sign, Theresa said, Josiah jumped out of the car and took off running. She called the police again. The officers started looking for him, and Theresa drove to the police station to wait.
“I get to the police station, and Josiah’s calling me, like, ‘Mom, they’re looking for me. I don’t want to go back to jail. Just come back to the stop sign and pick me up. Come on. Come on.’ So, I go pick him back up at that same stop sign. One of the cops pulls up, and I’m like, ‘I got him. He came back to the stop sign, because he doesn’t want to go to jail.’”
She turned to Josiah. “And I’m like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ He was like, ‘I mean, I guess just head back home.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’”
But Josiah was angry about having his summer visit cut short.
“From the time that I got out of that neighborhood, I was called every name you can only imagine,” Theresa said. “‘I f***ing hate you, you f***ing stupid-ass c***-ass bitch. I’m going to ruin your life. I’m going to destroy your life as soon as we get back there. As soon as you take me back to that bumf***, stick-ass place, I’m going to destroy your life. I promise you that.’”
On the way home, they stopped at a gas station on the outskirts of Columbus, about 90 minutes from Glouster. Theresa said she asked Tyler if he could drive the rest of the way because her accelerator foot was numb from all the driving and she was exhausted from all the arguing with Josiah. Tyler did not have his license.
Shortly after Tyler started driving, Josiah called 911. In a recording of the call, he tells the dispatcher that no one in the backseat was buckled except for his little sister. He then lays out his frustrations with his mother: “She came and got us for no reason. I was living with my aunt for not even a month, making really good money, and she literally came and got me. I couldn’t even say goodbye to anybody. That’s how crazy she is.”
Josiah's 911 call
The dispatcher asks Josiah his age. He says he’s 17, but quickly adds that he’s turning 18 in less than a year. The dispatcher asks if his mother has put a hand on him. “Not yet, but I got threatened a bunch,” he says. Josiah is asked for his location, and his name and phone number. He answers, but his voice is starting to drift and he sounds deflated. The dispatcher says someone will be sent out there, and the call ends.
If someone was dispatched, they did not find the car. Tyler pulled over after the call and Theresa got back behind the wheel.
Caught on video
When they arrived home, the boys went into the house.
Azriel said he went to his room and Josiah came in yelling and screaming, upset about being back in Glouster. Azriel said his brother told him to pack a bag, but didn’t say why. “I put socks and a couple shirts in there, and a couple pants,” he said.
Meanwhile, Theresa had already decided she was going to shut off Josiah’s phone service, but she hadn’t told him.
“I am not going to pay somebody’s cell phone bill being talked to like that. Period,” she said. “I had been paying it since he’s had the phone. Are you going to pay your kid’s phone bill if they’re talking to you like that? No. I’m not doing it. I don’t have to. You have money in your pocket, right? Pay it yourself. You want a phone? Get it turned on yourself. I’m not paying it.”
She drove to the Glouster library with Tyler and the girls. Her phone signal was stronger there, and she wanted to do this away from her son.
When she arrived back at the house, it was about 9:30 Saturday morning. Theresa said that Tyler went to work on the house, pounding in some nails that were sticking out from a door frame, “trying to get his mind away from these kids and trying to stay away from everyone.”
“He was so pissed off about the way my kid was talking to me,” she said. “But that’s not his kid. That’s not his place. Tyler has never raised his voice to anybody in my house. It’s not his job.”
Rylenn went to see if Xavier was home.
Theresa was still in the car with Everly in the backseat when Josiah walked up with a hammer in his hand.
She filmed what happened next using the Snapchat app on her cell phone.
In the video, Josiah approaches the passenger side front door and tries the handle. It’s locked. The window is open a couple of inches.
“Turn my damn phone back on right now,” he says. Theresa lets out a nervous laugh. “Go turn my phone on right now,” he says. “That is illegal.”
Theresa rolls up the window. “I pay the bill. No it’s not.”
Josiah gestures toward the house and says Azriel has no clothes, no underwear and no PlayStation 4. He then pounds the hammer twice against the window.
“I’m not playing with you,” he says, and hits the window again. “I’m not playing with you Theresa.”
Josiah presses his face against the glass along with his two extended middle fingers. “F*** you, you’re a bitch, you’re crazy as f***, you’re on drugs, you’re a bad mom, you’ve never been a good mom.”
Josiah’s voice is drowned out as Everly makes a loud noise in the back seat. Josiah looks to his right and steps back from the window just as Tyler enters the frame from the left and steps close to Josiah. Josiah takes a couple of quick steps back and so does Tyler. Theresa yells “Hey!” and the video ends.
Theresa got out of the car and Azriel came out of the house. Josiah told his brother to come with him and they walked off down the alley.
“Well, at that point in time, I collapse in the driveway, and I’m just bawling my eyes out,” Theresa said. “And I watched that video that I took multiple times, and I posted it on social media.”
She said she did this because she was desperate to hear from others about her situation.
“What do you do when all you want is your family together, but you’re being talked to like this by your 17-year-old son? Please, someone, anyone, I beg you to tell me what to do with him. Please.”
A meeting at the library
Josiah and Azriel walked to the library for internet access. Azriel said he wanted to text his girlfriend and tell her what was happening. Once inside, he said, Josiah called his ex-girlfriend and was yelling.
A librarian walked up and asked if they needed help. Azriel described what happened next.
“My brother was like, ‘My mom’s abusive, she’s on drugs, da da da da da.’ And basically telling her a whole lie. And then I didn’t step up because he’s intimidating, and I didn’t know what he was going to do to me. So I didn’t really intervene with that because it didn’t make no sense to me. And she was like, ‘Do you need me to call anybody?’ I was like, ‘No.’ And then Josiah was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Can you please call somebody?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, I can get a hold of the caseworker.’ And I was like, ‘A caseworker?’ And Josiah was like, ‘That would be great.’”
Josiah declined to be interviewed for this story.
The first person who showed up was an employee with Integrated Services for Behavioral Health, which has a contract with the Athens County library system to help assess library patrons in need. She talked to the boys and Josiah showed her the video his mother posted. She reached out to Athens County Children Services, and Jacelyn McGaughey, a caseworker with the agency, drove to the library.
McGaughey met with the two boys together. The following account of what the boys told her is summarized from McGaughey’s case notes. (Josiah would months later deny saying much of this when Theresa confronted him about it.)
Josiah said that on the drive home from Monroe earlier that morning, Tyler was driving at high speeds, swerving in and out of traffic and slamming on his brakes. He said when they got home he was fighting with his mom because there was no food in the house and the children were all hungry. He said when he was knocking on the car window with a hammer, Tyler “lunged at him with a hammer and swung it at him.” He said that earlier in the morning Tyler had threatened to get a gun and shoot him.
Azriel said Tyler was “dangerous and had spent time in prison and a year and a half of that time was in solitary confinement for attempted murder.” He said that since moving to Glouster they rarely had access to food. He said Tyler was “often mean and yelled at him” and that he was not sleeping because he was scared and did not feel safe.
Josiah said their mom “often brought different men to their home and moved them in” and that “food insecurity, different men, domestic violence, and substance abuse was constantly within the home.” He said his mother often tried to get him to buy weed for her because he had friends who smoked.
Josiah said they have an aunt Jamie who they feel safe with and would be comfortable staying with.
While the boys were talking at the library, Theresa didn’t know where they had gone and was growing concerned. After about three hours she called the police, told the dispatcher what happened that morning and said she had it on video. She asked for an officer to come to her house.
McGaughey got there first.
This time, a court order
Theresa didn’t have a plan when she drove off with her daughters after her confrontation with McGaughey at her front door.
That decision set something in motion that would prove so devastating for her family she could not possibly have imagined it.
But at that moment, she wasn’t thinking about the consequences.
“I know I acted irrationally but I was angry about everything heart broken and stressed out,” Theresa wrote in an email the following morning to a legal aid attorney she reached out to for help. “I have done nothing wrong except leave with my girls bc I wasn’t even told a name given paper nothing but told lies my son made up.”
Not sure where to turn, Theresa called her ex-boyfriend Justin Johns and begged him to come pick up the girls. Justin said that on the drive there he kept trying to call Athens County Children Services to find out what was going on. He was about halfway to Glouster when he reached someone at the agency and was told the girls were going to be placed somewhere and would not be released to him.
The person mentioned something about Theresa denying an emergency plan, he said, but he didn’t understand what that meant.
He turned around and drove home.
After calling Justin, Theresa decided to go to Xavier’s house. She didn’t know Xavier’s mom, Sue McGee, very well. But McGee was the closest thing she had to a friend in Glouster.
McGee already knew something was wrong. Xavier had come home crying and told her that somebody was at Theresa’s house trying to take the kids away.
Once at McGee’s, Theresa explained what happened and showed McGee the video. She said she wanted to stay there with her girls until Justin arrived. McGee said she told Theresa the woman at the door must have been a caseworker and suggested she call the police again.
“I said, ‘You should make sure what’s going on. You don’t want to get yourself in deeper trouble … I would hate to see you lose the girls on something stupid,’” McGee recalled. “I would’ve never thought that they would’ve really taken ’em, or I would’ve gone a different route with that.”
Theresa called the police again and told the dispatcher where she was. Two deputies who were already in the area looking for her soon arrived, followed a few minutes later by McGaughey, who had the two boys in her car. Rylenn was inside the house with Xavier, watching TV and eating a snack.
Theresa told one of the deputies she had just moved to Glouster and about some of the issues she had been having with Josiah. She described the hammer incident from that morning and showed him the video. She told him Tyler did not threaten or harm Josiah. She said a woman showed up to her house wanting to take her children but did not provide any identification.
None of this mattered.
This time, McGaughey had an order from a judge to take the children into the temporary custody of Children Services. Theresa had no choice but to turn them over. She went into the house and explained to Rylenn what was happening and that she and her sister were going to a foster home.
“‘What if they murder me?’” McGee recalled Rylenn asking. “‘What if they beat me and or what if they lock me in a room somewhere?’ She’s seen way too much TV. And I said, ‘That’s not gonna happen. You will be safe, you will be well taken care of until you can get back with your mom. They’re the nicest foster care around here that you can get.’”
She would later regret saying that.
McGaughey loaded Rylenn and Everly into her car. She took a business card and on the back wrote that there would be a court hearing at 1 p.m. on Monday. She handed the card to Theresa, told her she had a right to an attorney, then got into her car and drove off.