It’s been a bizarre week for Joseph Garelli. Reporters are knocking on his door. Neighbors are talking.
And the 59-year-old is still trying to come to terms with the contrast between the dynamic man and his quiet wife who lived with five of their children in his Northlake, Ill., home and the same man and woman charged this week in Lawrence for child abuse and endangerment.
Garelli first heard the news on the radio. Adolfo Gomez, 52, and Deborah Gomez, 43, had been arrested after two of their six children were discovered bound and blindfolded outside a Walmart.
“It’s unreal, almost like ‘The Twilight Zone,’” Garelli said.
The family had been traveling from Northlake, Ill., to Arizona to visit family when their van broke down Monday in Lawrence, police said. They said the family appeared to have been living in their car parked at the Walmart on Congressional Drive.
But for the past three months until two weeks ago, Garelli said, the Gomez family rented rooms in his North Wolf Road home in the Chicago suburb of Northlake. A mutual friend told him about the Gomez family, who needed a place to stay after moving to an area that was too far from Deborah Gomez’s work after an eviction.
Garelli said he rented his dining room, living room, bathrooms and kitchen out to the family as a favor to his friend and not because he needed money. He and his wife occupied two rooms upstairs.
The arrangement was supposed to be two months, just until they could find low-income housing. But Garelli said he was relieved when two months turned into three.
He liked the family. They paid rent on time, though he would not disclose how much. The kids, he said, were quiet but friendly. And Adolfo Gomez, who Garelli said was more outgoing than the rest of his family, became a friend.
The two men often went on walks together, Garelli said. Sometimes they talked about getting healthy, juicing vegetables. Other times, Garelli said, they talked about Adolfo Gomez’s belief in the “end times,” that the world would be destroyed by war. Garelli called him by his nickname, “Junior.”
Adolfo Gomez did not work, Garelli said, but Deborah Gomez worked nights at UPS. Garelli said the kids went to school, but Adolfo Gomez spoke often of a desire to home-school his children and sometimes pulled them out of school early.
Garelli described the family as “visibly religious.” Deborah Gomez read the Scriptures aloud. Adolfo Gomez quoted Bible passages. All the kids carried Bibles.
Garelli said he never saw or heard signs of abuse.
He said that when Adolfo disciplined his children, he would use his voice and only his voice. It was loud, powerful and direct. And Garelli said it was always effective.
The eldest child was living with relatives in Arizona and the family was traveling from Northlake, Ill., to see him when Adolfo and Deborah Gomez were arrested, Garelli said.
The family’s departure, Garelli said, is blurry. What he remembers is this: They left about two weeks ago and held a garage sale to sell some of their belongings for money for their trip. Adolfo Gomez went out and bought the Chevrolet Suburban that would later break down in Lawrence. And Garelli said he was sad to see them go.
He still can’t believe what happened next.
On Wednesday morning, police responded to a call from a Walmart customer who had seen a blindfolded boy, with his hands and ankles tied, sitting on the ground outside an SUV.
Police said they responded and found a man, later identified as Adolfo Gomez, standing next to two bound children, a 5-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. When the man fought police and tried to get into the vehicle, police said, they restrained him with a Taser. Officers located and arrested a woman inside the store.
Three other children, ages 12, 13 and 15, were inside the van but would not come out until juvenile officers persuaded them to unlock the door.
On Thursday, Adolfo and Deborah Gomez were each charged with two counts of abusing a child and five counts of aggravated endangering a child. Adolfo Gomez received an additional count of interfering with law enforcement. A judge set a $50,000 bond for each defendant.
For now, Garelli is left puzzled by the man he thought he knew.
“I’m shocked,” Garelli said. “I’m still recovering from it.”