The sight of it takes your breath away — the aftermath of a teen party in your house while your family was on vacation.
It looks a lot like a wrecking ball hit it, with vomit, urine and feces mingled in the debris. It can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages in some cases.
And then you might see the guilty teens gloating in photos and videos posted on Twitter or Facebook, wearing your clothes and jewelry and bragging to their friends about the good time.
Extreme parties are happening here and other places across country, usually in upscale homes, some of them vacant because of foreclosures. Many parties have been sparked by the 2012 cult film “Project X”
about three high schoolers who set out to throw the wildest party ever.
In two local cases, a teenage party spanning a family’s three-week vacation caused almost $100,000 of damage last August in Leawood, and a couple’s Johnson County farmhouse was trashed by teens two years ago.
In Columbia, Kathy Keithley-Johnston returned with her family from visiting relatives in Arizona last December to a house that had been ransacked.
Teens had broken in, urinated on their mattresses and defecated in closets. Generations-old heirlooms were ruined or missing. The total expense: Almost $400,000.
But it wasn’t just the personal invasion that upset Keithley-Johnston. The eventual punishment was probation and restitution, which she said pales in comparison to the damage.
“These kids think it’s a joke,” she said. “One boy wore to court the tennis shoes he stole from my son. One tweeted wearing my husband’s jacket. One shot pictures of his ankle bracelets and tweeted it.
“On my birthday in June, they retweeted the original party invitation,” said Keithley-Johnston, who eight months later hasn’t been able to move back into her home because of the repair work.
Prosecutors said they could not comment on the details of the case because it’s ongoing. But Daniel Knight, Boone County prosecutor, said the parties are more than a burglary or simple property crime.
“This is an extremely serious crime,” Knight said. “It’s an invasion of personal space, a space that is supposed to be your safe sanctuary. A lot of times, victims don’t feel safe in their homes anymore.”
Kathleen Rieth, Johnson County chief court service administrator, said some people don’t consider probation and community service stringent enough consequences, but those punishments serve as a wake-up call to teens, and punishments do become stricter if teens violate probation.
“If you want to protect the community, you change behavior and you find ways to do that,” Rieth said. “This is a big deal. If that were your home, and I don’t care if it is a half-million dollars or a $50,000 house, that is somebody’s home, and people don’t have the right to go in and trash it.”Bad example
“Project X” was an instant cult classic when it was released early last year. The movie is about dweebs who want to become dudes: “I wanted to be cool for tonight. Tonight’s about changing the game.”
Thousands show up for the party, people get wasted, explosions happen and cars go into the swimming pool.
Copycat parties are still popping up around the country today. Search for “Project X” on Twitter and you can find invitations to parties from California to Florida.
Such movies don’t show the devastating impact on victims, said Josh Shipp, a motivational speaker who addresses teens across the country and is considered a teen behavior expert.
“The glorified version of you breaks inside these people’s house, you party and everyone is smiling, laughing — it is an awesome thing and you are being rebellious and on the edge,” Shipp said. “But it doesn’t show the absolute destruction emotionally and literally to that other person.”
The reason for bizarre teen behavior is technical: Teenagers’ prefrontal cortex in the brain has not yet matured, he said.
“This delay can help explain, but not justify, why some teenagers make decisions that as adults we look on and go, ‘What on earth are you thinking? Are you possessed?’” Shipp said.
That was the reaction of a family in Leawood after Blue Valley School District high schoolers partied from July 26 to Aug. 18 last summer, destroying or substantially defacing much of the house, including walls, furniture, paintings and artwork. The family returned from vacation to find their home a wreck. The cost was almost $100,000.
In May, two boys were sentenced to serve nine months of probation, pay $1,000 restitution, complete community service and barred from having any contact with the victims.
But just weeks later, the boys were found to have violated their probation. The family told police that one of the boys had been driving by their home several times, yelling obscenities. He was ordered once again to have no contact with the victims.
The family has filed a lawsuit against the boys, their families and several other alleged partygoers who were not charged.
In another case, a couple’s Johnson County farmhouse was wrecked by teens who they said beat the sinks off the bathrooms’ walls and crushed the toilet stools. They knocked the shower doors off the top of the bathtubs, punched holes in the walls and ceilings, knocked doors off their hinges and broke out windows.
The owners asked that their names not be used for fear of retribution from teens, who they said are continuing to cause damage to the unoccupied house. The husband said he is angry that he never got the apology he asked for, and also that Kansas criminal records that would tell him if the teens completed community service and probation are closed.
Authorities would not make the records public because the teens were juveniles.Stolen key
Steven and Kathy Keithley-Johnston were in Arizona with their adult son when Kathy got the telephone call from Columbia police that their house had been trashed.
The family had left the house key with her best friend. That friend’s grandson stole the key to hold a Project X party, he later told police.
A police report said the house had significant damage and was ransacked, with windows broken out and holes punched in the walls. At least 70 kids had partied at the house, police said.
That was just the beginning for Kathy Keithley-Johnston, the daughter of a former Taney County sheriff and an active fundraiser for Columbia nonprofits.
Missing from their home was Southwestern art including kachina dolls, Hopi carvings and other tribal pottery, rugs, blankets and baskets. The collection alone was valued at $100,000.
All their son’s clothing was gone. About $18,000 in jewelry was missing. Feces was smeared on the walls and drugs were everywhere, Keithley-Johnston said.
She began her own investigation, searching the web, Facebook and Twitter, and turned up photos of people wearing the family’s clothing or displaying their property. Many of the revelers were cheerleaders and members of high school lacrosse and football teams, she said.
“They are the who’s who of Columbia,” Keithley-Johnston said.
Eventually four boys were charged with burglary. But she is upset that only about half of the partygoers were questioned.
At court, the boys showed little remorse, Keithley-Johnston said. One wore her son’s tennis shoes to a hearing. The boys, including the one who took the key, were convicted of burglary and ordered to pay $10,000 total in restitution. One now is facing new burglary charges for a separate incident.
Keithley-Johnston said she doesn’t think she will ever be able to move back into her house despite extensive remodeling.
The situation is so consuming –– filling out records, finding receipts for the insurance company –– that the family has set a rule that after 6 p.m., no one talks about the case.
“To get me through this mentally, I keep telling myself no one died, and you can’t take it with you,” Keithley-Johnston said.