WORTHINGTON, Ohio – It has come to be known as the Spooky House Incident: A group of teenagers in this quaint older suburb who tried to scare themselves on a "ghost hunt" and a recluse who responded with gunfire, leaving two lives wrecked.
A pretty blonde high school cheerleader, Rachel Barezinsky, is crippled for life. Allen S. Davis, roused from an eccentric but otherwise unoffending existence, was sentenced last month to 19 years in prison for what he describes as defending his home.
A year after the shots were fired, the bizarre case has left residents around Columbus torn. While plenty of people felt Davis got what he deserved for overreacting to teenager antics, many others saw the girls as picking on Davis and facing no legal consequences for trespassing.
"I felt kind of sorry for both sides," resident Jane Leppert said as she sat outside a coffee shop near the village's brick-paved square. "Although I feel very sorry for the girl who was shot, she unfortunately messed around with a kind of paranoid individual who felt the need to protect himself, even against kids."
The story began at 10 p.m. on Aug. 22, 2006, when Barezinsky and two other girls sneaked a few feet onto Davis' property — lighting the way with their cell phones — to scare themselves because they thought the house was spooky. They jumped in the car after their friend honked.
What they thought were firecrackers as they drove off were shots from a rifle Davis, then 40, said he had purchased to scare away frequent prowlers.
When the girls rounded the block to check out the noise, a bullet struck Barezinsky, then 17, in the shoulder and head. Her left arm and leg were paralyzed.
Davis' house sits almost obscured by brush amid the otherwise tidily groomed homes across from a cemetery. He shares the house with his mother, who has a cauldron-shaped planter in the yard that gained her a witchy reputation among kids.
A loner taunted since childhood, Davis wore ill-fitting clothes and thick glasses, his hair in a bowl cut.
Many of the case's harshest critics frequented radio talk shows, blogs and online chat rooms, where opinions can flow more freely than in this town of 13,000 where residents are likely to attend Barezinsky's church, remember Davis from the library, or live near the shooting site.
Rose Schneider, who observed the case with interest from another Columbus suburb, offered online chatter suggesting Davis' sentence was "harsh considering he was sleeping when Rachel Barezinsky and her brood broke the law by trespassing on his property in the middle of the night."
Police determined the girls were not trespassing because they had not gone far enough onto the property and no clearly visible signs had been posted.
Davis said in jailhouse interviews that he did not intend to hurt anyone. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of felonious assault to avoid a drawn-out probe into his personal life.
"I didn't know what their weaponry was, what their intentions were," he said from jail. "In a situation like that, you assume the worst-case scenario if you're going to protect your family from a possible home invasion and murder."
After the shooting, two neighbors told police that they had seen teenagers near Davis' home before, and several others had heard his mother, Sondra, talk about harassment. Nine neighbors said they had heard firecracker-type sounds, sometimes over a period of months, but none called police.
Messages seeking comment were left with Davis' attorney, and at the homes of Barezinsky and two friends.
Worthington resident Jean Levinson, 81, said she identified with Barezinsky.
"When I was her age, we had a gang of girls just like that and we went around hitchhiking, hopping trains, riding our bikes across train bridges, all kinds of stuff like that," she said. "Most of the time, doing things that seem not logical to adults doesn't have dire consequences. I think that still holds today."
The Davis family's history with police includes an account from the 1980s of them living with the body of Allen Davis' grandmother for two days for fear the woman might wake up and be scared. The older woman had been declared mentally and physically incompetent, and neighbors occasionally heard her screaming.
Police Lt. Doug Francis said there is no record of the Davises being repeatedly harassed, but he acknowledged that the family stopped calling his department 27 years ago after losing faith in police services.
Davis' mother had once reported that a space alien sexually molested her after entering the house through the duct work, he said.
The strange tales emanating from the Davis home prompted many observers to surmise that Davis was mentally ill.
Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Julie Lynch said Davis opted against using an insanity defense and passed two mental competency examinations.
"I think those high school kids shouldn't have been on his property," Lynch said. "But in this country, life is valued over property, and if someone is fleeing your property or on your property but not threatening you, you're not allowed to just shoot them."