Shockwaves of an Underage Drinking Party in Wilton

In a story about trespassing, teen partying and parents who cover up for their kids, one mom challenges Wilton to take a hard look at the difference between 'right' and 'wrong'.

Wiltonian Carol Rowe never imagined that her family’s home and peace of mind would be violated as it was over February break.

Perhaps you heard what happened, as . Perhaps a friend gossiped about it to you when you ran into one another at the Wilton Y or Starbucks last week. Apparently, lots of people are chattering about what happened to the Rowes.

Carol reached out to me because she wanted the events of February 20 to be nudged out into the open, and into public discussion. It was upsetting enough that she wanted to bring it up in a forum the community might read, and prompt an honest look at some particular trends, behaviors and issues going on in town. She gave me permission to tell her version of what happened, and the narrative that follows is based on what Carol shared with me.

Friends and neighbors

For their weeklong trip to the Bahamas during school vacation, the Rowes had asked a neighborhood family to pet-sit while they were away. The family was one the Rowes had been friendly with for years, and whose children had regularly taken care of Nova, the Rowes’ yellow Lab, just about every time Carol and her family went away. As pet-sitters, two or three times a day the neighbors’ kids would let themselves into the Rowes’ house on Linden Tree Road to feed, walk and exercise Nova.

The kids wouldn’t stay at the Rowes’ house overnight; they’d simply come and go as needed to tend to the dog.

But this time, something outside the normal pet-sitting routine happened, which upended everything.

This time, the neighbor’s 16-year-old daughter was the one taking care of Nova. On Monday, Feb. 20, the first evening of her dog-sitting duties, she made an error in judgment:  without permission from the Rowes or her parents, she invited a couple friends to spend the night at the Rowes’ house, intending for to be only pizza and a sleepover. It was a simple infraction, impulsive and juvenile, but in the grand scheme of things, not horrible. Except…

Except things did go horribly wrong. Somehow word got out to other Wilton teens. Hey, didja hear? There’s a bunch of us getting together at a house on Linden Tree Road. No adults. Texts started flying, word spread, and pretty soon there was a gathering of a few dozen teenagers, along with alcohol, music and everything else. Party at the Rowes!

Some other watchful neighbors spotted the cars, saw the lights, and heard the music. Knowing the Rowes were out of town, they got suspicious and alarmed, and as good neighbors who knew something wasn’t right, they called the police.  

Quickly, the police arrived, and many of the Wilton teens did what Wilton teens do in this situation:  they ran. They ran for the woods, spreading out into the darkness.

Not everyone got away. About 35 kids were stopped by the police, and their parents were called to come pick up their kids—kids who had just trespassed into the Rowes’ home for an underage drinking party.

The teen who was watching Nova knew right away what she had done was wrong, and she asked the officers if she could be the one to make the call to the Rowes in the Bahamas to tell them what happened.

Who faced the consequences—and who didn’t

The Rowes got that unexpected call in the Bahamas, on what was the first night of their vacation. They were disappointed in the girl they’d left in charge, but they also recognized that she’d at least done the first thing to take immediate responsibility.

They fully expected to hear from the other kids involved. They didn’t know everyone who was in their home that night and the police didn’t give them any names. But Carol did have some idea of some of the kids who were there. She recognized voices and heard a few names in the background during the first call that was made to her in the Bahamas.

“My sadness in all of this is those parents who came into my home saw my home, saw pictures of me and my children, and absolutely have never even reached out,” Carol said.

The police are prevented by law from sharing with the Rowes the names of the people who were in their home that night, uninvited; the only way to find out officially is to press charges. The Rowes have decided not to do so.

Carol said that she knows many of the parents who were in her home that night to collect their children know her. She says many people have approached her and sort of tested the waters to see what she knows. She’s frustrated that the parents aren’t doing what she says is the right thing—even the ones she encountered and knows were in her home but haven’t come forward to admit it or to apologize.

“It infuriates me. When they come up to me, I can’t tell if they’re coming to apologize, find out gossip, or their kid was here and they’re just trying to learn if I’m going to press charges. They leave it open-ended and that’s awful too.”

Why speak up?

Carol got in touch with me to tell her story—out of a sense that I’d likely share her feelings about what is at the heart of the events. Because as awful as the illegal entry, the drinking and partying, and the typical fleeing-teen behaviors were, what’s saddest of all is the sense of community that’s suddenly gone for them.

Speaking up in Wilton can often be tough, and I say that from first-hand experience after writing this column for more than a year. Wilton is a small town, and grudges get held, the messenger often metaphorically gets shot. Why did Carol want to tell her story?

“I grew up in this town. The town has changed. Twenty-five years ago, the town would have stepped up, especially for the other family involved, of the girl. All the kids who were premeditated, who were bringing in sleeping bags, music, card tables, beer—those families haven’t even owned it to the other family or to me. If it’s not going to start from top down, if the parents aren’t going to work with their kids to make it a great teaching experience, what are we saying to our kids? Twenty-five years ago, everybody owned it as a community and we worked through it. Today, everyone sits silent.”

She added, “Yes, everything has become so much more litigious. But every family in this town cares more for their reputation or that their children’s [college] application isn’t perfect. And that to me is something that’s changed completely. I recall days that we realized there are consequences, that people own it, that they have to look you directly in the face, and say, ‘I did this, and I’m sorry.’”

But isn’t it just youth—just ‘kids will be kids?’

“We were all once teenagers. Kids are stupid. To me, it is the parents that have to be responding to this. That was where I really thought ‘I’ll definitely get phone calls from parents.’ That was the part when I got home, and it was nothing—like ‘crickets.’ And I know they were in my living room retrieving their children. The ones that did have to step into a home, and see it for a home, see pictures of me and my children, that’s awful.”

Only one person stepped up to take responsibility. Only one set of parents had their child do the right thing. Whether people are scared that the Rowes will press charges, or that somehow this will look bad on a transcript or whatever, what happened to knowing the difference between right and wrong?

Surprisingly, the Rowes were completely sympathetic and understanding about the mistake their neighbors’ daughter made; they respected that she owned up to her error in judgment, and they appreciated the steps she has taken to make amends. She’s planned to perform community service and she wrote letters of apology to them and to their three daughters.

Carol has looked for some good in all of it. “I still love the family [who pet-sits]. Everything they’ve done, they’ve tried to make it right. The good thing is I have neighbors that responded tremendously through this. I have neighbors that called it in [to the police]. If this makes other people talk to their neighbors when they go away, that’s good too.”

But, according to Carol, no one else has stepped up to take responsibility and apologize. What’s more, the town gossip and chatter that’s she knows is happening among parents and teens is even filtering down to her younger children, putting her three girls in an uncomfortable place as well.

Nothing will happen to those kids that trespassed into the Rowes’ home that evening. According to Carol, the police can’t do anything unless the Rowes decide to press charges, and that’s not their intention at all. They don’t want vengeance or punishment—only respect and courtesy from fellow members of the community they’ve called home for years.

“It’s the parents. To sit in silence, or to cover it up, you’re sending a bigger message to your kids:  that they can get away with things, that they shouldn’t have to do anything unless they’re caught. It says, ‘Make sure you run—and run fast!’”

Perhaps worse than having her safety and her home compromised, what will leave a more long-lasting scar is recognizing that there was a violation of trust and security in their own community, and that few fellow residents will take responsibility, and deal with things face-to-face.

What do we all take away from the Rowes’ story? As parents, what are the lessons we are teaching our kids about recognizing right from wrong, and how to deal with the consequences of our actions no matter what has occurred? How do we as a town deal with the issue of underage drinking and the role parents play and what kids think they can get away with?

My kids are younger than the teens at the center of this story, but it’s an age-old narrative that plays itself out generation after generation. What would you do in Carol Rowe’s shoes, or in the place of the parent of the dog-sitting teenager, or if you got a call from police to pick up your child at someone else’s home—perhaps someone you knew? What would your child do?

“If we could just do that with regard to all the issues going on in Wilton right now. If this speaks to just one family, if it starts discussions in families who aren’t even involved in this...” Carol wondered.


Diane Maudsley March 08, 2012 at 09:39 PM
It can happen to anyone. Rich, poor, smart, dumb, moral, immoral; word gets out FAST in Wilton and the kids are hungry for what they apparently think is "normal teenage fun". It violates privacy and property, and teens have to understand there is alot at stake, besides a college application. A police record at 16 is not on our child's bucket list. Kids make poor judgement calls, and some learn from them. There must be hard consequences and that is the parents job! Thank you to the Rowes for speaking out honestly. If YOU don't think your teen is involved, I would think again. Teen drinking is rampant in Wilton and it is not ok. Parents: wake up!
Martha Outlaw March 09, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Go Dulce! Go Nancy! You even use your real name for your opinion! Spot on. And I happen to agree with you. Why would we have this kind of discussion and not be willing to use real names on your comments? Own your opinion! Concerned parent?
Martha Outlaw March 09, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Totally agree that Patch should try to eliminate the anonymous posting. It seems to be used by a) comments you wouldn't actually utter in public b) teens making ironic statements to laugh at how riled up the other posters get And Ted...good common sense.
John March 09, 2012 at 03:35 PM
A lot of Wilton parents were brought up with everything handed to them (cars, IVY league colleges, and yearly vacations) without earning a nickel...that is their frame of reference. It perpetuates to the next generation. Nothing you can do about it.
Concernedparent March 09, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Ive never met anyone from Wilton...actually one...who went to any Ivy league school...where are they all?
Concernedparent March 09, 2012 at 04:21 PM
right on.
Concernedparent March 09, 2012 at 04:24 PM
right on
Concernedparent March 09, 2012 at 04:30 PM
One amazing fact that says about Wiltons kids...yes they went uninvited to an open house to party...what there were 30-40? Nothing got broken/stolen...cheers for those kids. The problem isn't the kids/teens...its some of the parents who turn the blind eye that pollute the whole town..what kids doesn'rt want to have romance, drink and mess around?
Heron March 09, 2012 at 04:51 PM
You probably have but don't know it. Some people are very aware of where everyone they know went to school. They ask and pay attention. Other people don't store this information about others in their minds, and still others can't name all the ivy league schools. I've met people who don't know the difference between University of Pennsylvania and Penn State, for example.
John March 09, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Several reply here on a regular basis--one even moderates a column.
Heron March 09, 2012 at 11:36 PM
You say they were "uninvited" but they actually *were* invited by the other kids. As I said before, I remember being invited - verbally - to parties as a teenager, and coming to the party and there was no parent home. At the time, I never asked "Where are your parents?" - Who does that at 16? In the back of my mind I assumed, maybe incorrectly, that the parents had OKd the party. And honestly, at 16 years old I wasn't thinking about the parents and where they were.
Concernedparent March 10, 2012 at 09:57 PM
And Rush Limbaugh too!
Resident March 11, 2012 at 01:10 AM
While invites to an event like this propagate second hand and we cannot project the knowledge of every participant, this was a pre planned event where it was widely known that the house was empty and did not belong to the "host". This was not an innocent last minute gathering via text as is being suggested.
S Tadik March 11, 2012 at 03:42 AM
After reading the police chief's rules of the road for enforcement of laws against underage drinking it seems that calls to the Rowes from the parents whose kids were partying wouldn't place the kids in arrest danger. If there is nothing in writing, it looks like hearsay and might not be admissible. The kid tells the parent who tells the Rowes. If the Rowes are satisfied and the perps' parents actually do some serious correcting with teeth, maybe this will be a good outcome. Otherwise, everybody may continue to clam up and nobody will be happy. Of course, there will always be those who believe in one strike and you're out and want the law fully enforced, maximum fine, maximum incarceration, college and career minimized, long probation, widespread negative publicity, expensive legal fees, no possibility of parole or pardon, etc. and permanent consignment to the unworthy caste. Please note this is not legal advice but lay opinion. If you need legal advice, call a lawyer.
John Symon March 11, 2012 at 03:52 AM
I'm so glad I moved out of Wilton. Between the whole PTA thing at Driscoll and now this... What an embarrassment! Good for the dog sitter for calling the Rowes. She did the right thing. Begs the question, where were her parents? Did they approve of her sleeping at the Rowes while dog sitting, presumably alone? Dd they not know where she was? I heard it basically became a high school drinking party, with sexual activity in the bedrooms (sounds like Animal House). Nice job, Wilton! Must be proud!
John Symon March 11, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Right on, Elliott!
S Tadik March 11, 2012 at 04:42 AM
OH, OH If there was sexual activity in the bedrooms, this just escalated into an entirely new situation. Depending upon the ages involved, then there could be, for example, statutory rape, assault, etc. These are not beer infractions. On the other hand, reading it here does not make it so. It is always good to hear both sides of any argument. The previous comment should initiate many replies and awkward conversations which can lead to teaching moments, too.
Concernedparent March 11, 2012 at 11:36 AM
Concernedparent March 11, 2012 at 12:18 PM
http://www.ct.gov/opm/cwp/view.asp?a=2974&q=425964 this should be required reading by anyone associated with teenagers
fairfield newcomer March 11, 2012 at 02:18 PM
You have to compare assessments and mill rates, I don't know what you are listing here but I looks like you may have listed asking or selling prices. Town Mill Rate Wilton mill rate 20.85 Ridgefield 20.61 Weston 23.94 Darien 12.20 Norwalk varies 19.022 to 20.795 Westport 17.43 New Canaan varies 13.85 to 14.476
Amo Probus March 11, 2012 at 08:04 PM
FN. You are correct but if this info is correct, there is a disconnect between mill rates and selling prices. We have to study it before reaching any conclusions.
Resident March 11, 2012 at 11:13 PM
This party was a preplanned event with advance invitation. Participants were "invited" by a neighbor caring for a pet, although events such as these tend to grow out of control. The circumstance of the empty home and trespass was known by most if not all of the "guests." It is my understanding that the teen organizers did show some responsibility as car keys were collected with intention to avoid drunk driving. The collection of car keys may not be a repeat practice as it was the likely reason that so many teens were caught.
The Big Picture March 12, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Ya there are really cracking down on the large amounts of heroine and ecstasy use problem at the New Canaan High School! The Wilton Police focus on what is necessary and have really helped to clean up the real problems that can seriosly damage people. They also have a sense of integrity to them that is being overlooked by groups of onlookers who aim to point fingers at certain groups. So please give them some respect
The Big Picture March 12, 2012 at 02:52 AM
John this is very helpful!!! Grow up
John Symon March 12, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Well said But the Wlton PD is great. Look at the Nicholas Parisot case.
fairfield newcomer March 12, 2012 at 02:08 PM
There is no connection between mill rates and asking/selling prices, the town assesses a property at a certain value and the mill rate is applied to that assessed price, what you decide to ask for that property can be anything that you and your r/e person decide to ask, no connection.
Amo Probus March 12, 2012 at 04:22 PM
FN In Wilton, the assessed value at the last valuation was supposed to be 70% of the home's "value." Some homes are selling BELOW their assessed value because the market has tanked
Alexander B. C. March 15, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Don't fall into that. Top college, top slave.
Alexander B. C. March 15, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Sounds very good.
CLbluewhite May 07, 2012 at 03:13 PM
I really think the comments in this case say more about the town than this article. There are a lot of Wilton parents "outraged!" that some teenagers didn't line themselves up to turn themselves in. I agree that it was extremely irresponsible of the girl tasked with pet sitting. I don't see how she is perceived as 'in the clear' just because she made a formal apology, she had to! The fact is that she is the one that really screwed up. Take it easy on the party guests. Teenagers, and not just ones in Wilton, jump at the opportunity to go to any kind of party. These kids weren't breaking in, they were arriving to socialize. I keep seeing statements about how the 'moral character' of this town in going down the tube, and it's all because of those rotten teenagers. Ever think it's the environment? Put anyone in a wealthy, secluded, suburban environment like Wilton and it will change the way they think. Add in entitled parents with unrealistic expections, pressure cooker academics, college plans, boredom, social pressure, and puberty, I would reach for a drink too. To all the outraged parents, try to remember yourself as a teenager if you can, it's a complicated and confusing time. As saintly as these parents thought they were in highschool,, they were just as impulsive and hormonal. Come on now people, these kids aren't criminals.


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