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1,441 Posts
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A Life Off The Grid

It was the early 1990s, and the two men ran a struggling pulpwood business together and lived next door to each other in mobile homes on Georgia Highway 88 in Blythe.

Mr. Long had just had his third child, and he was already having trouble paying bills and taking care of the family to the point that the older children wore tight, raggedy clothes, Mr. Cantrell said. He told Mr. Long he needed to apply for government assistance.

Soon after that, a woman pulled up in the dirt driveway they shared, driving a big sedan that looked like an unmarked government car. Mr. Long got nervous and agitated, according to Mr. Cantrell.

He told his wife to take the children inside, then ordered the woman off his property.

"I think he got scared and shut it down," Mr. Cantrell said. "That's really what made us think, what in the world's the matter with them?"

A lot of people wondered that over the years, and the question lingers in the wake of authorities discovering Mr. Long's wife and 11 children living in a ramshackle house in Burke County with no running water or electricity.

Before his arrest Aug. 8, Mr. Long spent nearly two decades on the fringes of society. He took pains to keep himself and his family off the grid.

The children -- ranging from 10 months to 18 years old -- had never been inside a school classroom nor had a single vaccination,
Burke County Sheriff Greg Coursey said. The only doctor they had seen was at their births in Augusta emergency rooms. Former neighbors said whenever a stranger passed by or looked their way, they scattered and hid.

Though he could easily have qualified for it, Mr. Long wouldn't get on welfare or take food stamps. He didn't have a valid driver's license, and a prosecutor who handled his bond hearing said he left "no paper trail." The caretaker of the abandoned house where police found the family said they were there without permission.

Mr. Long, 37, wouldn't speak to The Augusta Chronicle last week when a reporter visited him at the Burke County jail, where he's being held on a charge of second-degree cruelty to children. His wife, Christine, 38, didn't respond to a letter requesting an interview. His attorneys with the Augusta Judicial Circuit public defender's office also refused to comment.

However, interviews with former co-workers, business partners, neighbors and employers of Mr. Long dating back more than a decade paint a picture of a secretive man who worked hard as a talented jack-of-all-trades and cared about his children, but kept society and its government institutions at arm's length.

That went for his family back in Louisiana, too.

GEORGE LONG said he last saw Jeremy when his son only had six children. He and his wife had been searching for him for years, having last seen the family when they lived in Blythe.

Mr. Long said his son abruptly broke off contact, and he has no idea why. Jeremy used to call his mother two to three times per week, then "he just disappeared," he said.

They feared he had joined a religious cult or gone into witness protection, Mr. Long said. They sought help from a private investigator, a slew of police agencies in the two-state area and the FBI, all to no avail.

"I've got a phone bill as long as your leg," he said.

During Masters Week of 2007, he and his wife came to Augusta, got a tip from a police officer that the family was on Springhill Church Road, then drove up and down the country two-lane, going door-to-door trying to find them, Mr. Long said. He said he didn't remember which agency the officer worked for.

Jimmy Cantrell, Ricky's older brother, said Mr. Long's father once called him -- apparently having looked up every Cantrell in the phone book in the area -- wanting to know whether Jeremy and his family were still alive and how many children there were now.

The father asked Mr. Cantrell to have Jeremy call him.

At the time, Jeremy still lived next door to his brother. When Mr. Cantrell told him his dad had called, Jeremy seemed not to care.

"He wasn't enthused about it," Jimmy Cantrell said.

Earlier this year, Ricky Cantrell said, George Long called him, too, and asked him to find his son.

By talking to a tree surgeon Mr. Long worked for, Mr. Cantrell said, he found the house on Springhill Church Road, but when he went there he was too spooked to get out of his car and knock on the door.

He knew Mr. Long kept guns and feared he might be sore at him -- his older brother said Mr. Long had been cool toward him when he bumped into him at a gas station. He remembered how Mr. Long had survivalist-type books, along with some about guns and the apocalypse.

When authorities discovered the family at the Springhill Church Road house, they found an old .22-caliber pistol and a pellet rifle.

Mr. Long sometimes spoke of a coming war in America between whites and blacks, Mr. Cantrell said.

"He was a good boy," Mr. Cantrell said. "He just had strange beliefs. Real strange beliefs."

MR. LONG grew up in Baker, La., just north of Baton Rouge, and Christine Watson was a neighbor, his father said.

The two were married in 1989 by a judge in Baytown, Texas, where Jeremy was working at the time, then they had a ceremony with their families back in Baker. A construction job with Fluor Daniel Inc. brought them to Augusta, where the company contracted to expand the Federal Paper Board paper mill, now International Paper, in the early 1990s, Ricky Cantrell said.

Mr. Cantrell said he met Mr. Long at the plant, when he and his wife lived on Byron Place in south Augusta. Mr. Long would sign safety sheets for Fluor Daniel, and that would be the only time Mr. Cantrell saw him put his name on anything. Later, when they were partners in the lumber business, Mr. Long wouldn't let his name be put on any documents, Mr. Cantrell said.

One of the few paper trails Mr. Long left was his name on his children's birth certificates. But even the births were outside typical medical norms.

Mrs. Long never went to a doctor for checkups when she was pregnant, said another Cantrell brother, Kenneth, who lived next door to the family in Burke County's St. Clair community after they left Blythe. When she went into labor, Mr. Long would take her to a local emergency room. Mr. Cantrell said he drove them to University Hospital for two births.

The couple started having children soon after moving to the Augusta area. As the family grew, so did the Cantrell brothers' concern about the Longs' financial welfare.

Jimmy Cantrell, who briefly employed Mr. Long to clear land for septic tanks, once asked Mr. Long about the number of children he was having.

"Why you got so many young'uns?" he said he asked. "Don't you know when to quit?"

"I'm gonna have just as many as I can," Jeremy replied, according to Mr. Cantrell.

"Why you gonna do that?"

"So they can support me when I'm old."

Later, when he heard about Mr. Long's arrest, he found out he'd had 11.

"I said, 'Damn. He did what he said he was going to do, didn't he?' "

WHAT HE DIDN'T DO was send the children to public school -- or any school for that matter.

Sheriff Coursey said Mrs. Long, who now lives in a rental house in Waynesboro and attends church with him at First Baptist, has said they didn't want them being taught evolution.

Mr. Long told him they were home-schooling the children, as both he and his wife had been, but Kenneth Cantrell said he never saw evidence of that.

Neither parent had been certified for home-schooling, and authorities found no materials at the house to suggest they were doing so.

How Mr. Long and his family got to the Springhill Church Road home, hidden by trees in a field on the Burke County side of Hephzibah, is still unclear. One thing is almost certain: they had lived there for years, contrary to Mrs. Long's statement to police that they had gone there for the day "to get away from things."

Some neighbors said the family had been there as long as eight years and that they would often see Mr. Long pull up in an old van late at night and hear voices coming from the house.

"You would never see any inkling of any person there, except at night, when you would hear children," said Rhonda Holshouser, who lives across the road.

In the months leading up to Mr. Long's arrest, neighbors said the children became increasingly more visible -- tampering with mailboxes, trying to flag down cars and taking food from gardens and tools from yards.

One night, Mrs. Holshouser said, her son drove home from college and got in late. He went to his truck around 11 p.m. to get a bag and was startled to see a little girl standing in the yard looking at him.

"What are you doing out so late?" the child asked.

Mrs. Holshouser said she once saw a generator that appeared to be hooked onto the van. A spokesman for Jefferson Electric said power to the house had been cut off since January 2000.

Everything came to a head July 31, after neighbor Pam Bartlett called police about her father's tools being stolen by some of the children. When authorities arrived and discovered the family, Mrs. Long started apologizing to neighbors who had gathered at the scene.

She begged police not to take her children, promising them they would all be gone by the next morning, neighbors said.

The mother also told police that she home schooled the children, Ms. Bartlett said. The children said math had been the class of the day.

"What's 12 and 12?" Ms. Bartlett said she asked them.

"Times or plus?" answered a 17-year-old girl.

She said to multiply the numbers, and none of them had any idea what the answer is, Ms. Bartlett said. When she asked them to add 12 and 12, a 12-year-old counted on his fingers and said, "Twenty-one."

NO ONE WHO SPOKE about Mr. Long could say why he let his family live in such conditions. They say he had employable skills as a mechanic, sheetrock layer, plumber, painter and electrician, and made decent money when he worked.

"Jeremy was a hell of a worker," said Rick Garner, who owns a local remodeling business. "He worked for me for five years, and in those five years, I've never seen a man work harder."

When he asked for time off, Mr. Garner said, it was to spend time with his children on their birthdays. He'd talk about buying them gifts on those occasions and Christmas. Mr. Garner said he saw him with presents a few times.

"He loves his kids," Mr. Garner said, "and I know his kids love him."

But he maintained his privacy. When Mr. Long worked for John Simpson as a day laborer, he would ask to be paid in cash. If he had to pay Mr. Long by check, he requested it be made out to a third party, Mr. Simpson said.

"That made me think that, at some point, he probably had some issues with his identity," he said.

Sheriff Coursey said he'd like to sit down and have a frank conversation with Mr. Long soon, maybe after the criminal case is over and no more legal issues are pending.

He said he'd like to ask him a blunt question.

"When did you decide that we're not going to be a part of society, so to speak?" Sheriff Coursey said

Will let you beg for food
793 Posts
He made a mistake of not following the homeschooling laws of his state..that is why he got busted. If the kids were healthy, cleand, fed and being educated there would not have been a problem with no electric or running water. Many people live a primative lifestyle and still have a very decent standard of living.

What I find very interesting is 11 births and not one of those kids ever got sick enough to go into hospital or died. I am guessing they are quite healthy though I would wonder about their dental health.

it tickles dont it
228 Posts
Off the grid usually refers to producing your own power- i.e, a solar power system, etc.

I think what they are referring to is "dropping out" as in "dropping out of society."

Not exactly something I want to do.

i dont think anyone with a sane mind would wish to live that bad. While maybe not bad to some, to be that reclusive isn't healthy imho.

Now i agree 100% on the off grid thing. These people were not "off grid" per say in our sense,, and it not is the picture they are trying to paint.they do however go right after the.....
gun owner,crazy survivalist angle.

to each their own, but with the way things are going there will be many that will be forced to live this way. Funny that most camp as a hobby or have small off grid cabins as hobby. But no less than 100 yrs ago folks lived like this all the time!

Pisticus Veritas
Very Prepared!!
53,608 Posts
"Off the grid," in my opinion, is being a member of society without relying on society for my sustenance. It means that my life would continue uninterupted even though the rest of society is in a panic if the electricity fails or there's a truckers' strike. It also means that I don't need to rely on government to educate my children but it doesn't mean that my children should go uneducated. Bottom line, it's living intelligently and comfortably without relying on any government programs, assistance, institutions, or socialistic ideologies.

679 Posts
Quite disturbing in several ways, not the least of them that this is the picture being painted by the media of what "off the grid" means.
This is so far beyond "off the grid" as I define it, it boggles why the author chose that title.

346 Posts
They made sure to mention the .22 pistol and air rifle , this is a sad story but I am sure that if you look in the inercity you could find similar situations that go on infront of everyone , sadder if you ask me because many would label those who speak out as bigoted.

16,867 Posts
Its ok for certain groups in our society to live like this, such as north american indians? Some communities in the reservations have never had running water - but that is ok. But its not ok for this man and his family to live like this?

Information is Ammunition
22,122 Posts
that same contradiction allowed them to stick it back to the white man with their casinos ^_^

18,814 Posts
So they're going to prosecute the guy....that'll help. It'll help get him into the system.

The children need an education and they need to be kept busy. Granny used to say: "Idle hands are the devil's workshop".

I think the state was more concerned that the children hadn't been vaccinated ....HEAVEN FORBID!

The guy had the right idea, he just went about it in the wrong way. I agree he was probably a couple of sandwiches shy of a picnic.

Granny also told me that back during the depression the state would come and take your children if you were in debt. She told me that her mother took her and her sister to live with her Grandmother during the depression so that she could go to the city and work.

Great-great grandma lived so far out in the country that city folks wouldn't go out there for fear of being shot.

679 Posts
Its ok for certain groups in our society to live like this, such as north american indians? Some communities in the reservations have never had running water - but that is ok. But its not ok for this man and his family to live like this?
I believe it certainly should be OK to choose to live this way, however, as I read it, they were squatting on the land. It wasn't so much the childrens' education but rather their stealing that brought attention of authorities. I should like to think that if they had indeed owned the land, and were within the law regarding the childrens' education (and everything else), that they would have the right to live any way they so choose.
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