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Confused trespasser alarms local residents
JUDA - Reports of a confused Dubuque woman trespassing in homes in Juda and Brodhead moved at the speed of social media Thursday, reaching the woman's concerned family and leading to a reminder to practice kindness.

A Juda woman's public Facebook post, shared more than 2,200 times in six hours Thursday, alerted area residents to an alarming experience her husband had the previous day when a stranger parked her car in their driveway on Jordan Street, wandered into their house and made herself and her blind dog at home.

Phil Trotter, the husband, was mowing the school softball field nearby around 3 p.m. Wednesday when he noticed a car in his driveway.

"I just thought, 'What is going on? Why is there a car at my house?' All my kids are gone," he said. "I finished up my mowing real quick. I went up there, and the car was still parked there and the keys were in the ignition, but there was no one waiting at either one of my front doors."

When he walked in the door, he knew right away someone was inside.

"I heard a dog bark, and we don't have a dog," he said.

He found a woman in her 50s standing in the bathroom at a mirror fixing her hair.

When he asked what she was doing, the woman told him she thought she was in her friend's house, apologized and eventually left after Trotter helped her find her blind dog, which had been wandering around the home.

"I never really felt threatened by her," Trotter said. "She certainly was apologetic. She was just very confused. She said she was going (from Dubuque, Iowa) to Tennessee. Well, Juda, Wisconsin is not really on your path to Tennessee."

Trotter emphasized that the woman didn't appear to be under the influence of drugs and didn't smell of alcohol.

"She certainly wasn't going to harm me, and she didn't take anything," he said.

He did report the unsettling encounter to the Green County Sheriff's Office, supplying them with pictures of the woman and her car with Iowa license plates.

Green County Sheriff Mark Rohloff confirmed that his deputies were alerted to the incident in Juda and had identified the woman. The Times is not naming her because she has not been charged with any crimes.

It wasn't an isolated incident.

Not long after she left Juda, the woman wandered into a house in the 1800 block of East 2nd Avenue in Brodhead, Rohloff said. The elderly couple living at the residence found her taking a bath in their bathroom and told police she claimed to be a distant relative of theirs but they didn't know her.

The couple allowed her to finish bathing and assisted her in finding her car keys so she could leave, then notified police, according to information supplied to the sheriff's office by the Brodhead Police Department.

A call to Brodhead police was not immediately returned Thursday. A Facebook post Thursday afternoon by the department stated the homeowner on East 2nd Avenue requested their help to escort the woman from the property and warn her for trespassing. The homeowner did not believe anything was taken and didn't want her arrested.

Police contacted law enforcement in Iowa and determined the woman "had contact for theft and drug offenses," the post stated, without elaborating. The woman was not arrested.

Rohloff said the trespassing incidents "have the marks of someone with a mental disability" or mental impairment. He advised residents in the area to call police right away if they encounter a similar situation so police can check on the welfare of the person.

"She sounds like a rather confused individual," he said.

In retrospect, Trotter now wishes he'd called police before entering his home.

There "could have been a household full of people" trespassing inside, he said. "I should've just called the police right away."

The Facebook post by his wife, Sue Pagel Trotter, attracted thousands of shares and hundreds of comments expressing alarm, anger and fear, as well as concern.

The post also reached the woman's family members, who said she hasn't been taking medications and is a danger to herself and others.

"My coworker said, 'Did you see what's going on on Facebook?'" said Rachel Morrison of Dubuque, the woman's daughter. "We were like, 'Oh my god, that's her.'"

Now Morrison is frantically trying to get her mother committed to a hospital and has been calling local police for help, without luck so far. She said her mother lives with her in Dubuque but "decided to up and leave" while Morrison was out of town in the last couple of days.

Her mother was located in Darlington on Thursday, according to Darlington Police Chief Jason King.

"We had contact with her twice today," he wrote in an email Thursday evening. "She and the dog are fine. Both contacts were simply to check on her welfare. She has not done anything wrong in Darlington and we provided her with a voucher to spend the night at a hotel. ... She has not engaged in any illegal or threatening behavior, and as such, we have no cause to take any action against her."

He added that Darlington police contacted the Green County Sheriff's Office and Monroe Police Department and both agencies said they did not have any charges pending against her.

But Morrison and her father, Troy Morrison, who lives in Tennessee, want to see their relative committed to a hospital, not arrested.

"This has happened before, but not this severe," Troy Morrison said. "She's gone into people's homes in Dubuque. ... She was picked up for that, and me and my daughter had her committed for that."

Complicating matters, Morrison said his wife told police she doesn't want to be contacted by any family. He said they have been married 30 years but living apart for more than a year and a half now.

He and his daughter are frustrated and feel helpless.

"I'm concerned. I'd like to see her get the help she needs," he said. "It's got my nerves bent out of shape. I'd like to see her go to the hospital. I'd love to see that happen."

According to the national nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center, Wisconsin has civil commitment laws "that establish criteria for determining when involuntary treatment is appropriate for individuals with severe mental illness who cannot seek care voluntarily." Use of this court-ordered treatment in the community is known as assisted outpatient treatment.

Criteria for AOT in Wisconsin include that the person be a danger to herself or others "as evidenced by recent acts/threats," be unable to satisfy basic needs for nourishment, medical care, shelter or safety so that there's a "substantial probability of imminent death" or serious physical injury, debilitation or disease and be "substantially unable" to make informed treatment choices to prevent deterioration.

Police can force a commitment, but according to King, not in this case.

"Proof must come in the form of a recent act involving threats or dangerous behavior," he wrote in a follow-up email. "That is the missing piece to this puzzle. The lady may be mentally ill but she has not engaged in suicidal or homicidal behavior. People have a right to choose for themselves whether they want to treat their own mental health until such time as they behave in a way that endangers themselves or others. In Darlington, the lady has not done anything that would warrant taking her rights away."

By 5:30 p.m. Thursday, after dozens of comments from the woman's family had come in, including reports that the woman was in Darlington, Sue Pagel Trotter updated her viral Facebook post.

"It appears that through the wonders of social media, the family of the woman in my photos has been notified and they are taking steps to find her and to help her," Trotter wrote. 

She asked that everyone "please keep good thoughts for all of them because certainly it is not an easy situation for any of them." 

She cautioned people not to rush to judgment. 

"All day long I have been thinking this: be kind to one another," she wrote. "We never know what's happening on the hearts or in the souls of those whom we meet."