LaCallia Wiggins estimates it was late August when she first met the vampires.
She was a new student at Drury University, then —a 15-year-old prodigy looking to fit in.
So when she was approached at a Springfield library, she was perhaps more receptive to the overtures than she ought to have been.
She’d been a vampire queen in a previous existence, they told her. They could tell by her eyes, the shape of her ears.
In their world, LaCallia was royalty. It was appealing.
So much so that the encounter started the girl on a journey into a Springfield subculture few would imagine.
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Taking a break?
Over the course of two months, LaCallia would become expert in all manner of vampire lore. She’d visit the group’s transient hideout beneath the city; she’d watch members of the group — many of them younger than her — taste each other’s blood.
For two months, LaCallia lived a fantasy.
To be sure, it’s a far-fetched story.
The girl’s mother, LaTanya Wiggins, says she was placed on leave from her job as a first-grade teacher just for telling it to co-workers.
But many details check out.
There are, for instance, the remains of a dwelling in the Jordan Creek drainage tunnel that runs beneath downtown.
You have to scale the tunnel wall to get there, and the entrance is not easy to pick out. But up above the drainage way is a large room.
On a visit last week, the space was uninhabited but strewn with refuse — liquor bottles, used deodorant sticks, a cooler, a pair of pants.
In the back, past a table and several junky office chairs, someone had pitched a nylon tent.
It’s in this place LaCallia says her new friends would often meet, though she visited only once.
Some of the group’s 20-plus members even lived there for a time, the girl said, earning it the moniker “the house.”
David Morton, the girl’s stepfather, also went there. He retrieved LaCallia’s backpack once the girl left the clan.
“It was strange,” Morton said. “You go back there and there’s graffiti and whatever weird stuff. It’s pitch black.
“When we were there, there were probably 10 or 12 transient street kids up there.”
LaCallia wouldn’t normally have gone by the Springfield Library’s Midtown Carnegie Branch.
But her private math lesson at Central High School had been canceled that day, and she decided to see if some friends were at the nearby branch.
Instead she found new friends; friends that asked odd questions and mentioned, eventually, that she might be a vampire.
That meeting led to others like it, and after a while, LaCallia says she began to believe their version of reality.
“They believe I’m a vampire queen,” the girl said recently. “They just need to awaken me. It’s nice to be accepted like that.”
Her parents say LaCallia kept the meetings to herself. They didn’t suspect anything for some time.
But the girl was warming to her new companions.
She witnessed them cutting themselves, sucking each other’s wounds.
She learned of an impending war between good and evil.
The clan was composed of kids her age and younger, LaCallia says, but there were older members, too.
A man in his mid-20s, in fact, was the ringleader, the girl said.
LaCallia said some members of the vampire group were affiliated with drugs and other crimes. Police, though, say they haven’t noticed problems.
“There’s no crime trend that’s attributed to anyone fitting that profile,” said police spokesman Grant Story.
But he added that the sort of cult-like vampire scenario LaCallia described is not at all unheard of.
“Very often you have a central figure who’s charismatic and is able to make an impression on impressionable people,” Story said of cult groups.
“When pressed, that charismatic leader who was going to take over the world is now the scared person who think’s he’s in a lot of trouble.”
Awakening the vampire queen
LaCallia’s situation came to a head on Halloween.
The teen ran away from her mother’s house that morning, and LaTanya panicked when she couldn’t reach her daughter.
LaTanya filed a missing person’s report with the Springfield Police Department.
Officers caught up with LaCallia near Park Central Square later that night. She and her friends were going to buy some scissors to cut her hair. Then, the plan went, it was off to a Springfield cemetery, where the vampire queen within LaCallia was to be “awakened.”
“They have an entire ceremony,” LaCallia said. “You have to drink the blood of a vampire and they have to drink your blood.”
The girl that returned home that night wasn’t LaCallia, her mother says.
Whereas police say the teen was cooperative when they picked her up, she was anything but when she arrived home.
LaCallia hissed at her mother and stepfather. She hissed at the dog. She called her parents “humans,” and there was real disdain in her voice.
“She came back a completely different child,” LaTanya said.
The girl has since calmed down considerably and is seeing a counselor.
Not much else has improved in the family’s life, however.
Since police picked LaCallia up, she says she’s received death threats from her old cohorts — notes warning that her tongue will be cut out, assurances from strangers that she will die.
It’s come to the point that the girl won’t sleep unless every light in the house is on.
Last week, she dropped all her courses at Drury for fear of harassment.
Her mother has suffered, too. LaTanya says she was ordered out of her Fremont Elementary classroom when she told her daughter’s story to coworkers.
The school district has asked her to take a psychological exam, she said.
A clearer view
LaCallia is smart —that much has always been apparent.
When she was a child, her mother says she was always in a corner of the playground at recess, reading works of fantasy.
She graduated high school three years early.
So it’s perhaps surprising that a girl with LaCallia’s intellect could believe so wholly in the alternate reality that was offered to her.
These days, she’s got a more-clear view of her two-month companions and their intent.
“These people are so close and I love them to death,” LaCallia said.
“But I know I can’t see them because they are just trying to hurt me.”
Then LaCallia, with all her smarts, gets to the heart of why she fell in with the group of vampires.
And you realize then exactly how a prodigy like LaCallia, so fond of reading, could be fooled.
“You always wish things in books could come true,” she said. “These people make it seem like those things are true.
“You have to tell yourself it’s not real.”
Sidebar: Some claims in vampire story turn out to be fact
At first blush, the tale sounds bizarre but some of it checks out.
Springfield police confirm that LaTanya Wiggins filed a missing persons report for her daughter on Halloween, the day the 15-year-old ran away.
And there are numerous additions to that report, said Springfield Police spokesman Grant Story.
They detail LaCallia’s family’s assertions the girl was abducted by persons claiming to be vampires, Story said.
The Christian County Sheriff’s Department has also spoken to LaTanya, who lives in Nixa, about threats against her daughter, said Capt. Jeremy Whitehill.
Then there is the underground hideout LaCallia and her stepfather claim the group used.
On a trip into the Jordan Creek Tunnel, News-Leader employees found a room that appeared to have been used as a residence.
Members of a Web site for area tunnel enthusiasts also have written about people living and meeting in the room.
The News-Leader could not confirm LaTanya’s claims she was placed on administrative leave from her teaching position at Fremont Elementary for telling a co-worker about her daughter’s “vampire” friends.
The Springfield School District refused to discuss personnel issues.
LaTanya says she was put on leave in mid-November and is not allowed to visit Fremont Elementary.
Since Monday, she’s been working out of an office at the school district’s Tefft Center for Teaching and Learning on East Pythian Street.
LaTayna says she’s going through formal channels toward filing a discrimination lawsuit against the district.
“You can’t say someone has something wrong with them because they tell you a story,” LaTanya said. “I am good at what I do. I miss my kiddos.”
Superintendent Norm Ridder said he could not talk about any particular situation, but in general the district takes a tough stance when there are allegations about a teacher.
“Anytime we re-assign it is for the protection of the adult as well as the child until we can get more evidence,” he said.
Sidebar: Posters familiar with ‘vampire’ tunnel
The area off Springfield’s subterranean Jordan Creek Tunnel, where LaCallia Wiggins says a local group of “vampires” met, is far from a secret.
Posters to an Internet message board of area tunnel enthusiasts discuss the area frequently.
Anonymous members of the forums at underground ozarks.com even have a name for the area: Hell’s Church.
A search of past threads on the Web page reveals that those who make frequent trips into the tunnel have made various improvements to the room over time. Some actually threw a barbecue near “the church” in 2005.
But there are also indications that those posters have noticed differences in the room recently.
“Shellscript and I went down to (Jordan Creek) last night, yes it was cold heh,” begins one post, dated Nov. 24. “but we got up to hell’s church and found a curtain covering a door. Peeked inside and there seems to be a fairly well established vagrant residence, or so it appears to be. Table against the wall, and a store bought tent was set up.”
There is no indication in the conversation that ensued that the residence belonged to anything resembling a vampire group.
An earlier thread, though, describes a situation similar to what was described by LaCallia and her stepfather to the News-Leader.
“We got all the way to the bottom of hells church and realized there was people in the room,” the poster wrote. “…. they looked kinda like highschool kids … maybe like freshman college … but probably highschool. Kinda loner/outcast lookin …. you know scruffy baggy cloths, mean accessories.”
That thread was posted Oct. 30.