Lori Hodgson and her mother, Dee McMurdie, parked their rental car, walked into Woods Fun Center, and went straight for the counter at the back, where they knew they’d find the parts department of the Austin, Texas motorcycle shop.
At the counter were two employees. Lori walked up to them and said, “Is Jeremy here?”
As soon as she did, she spotted Jeremy Leake — her son — in a side room, eating his lunch.
“He was completely suprised. He was shocked. He looked like he almost choked on his food,” Lori told us last night in a telephone call.
She had tipped us that she was going to make the attempt, but only now could she tell us all of the precautions she took to make sure she wasn’t tracked from San Jose, California, so that her son might be tipped off.
It worked. For the first time since October, 2011, Hodgson laid eyes on her son.
He gave her a hug.
We’ve been following Lori Hodgson’s experiences with “disconnection” for more than two years. After leaving the Church of Scientology, she looked for guidance from former church executive Marty Rathbun at his home in Corpus Christi in April, 2011 (he now lives near San Antonio).
Church operatives from San Jose followed her there. San Jose church member John Allender met up with other Scientology volunteers, they put on odd outfits, and, while Hodgson was inside Rathbun’s house, they approached his door with cameras in their hands and strapped to their foreheads. They were there to intimidate Rathbun about counseling Hodgson, and they began a siege of his house that lasted more than five months. Calling themselves “Squirrel Busters” — in Scientology a “squirrel” is a heretic — it was one of the stranger episodes in American religious history, and eventually received substantial media coverage.
Because Hodgson dared to meet with Rathbun, her children and their father “disconnected” from her. In Scientology, when someone — like Rathbun or Hodgson — is excommunicated, they are “declared” a “suppressive person.” All other church members in good standing must completely cut off ties from an “SP” or their own status in the church is threatened. The SP, meanwhile, is instructed to go through various “A to E steps” to get back into the church’s good graces.
Hodgson wasn’t willing to do that. She was done with Scientology for good. So her two children, Jessica and Jeremy Leake, completely cut off ties with her and with her parents.
We’ve written previously about how Lori’s children were under the influence of their father, who tried to keep her from seeing her son when Jeremy was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in October, 2011. Lori managed to get into the hospital to see her son, but that was the last time she had seen him.
Her children moved to Texas and avoided any contact with her. Since then, she has tried to communicate with them through the Internet, but she’s heard nothing from them. Jessica is now 22, and Jeremy 19.
Then, she got a tip that Jeremy was working at Woods Fun Center in Austin, and she decided to take a chance on seeing him.
“I’ve been planning this for about six months,” she says. “I talked to a few people about how to get my plane flight without being tracked. I turned off my GPS on my phone and my iPad. I posted photos at Clear Lake — I was just there Tuesday,” she says, referring to the Northern California lake where her mother has a house. “They knew something was up, because they called my mom’s house at the lake and hung up. And they called three times in the morning.”
Lori and Dee left San Jose at six thirty Wednesday morning, and arrived in Austin at 11:30. “We didn’t get a rental car ahead of time. We couldn’t take the chance,” she says.
The precautions weren’t frivolous. Scientology’s intelligence bureau — the Office of Special Affairs (OSA) — has a long history of tracking people by flight reservations, GPS devices, and credit card use. For whatever reason, the church has considered Jeremy and Jessica Leake enough of a priority that Hodgson has had plenty of interaction with OSA in the last two years. (The “Squirrel Busters” more than made that plain.)
“So we got our car. And then we went to the Austin police to check in,” she says, referring to her previous experience in Corpus Christi. “I told them I wanted to see my son and let him know that I’m doing well, because he’s been told I’ve had a mental breakdown,” she says.
After talking with the police about why they were there, Lori and Dee drove directly to Woods Fun Center, about a 20-minute drive.
“I knew where the parts department was. I walked in, took a big breath and went to the back,” she says. That’s when she found him eating his lunch.
“He smiled. He seemed happy to see me. He gave me a big hug. He gave my mom a hug,” she remembers, and this is how she describes their exchange:
“What are you doing here?”
“We came here to see you.”
“You came here to see me?”
“Yeah, I took off six days so I could come out here and see you.”
Lori says they asked him how he was doing, and he said he was doing well.
“I told him ‘I miss you. I love you.’ He said ‘I miss you too, mom. I love you.'”
She joked with him that she’d brought a shopping list. (Like her son, she’s a motorcycle rider.)
“I tried not to bring up Scientology at all. I told him my mom has a place at the lake and that he’s welcome to come. And I told him that we’re going to Hawaii in September and he was welcome to come,” she says, and he seemed pleased to hear about the lake.
Then, Lori says, her mother excused herself and left them alone.
She knew it was the time to be a little more direct.
“Jeremy, I just want to be your mom, I just want to be your friend,” she told him.
“You know what to do to fix that,” he replied, referring to the “A to E steps” that she would be required to follow.
She tells us that there’s no way she’ll go back to the church to go through its process of getting back in good graces. “What happens is you go in, you rat on all your friends, you get crazy counseling, and say you lied about everything. I can’t do that,” she tells us.
“Jeremy, I can’t go back to the church,” she told her son. “To do that I would have to do the steps and I’d have to say I lied. And I didn’t lie. I can’t do that,” she said.
“Mom, I don’t want to talk about that here,” he responded.
“Jeremy, I’d have to do their counseling, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t care if you can’t move back to California. I just want to be able to visit and be friends.”
“You know what to do to fix it.”
“I can’t do that. There has to be another way. Let’s get your dad and let’s talk about this.”
“You’d meet with my dad?”
“Yes, I’ll meet with your dad,” she told him, and she gave him the number on the throwaway phone she’d purchased for the trip.
“There has to be a way, besides me going back in the church, for us to be together,” she told him. “Don’t you think there’s a way we could be together?”
She says that he responded with a noncommittal “maybe.”
He rang up her purchase — some shirts and socks — and they talked about her dogs, and her tattoo, which he said he liked.
“He could see I wasn’t crazy. That I’m happy. But that I miss him and Jessica,” she says. “And he never tried to text his father, which he usually does. It went so much better than I thought it would. I spent 45 minutes with him.”
She told him that she was staying in Austin for six days, and asked if he wanted to have dinner, telling him to bring along his girlfriend — who she hasn’t met — as well as his sister and her boyfriend.
“I hope he does meet with me. And brings OSA. My mom and I don’t care, we’ll meet them all,” she says. “He looks great. He’s taller than me now. But he looks sad. There’s a sadness in his eyes.”
Her mother, Dee, tells us she was amazed to see it go so well.
“This was a really big event to pull off, and for them not to know. As I watched the love between son and mother, I could tell Jeremy is very sad and misses his family,” she says.
“They’ve told him so many lies about Lori. It was great to watch her be herself with him. She looked so wonderful. And she’s such an athlete. A motorcycle mama. People were saying, this is your mom?” McMurdie says with a laugh. “He knows they’ve lied to him about her mental state. And he gave me three hugs. And one he grabbed me and really hugged me.”
We asked her if she was concerned that the visit might make things difficult for her grandson with Scientology.
“I don’t want him to get in trouble for that because they’re so nutty. The shit may hit the fan, but bring it on. Lori’s wish was to see her son. And that was her Mother’s Day wish. And her Mother’s Day is going to be fine.”
On Mother’s Day, Lori and Dee will still be in Austin.
“He knows where I’m at. He has my number. He can see me if he wants to. I’m going to be here six days. I’m going to enjoy Austin,” Lori says.
“It was my Mother’s Day wish to see my son, and I did it.”
Posted by Tony Ortega on May 9, 2013 at 07:00
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