Ashley Rodgers knew it wasn't the best situation when she moved her young family into a rooming house in North Philadelphia.
But at $375 a month, it was what Rodgers, a security guard, could afford.
Check for raccoon holes? Who would think to do such a thing? It never occurred to Rodgers either, and now she is spending Christmas in the hospital with her baby, who was horrifically wounded in a raccoon attack.
Instead of the 28-year-old mother's rushing out to buy last-minute gifts for her 4-month-old daughter's first visit from Santa, she's at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children wondering if her daughter's beautiful face will be permanently scarred.
It happened Wednesday night, just one day after Rodgers, her daughter, Journi, and son, Jordan, 6, moved into their new home in the 2100 block of North 22nd Street. Rodgers, a security guard for Scotlandyard Security Services, planned to have her kids sleep in one room with her and use the other for storage.
Around 8:30, Jordan was sitting on the floor and Journi was in her stroller. Rodgers stepped out of the room to wash the baby's bottle and noticed a "big raccoon run past." Jordan told her, "Mommy, it looked in the room and I jumped on the bed and it ran away."
Rodgers immediately notified the landlord, who told her, 'I'm coming and bringing an exterminator." Later, he told her the property had been inspected and the raccoon was gone. She asked for assurances, which he reportedly gave. By then, Journi was sleeping on the bed. Rodgers walked Jordan to the bathroom. but before she could get back, she heard her daughter's screams.
"When I got to my daughter, she was lying on the floor near the door, blood all over her face and all over her clothes.… She was all the way across the room, like he had been trying to drag her somewhere," recalled Rodgers, who closed the door to block the raccoon from coming back. "I called the ambulance, but I couldn't even think straight. I'm like, 'I don't even know the address right now.' [The dispatcher] was like, 'How do you not know your address?' I was like, 'Miss, I just moved in here yesterday.'"
Calls to the landlord weren't returned Friday. He reportedly showed up at the property and rushed Journi to Temple University Hospital, which transferred her to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.
Authorities shaved Journi's thick black curly hair and on Thursday, she underwent four hours of surgery, where she got 65 stitches – 25 to her eye area alone – to repair the deep wounds on her face and head. Thankfully, her vision wasn't affected. Doctors say it's too soon to say whether she'll need facial reconstruction.
"I'm just glad that it wasn't worse," Rodgers said. "I never thought about nothing like this happening. Now I know I need to check for raccoon holes."
Officials from the Department of Licenses and Inspections who visited the property said it was being used as a rooming house and issued a zoning violation, requiring the landlord to seek proper zoning. The owner also was ordered to obtain a rental license, and make various repairs including replacing broken windows and repairing the walls and ceilings to keep out pests.
The Animal Care and Control Team set traps in the rooming house and at an adjacent vacant building. Nothing had been caught as of Friday afternoon.
Rodgers has no plans to move back to the rooming house, where she reportedly encountered one of the many raccoons that have plagued the city in recent months. She doesn't know yet where her family will wind up. I asked Rodgers, a 2008 graduate of Simon Gratz High School, if she had bought presents for Christmas.
"I didn't get a chance," she told me.
Something tells me that the many good folks who read about what happened to Journi will help her out. The family has started a GoFundMe campaign called "Journi's Journey" to help out with expenses. Journi's uncle Kenneth McDuffie, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-910-7927, also will accept Christmas gifts and donations on behalf of his niece.