If You Hear About the Next Party at Michael Mcconaghey's House, Do Him a Favor—don't Go
04/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT
Parents worry about their kids. They worry about their kids' friends. They worry about the parties their kids go to. They're afraid that the kids will trash the house if they're left alone for five minutes. Parents of America, meet Wallace and Corinne McConaghey—and see your nightmare come true.
Easter week, while his parents were in Florida with his younger brother, Peter, 11, Michael McConaghey, 20, made some new friends. The new friends threw a party. And when the party was over the McConagheys' comfortable $230,000 house in Rolling Meadows, Ill., had sustained an estimated $25,000 in property damage and theft. The family car was missing, and Michael had run away from what was left of home.
A handsome young man with a mild developmental disability that impairs his attention span, Michael, who worked part-time at McDonald's, liked to make friends on a telephone talk line called Connections. On the Saturday his parents left, a girl named Heather Woods came on the line and told him about a party in a Chicago bar. Michael went, and met her. "She seemed like a sweetheart," he says. The next day, according to Michael, when Heather called and told him she needed a place to stay, he invited her over. "Michael is very kind, and he knows that I open my door to people in need," says his mother. "He felt comfortable doing that too." But because of his disorder, she adds, it's sometimes hard for Michael to comprehend the consequences of his actions.
When Heather showed up on Sunday afternoon, "we just watched TV," Michael says. But then "she said she wanted to throw a party. She got on Connections and invited half a million people. Only three showed up." The next day, though, when Woods put out the word again, teenagers from all over the Chicago area began converging on the McConaghey house, Michael says. By Wednesday, a revolving cast of characters was drinking, doing drugs and having sex. They were also beginning to tear the place apart. The walls of Peter's newly papered bedroom were covered with olive oil, a 12-inch hole was chiseled in an upstairs wall, and three of Corinne McConaghey's finches were killed. The dishwasher was broken, and the sides of the toaster peeled back like a banana skin. By now Michael, who had come down with a cold, had locked himself in a bedroom. "Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are one continuous blur to me," he says. "I came downstairs once, and the VCR was gone." But he didn't call the police because "I was afraid they'd arrest me and the people at the party would hurt me."
Still, when Michael came upon some guests starting to shave his white poodle, he was stirred to action. "I grabbed a baseball bat and just started swinging. I got three of the bastards out of there." But there were still plenty of people left to keep the party alive. Michael's parents say that whenever they phoned home, a girl identified herself as Lori, a trusted friend of Michael's, and assured them everything was fine.
When Michael awoke on Easter Sunday, he found the house empty and police at the door. (Neighbors phoned the cops when they noticed the car missing, since Michael doesn't drive.) The inside of the house, says Deputy Police Chief Richard Hammer, "looked like a concussion grenade had gone off." And the consequences of that seemed obvious, even to Michael, who took off, hitchhiking. When he was located five days later at an Indiana truck stop, and his parents drove to pick him up, he says, "The worst thing I ever had to do was look them in the eye." But the McConagheys have no plans to punish their son. (Woods and seven other teenagers have been arrested in connection with the party.) "He's punished himself enough already," says his father.
—By Michael Neill, with Anne Burris in Rolling Meadows