In the strange realm of alien abductions, usually it’s the aliens snatching the humans. But in South Roanoke, what happened is the other way around.
Some humans abducted the aliens, in broad daylight, on well-traveled Broadway Avenue. The crime occurred April 22 in Robert and Dian Bolling’s front yard, sometime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. And the Bollings want them back.
They’ve combed the neighborhood, stapled wanted posters to telephone poles and taped them to storefront windows. So far, zilch.
The 3-foot-tall bright green molded plastic creatures have been fixtures in the family’s yard for more than a decade, first at their place on Arden Road in Raleigh Court and more recently in South Roanoke, where the Bollings moved with their three sons in 2011.
The couple picked up the aliens for peanuts about a dozen years ago. They can’t recall exactly when, or where or what they paid — $20 each, perhaps. They bought them at an after-Halloween clearance sale.
Since then, passers-by have spotted them up on the Bollings’ roof; at other times perched in the trees. At Christmas time they’ve been decked out in multi-colored lights. When the power went out for days after the derecho last June, the aliens held a sign in the Bollings’ yard: “Oops!”
“A fuse blew in the mother ship,” Dian Bolling cracked.
On the surface it seems just like some ordinary dumb fun. But there’s another dimension to this. To grasp that, you have to get to know the Bollings.
They’re no ordinary family.
Austen Bolling, 15, and his twin brothers Connor and Alex, who are 13, have Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic abnormality that sets them apart from other children their age.
The inherited condition causes profound learning, speech and language problems. Children with it have short attention spans, a poor ability to make eye contact and great difficulty adjusting to change. It affects roughly one in 2,000 boys and one in 4,000 girls. About one in every 260 women are carriers of the gene.
The boys require near around-the-clock care. That’s greatly limited the couple, who both work, in meeting other folks and developing normal friendships.
“We have a very different household,” Dian Bolling told me. “We have love and laughter.” But in the process of parenting three special needs children, “we’ve lost a lot of friends; lost a lot of family members. It’s just hard to deal with, handling the kids.”
The aliens have proved to be a very effective way for the Bollings to connect to others.
The somewhat hokey and ongoing yard prank has become a community conversation piece that has entertained two neighborhoods. More than once strangers have stopped to ask for permission to take pictures. That has sparked friendships the couple wouldn’t have otherwise made.
Devising new yard adventures for the aliens was a stress-relieving diversion for a stressed-out couple.
“People used to come by and ask, ‘What are you going to do next?’ ” said Robert Bolling, who sells ads for a local radio station. “It was a ton of fun.”
The couple have also used the figurines to teach their boys communication and socialization skills. These days, the kids realize something is missing from their front yard. They seem to miss them, although they’re unable to articulate it like their parents can.
The aliens have appeared in a commercial for a local cupcake shop, Dian Bolling told me. Their last public appearance was April 19 at the Local Colors office — where Dian works — to help promote the May 18 festival.
Why did they reach out to me?
They heard about my skill at solving offbeat and inconsequential crimes while hanging up a wanted poster in the 7-Eleven on Crystal Spring Avenue.
A while back, a drunken patron fled the store with a beer-promoting cardboard cutout of “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” A single column by yours truly shamed the perps into returning it.
“You should call that guy at the paper,” a 7-Eleven employee told the couple.
Friday, the Bollings reported the theft to Roanoke City Police. City Police spokeswoman Aisha Johnson confirmed the report. Police have no record of any previous alien lawn ornament abductions, she added.
A policeman later called Bolling back to say he had assigned it to a detective.
Stay tuned. And keep your eyes peeled for the aliens.