ROCK HILL, N.C. — Tracy, a single mother of five children in Rock Hill, never considered reuniting with the 44-year-old man she broke up with more than 12 years ago, despite claims of a new lifestyle and other "jailhouse talk" he penned in letters to her from prison.
Drugs, followed by his decision to rob a flower shop, tore their one-year romance apart, she said.
"That was it," said Tracy, who asked that her last name not be used. "I never looked back."
But it wasn't "it" for her ex-boyfriend, whom she discovered living in her attic Sunday morning, a year after he helped install new doors on her home after most of it burned in a fire.
Tracy, a nurse, spent Saturday with her children, ages ranging from 3 to 20, and "didn't see anything out of the ordinary" when they returned home. After nightfall, Tracy sat in her bedroom using her laptop but couldnt shake the feeling that "something just ain't right."
She heard strange noises and noticed insulation falling from the ceiling. Her older sons went to investigate but couldn't find anything.
Around 2:30 a.m., the noises persisted and Tracy, unable to sleep, saw nails in the ceiling fall to the floor.
She thought "there was some poltergeist stuff going on," she said.
Tracy called her nephew, who quickly came to the home and went into the attic. Her nephew walked to the far end of the attic, passing over a jungle of heating and cooling ducts, boxes, photo albums, toys, cassettes and a "timeline" of memories to find a man sleeping inside a heating unit.
Tracys nephew also noticed that the man was able to peek at Tracy through an air vent in her ceiling.
"It's got me flabbergasted," she said. "How can you look at someone through an air vent?"
Tracy said she thought her ex went to Charleston after his latest arrest and was just commuting to Rock Hill.
Instead, he had been sneaking into her house and living in her attic, a Rock Hill Police report states. He used coats for cover and slept inside the heating unit.
After being discovered Sunday, the man climbed out of the attic without giving any explanation for why or how he got inside in the first place. He walked away with a smile. By the time police arrived, he was gone and remains at large.
For Tracy, who hustles each day to get her sons to football practices and says she is away from home for almost 12 hours a day, its unnerving to think her ex, who she says hangs around at nearby drug houses, is still roaming the neighborhood.
Her kids won't sleep in their rooms, opting instead to camp out in the living room. Her family's concerned how he was able to climb into the attic.
"I want him to be charged with it," she said. "It could be somebody else he does the same thing to, but she might not be so lucky."