When Steven Binder, his wife and daughter returned home from a dream vacation in Costa Rica last month, they walked into their Parkside house to find the mother of the cat sitter they’d hired standing beside a vacuum.
There had been a problem with a bed upstairs, the woman sheepishly said.
She quickly added that she had taken a comforter and two rugs to a professional cleaner.
“What the hell went on here?” Binder demanded.
The answer was far worse than he could have possibly imagined. The house had been trashed, some valuable items had been pilfered, and there was thousands of dollars in damages.
The cat sitter, a trusted teenage friend of the couple’s 18-year-old daughter Zoey Binder, had apparently hosted an out-of-control party the night of Dec. 27 with about 50 teens, all from the Buffalo area’s best high schools: City Honors School, Nardin Academy, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Canisius High School.
Binder and his wife, Kristen Segebarth, confronted the 17-year-old cat sitter and her parents, asking them to pay for damages.
The best that the cat sitter’s parents would do, Segebarth said, was write out a check for $90, the amount they had paid in advance for the girl to care for the cats. After waiting a month, Binder and Segebarth decided to come forward with their story. When The Buffalo News contacted the cat sitter Thursday afternoon by phone for her insights on what happened, she declined to comment. The News made several calls to the sitter’s mother that were not returned.
Binder recalled the horror of what he and his family encountered upon their return from vacation. There was urine, feces and pools of vomit on the rugs and bedding. There were used condoms strewn about.
A video clip Zoey later secured from a social media site showed teenage boys in her bedroom. One of them was urinating on her bed with an unseen narrator saying, “This is for you.”
The video also shows another teenager throwing an item against the wall and then shoving all of the papers off a desk and cursing Zoey.
Binder recounted feeling as if he’d been beaten in the face “with the flat side of a shovel” as he left the house to calm down and pick up their dog Atticus at the kennel.
As Binder went out the door, the 64-year-old homeowner said he could hear his wife and daughter crying out, “Oh ... oh ... oh ....” as they made their way from one room to the next in their normally well-cared for home on Florence Avenue, just down the block from Delaware Park.
Upon doing an inventory, the family discovered that a number of precious keepsakes, including matching mother-and-daughter gold necklaces with pearls, were stolen. More than $6,000 in cash was taken along with a large quantity of prescription pain medications for Binder, who had recently experienced a prolonged bout of lower back pain. But it was the state of their 2½-story home that he and his wife have fixed up over nearly two decades that has him distraught.
“The destruction to our house is considerable. There was human feces, urine and vomit in numerous locations. Every floor in the house was rifled. There was broken furniture and there were multiple used condoms,” Binder said Thursday as he and his wife explained that it wasn’t until just last week that they succeeded in eradicating the stench from the party.
“It took an industrial strength cleaning to get rid of the odors of urine and vomit, and we keep discovering more,” Binder said. “I don’t know that I won’t open a box in my attic at some point and discover more vomit. There was vomit everywhere.”
And while the family is slowly putting their house back together, it will take much longer, they say, to come to terms with the outrageous feeling of having their private space violated by dozens of strangers. “It’s a betrayal of trust,” Binder said.
Two of the cats were so traumatized, he added, “that they did not come out of their hiding places until two days after we had come home.”
Northwest District Detectives Margaret Dragoon and Edwin Perez are investigating the cat sitter’s role in the party and have obtained a list of names of the 46 known partygoers and their schools that she had provided to the homeowners. The teenager has not been charged at this point and whether there will be charges appears uncertain.
A police official confirmed that the house had been trashed and said the Erie County District Attorney’s Office has advised investigators that the case may end up being a civil matter, rather than criminal, though the investigation is continuing.
Twenty-five of the young people attended City Honors, seven were from Nardin Academy, six from Canisius High School, four from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, three from a Williamsville high school and one was an exchange student, according to the list.
The News is not using the names of the cat sitter, her family and the other alleged partygoers because they have not been charged.
Besides the video clip found, Zoey also discovered social media believed to have been made by the partygoers:
“If I didn’t die last night, I’m probably living forever.”
“I am DISGUSTED by every aspect of this night.”
“Never realized that I go to school with such horny people.”
“Roll another bowl.”
The family is now awaiting a damage estimate from their insurance claims adjuster, and it is expected to be in the thousands of dollars to repair holes in walls, fix flooring and pay cleanup costs.
Binder said they also recently met with the cat sitter and her parents and asked that they be reimbursed $8,500 for their vacation as a form of partial restitution. The vacation was in honor of Zoey’s high school graduation last June and her attendance at an Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania.
Segebarth said the cat sitter’s parents wrote out a check for $90, the amount that had been paid for the cat sitting job.
What deeply troubles Segebarth, she said, is that there seems to be an attitude that “kids will be kids.” She believes it is an entirely unacceptable reaction to the crisis she and her family have experienced. The message to the community, she said, is that parents need to start teaching their children to be accountable.
“These actions of destruction and disregard are wrong,” Segebarth said.
“We are not taking our role as victims lying down. We intend to hold those young adults and their parents accountable for their actions and/or lack thereof,” Binder said. “People need to understand that invading a home, vandalizing that home and robbing the homeowners is not just ‘teenagers being teenagers.’ ”