Paralegal's home destroyed by flood, malicious vandal

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Grand River flooding had a negative impact on many residents, but for Becca Ling it was combined with events that were nothing short of traumatic.

As she evacuated the home she shares with husband Bruce last week, three shots were fired at her from the porch of her neighbor, Mark Scott Vandermolen. The following morning, she got a call from another neighbor telling her that she should go and check her house. “It’s been horribly vandalized,” she was told.

Nothing could have prepared her for how dreadful the damage is. Windows had been smashed in and the frames beaten and bent; all of the valued items the Lings had so carefully put up on crates to keep them out of the water had been pushed off; appliances were tipped over; furniture and bathroom fixtures had been battered.

Surveying the sickening damage, the Lings had a suspicion that they knew who had done it. Vandermolen, the next-door neighbor she saw shooting at her, had terrorized the couple and others in the close-knit community along Abrigador Trail in Comstock Park since he had moved into a foreclosed home  there three years ago.

Their long history with Vandermolen told the Lings they had to have hard evidence, and they despaired of finding any. But then they saw blood spatters and knew that whoever had done it had hurt himself badly. “My first thought was, that’s a horrible cut, and the second was, his DNA is all over the place,” Ling said.

Becca Ling had called the police after the previous night’s shooting, and she called 911 in the morning. “After I told the dispatcher what had happened, our address and who we suspected, she asked if she could put me on hold. When she came back she asked if I’d actually seen him, and when I said no, not today, the dispatcher told me that Mark had shown up at the gas station near here asking them to call an ambulance for him. The police had shown up first, and took him to the hospital where he was stitched up.”

And after the hospital, to jail. The police booked Vandermolen on April 20. He is charged with Home Invasion III, Felonious Assault, and Malicious Destruction of a Building over $1,000 and under $20,000, and his arraignment took place April 22. He managed to make bail and has been released.

Ling wondered if she should even attend her graduation from Davenport University and receive her diploma as a paralegal this weekend. As of Wednesday, she was leaning towards going: “I’ve thought about it, and I think I’m going to walk.”

That walk will be the culmination of 11 years of hard work for Ling. She transitioned from a career as a lighting designer (meeting some daunting challenges, such as lighting an artificial garden to make it look sunny as a backdrop for President Ronald Reagan’s visit to Grand Rapids long ago)  when the economy caused the company employing her to cut back.

“I had always been a Supreme Court junkie,” Ling says. “Growing up in Fennville, I used to write stories for the local paper for a friend of my father’s. I’d write about school and sports,
but every once in a while would sneak in something about a Supreme Court case. That was when I was in fifth grade!”

So when people told her she should work in the legal profession, she decided to pursue a paralegal degree.

After she had taken just one course at Davenport to earn a legal secretary certificate, an employment agency suggested she apply for an opening at an Intellectual Property law firm “I wasn’t so sure at first. I had a full load of classes and wanted to blast right through getting the degree, but I gave it a try and it felt like a perfect fit. In spite of my lack of experience, they saw something and hired me. I feel really lucky and blessed to work here.”

At the same time, she has continued to be one half of the well-known bluegrass/country blues group Hawks and Owls, playing guitar. Husband Bruce is the other half, who contributes authentic folksy vocals, Appalachian fiddle and other string instrument virtuosity. Their website is www.hawksand owls.com.

At her firm, Ling does patents, working for two of the principals.. Both because of her hours at the law firm and due to the cost, she has only been able to take one or two classes per term, so it has taken her ten years since starting at the law firm to get her degree.

During Ling’s long period of stress battling her neighbor and through the flooding, her employers and the entire firm have been wonderful, she says.”You know, it’s one thing to call in and say the river has risen, I’m not coming in to work today, but with the people here, they say, just take the time you need. They’re amazing — supportive and kind and always asking what they can do to help.”

Ling’s long tale of conflict started when, shortly after he moved in, Vandermolen had a loud all-night party complete with shooting off guns and obvious physical fighting, prompting other neighbors to call the police. Though the Lings were away that weekend playing a music gig, she thinks he blamed them for making the complaints. He started what Ling calls “systematic harassment” of the neighborhood, focusing on the Lings.

Not too long after that, he tried to cut down a tree on her property. When Ling told him she was not going to stand for that, he came at her with the chainsaw. Friends had already alerted her that she should try to record any threats he made, so she captured it on her mobile device. “Being in the legal profession, I wanted to do everything by the book,” she says.

Though the case went to court, Vandermolen escaped with what Ling calls “a slap on the wrist” — six months’ probation — despite already having a criminal record.

The Lings obtained Personal Protection Orders which called for no contact from Vandermolen. Almost immediately, Ling says, Vandermolen tried to force her off the road. Once again, her complaint went before a judge, but because she had been driving and was unable to record anything, the case was dismissed. “She called it a he-said-she-said situation,” Ling said. “But how could I record anything while I was driving? I felt betrayed.”

On yet another occasion, the Lings came home late from doing a show and, based on an instinctive feeling, Becca asked Bruce to set up their sound system’s microphone as he sat at his computer. When he heard a sharp snapping noise, they listened to the tape they had made, and Vandermolen was caught clearly telling a woman to shoot, over her protests that “she didn’t want to kill anyone.” They found a bullet hole in the window right near where Bruce had been sitting.

That case also went to trial, but it was the woman who was charged and convicted.

Now, Ling is hopeful that justice will be served. “People ask me what I want ... I want him to go to court and I want him to be convicted. I want him to be removed from society so we can all feel safe, but I don’t really want vengeance — I also want him to get the services he needs if possible.”

In the meantime, Ling knows that she will be all right. She has insurance to cover her losses, and although the physical objects associated with many fond memories may be gone, she has a renewed sense of being surrounded and cushioned by the good people of her community.

As Bruce Ling posted on Facebook, “We have not been laid low by the destruction of our home and all of its contents, but lifted high by the love of our friends.”