HILLIARD, Ohio — Clay Kilpatrick was 18 when he entered a bank, used a fake gun to order cooperation or death, then walked out $4,900 richer and his young life in ruins.
The heroin addict deep in debt committed the robbery two days before his sister’s high school graduation in May 2011.
The FBI dubbed him the “Dirty Bieber Bandit” because a witness said he looked like Justin Bieber, “only dirty.”
Kilpatrick, now 21, was released from prison Dec. 13 after serving less than two years of a four-year sentence. A Franklin County judge approved his early release with the support of prosecutors. Kilpatrick is clean, on probation and plans to leave the world of drugs behind. He’s got a job arranged by his father cleaning up fire-damaged homes for insurance companies.
Kilpatrick went free as the state battles the drug that helped put him behind bars. Attorney General Mike DeWine calls heroin abuse an epidemic killing at least 11 Ohioans a week. U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach in Cleveland labels it a public health crisis. The Drug Enforcement Administration says heroin availability is on the rise nationally and overdoses are increasing.
Kilpatrick grew up in a comfortable home in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, whose per capita income of $34,000 is well above the state average. The city doesn’t see much violent crime, but “quality of life” offenses like theft often have their roots in addicts supporting habits, which increasingly appear to involve heroin, said Robert Fisher, the deputy police chief.
Kilpatrick smoked marijuana in his early teens but swore to never try heroin. Yet friends persuaded him to smoke what they called “opium” off aluminum foil — in fact, it was heroin — and he was hooked.
Kilpatrick robbed his family of electronics, cash, credit cards and checks to feed his habit. He stole money from friends who cashed checks for him he knew would bounce. He left dealers in the lurch. He borrowed from payday lending companies. Soon, he was $1,500 in debt with no end in sight. He hatched the bank robbery as a spur-of-the-moment crime.
“I was just out of control, doing whatever,” Kilpatrick said. “I didn’t care who I was hurting, who knew what I was, who knew I was a thief. I had to do whatever I had to do, as long as I maintained that high.”
Kilpatrick was a lousy bank robber, a fact that probably saved his life by forestalling a fatal overdose. Police fingered him quickly based on tips, including Kilpatrick’s boast on Facebook about the robbery.
Out on bond after his indictment and arrest, Kilpatrick continued to get into trouble and kept using. On Nov. 12, 2011, he walked into the Hilliard police station to turn himself in for good, a heroin syringe in his waistband. He says rehab wasn’t working, and he knew he had to go somewhere he couldn’t get drugs and they wouldn’t let him leave.
That place was Belmont Correctional Institution in eastern Ohio.
Kilpatrick’s parents, who are divorced, place responsibility on their son but also search their hearts for something they could have done differently.
“What did I miss, how did I not know this, how does a mom not know that this is going on,” said his mother, Marcia Skelly, a nurse in a pediatrician’s office.
“I had no clue what was going on in the house when I would go to bed,” said his father, Wayne Kilpatrick, a building supplies salesman.
Kilpatrick’s chances for recovery rest with his willingness to take responsibility, starting with an admission of his problem and willingness to fix it, said Paul Coleman, president of Maryhaven, the region’s oldest addiction counseling service. That includes attending 12-step programs for drug addicts and avoiding the people, places and things that got him in trouble to begin with.
Kilpatrick says he plans to attend such programs with friends who are clean. He pledges a new start and warns anyone who will listen not to go near heroin.
“People just need to know how serious it is,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m sure these kids start doing it not knowing how bad it really is, thinking they can just try it once and get a quick high, but it’s not like that. Not with this drug.”