Eugene Cooper was looking forward to an uneventful rest of Saturday night after a day moving boxes and pallets at a Morrow warehouse.
Instead, Cooper spent a harrowing 48 hours trying to learn the whereabouts of his wife and five kids who went missing Saturday afternoon.
Janee Dichier Ruffin-Cooper left her in-laws’ Jonesboro home Saturday afternoon with their five children ages 9 to 16 months in tow.
New to Clayton, the 30-year-old mom left the house with her kids, a diaper bag and backpack, supposedly on her way to visit a neighbor. Instead she wound up taking a cab to a homeless shelter in Atlanta where police, after a frantic weekend search, found them safe on Monday. She had no phone, money or extra clothes with her.
The search intensified after police learned Janee Cooper had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, manic depression, paranoia and bipolar disorder, and feared she had the capacity to become violent without her medication.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Monday, fear turned to elation when the 29-year-old father and husband learned his young family was safe at the shelter, capping what has been a rollercoaster ride for them all during the last month.
“I’m happy. I just want to see my kids and hold them and hug them,” Cooper said, his face breaking out in a huge smile upon hearing everybody was safe.
“Right now they’re going through a process making sure everybody’s o.k,” Clayton Police Public Information Officer Hal Weiner said Monday afternoon. It was unclear when the family would be reunited.
The young family had just arrived in Clayton from Memphis three weeks before hoping to make a better life and find more mental health treatment options, Eugene Cooper said. They were staying with his parents temporarily. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution they had “no arguments or confrontation” Saturday before he went to work as a fork lift operator.
“This is the first time she’s done anything like this,” Cooper said Monday standing out in front of his parents’ Cypress Lane home.
Cooper learned of his family’s disappearance shortly after his parents picked him up from work Saturday. They returned home about 11 p.m. with no word from his wife. Unfazed, Cooper assumed his family was spending the night at the neighbors.
Meanwhile, police say Janee Cooper and kids had gone to a bait and tackle shop in Jonesboro where she called a cab that took them to an Atlanta homeless shelter.
Sunday morning Eugene Cooper went to the neighbor’s house but no one answered. He called the police around 2:30 p.m. and from there he “just sat and waited. I was very worried.”
“I don’t know if they’ve eaten or had baths,” he said Monday before learning they had been found. “I just want to see them and know for sure visually they’re all right.”
Cooper received a small glint of hope around noon Monday when his wife called him from a cellphone with a New York phone number.
“When I asked where she was she put the kids on the phone,” he recalled. “They kept asking ‘Daddy, are you going to come where we are?’”
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Credit: Family contributed photo