HARRISVILLE - March 24, 2011, was, in Judi McCullough's words, "the day from Hell."
It was the day McCullough, as Ritchie County Prosecutor, dispatched two officers to arrest her son, Nick Isner.
"No matter what happens the rest of my life, that will always rank in the top three hardest things I have ever done," she said.
A few days earlier, Isner, then 21, and his girlfriend got high on bath salts.
"I saw my son several times throughout the day and it was obvious he was under the influence of something, but I was not sure what," McCullough said. "His speech was slurred, his actions were erratic and his behavior bizarre."
McCullough asked Isner if he had taken anything, but he denied it. By the end of the day, Isner had racked up a laundry list of offenses:
"Not surprisingly, the crime didn't take long to solve," McCullough said.
Isner was arrested for burglary, petit larceny and failure to maintain control of his vehicle. When he failed to show for court. McCullough sent officers to arrest him.
McCullough said when she got home that evening, the TV was still on and the bowl of roast beef Isner had been eating was on the table beside his hat, which contained three cigarettes.
"I looked around, then just sat down on the floor and cried."
McCullough said for a year she's been dying to tell her story.
"Everybody always tells me not to, because it will hurt my career," she said.
"I can't even begin to tell you how this event has affected my life as an elected official. My family is in chaos."
Keeping quiet hasn't changed the minds of those who already passed judgment on her, McCullough said.
"I had people who I thought were my friends turn their back on me, and admit they were doing it because they couldn't afford to associate with me," she said.
McCullough said one attorney went so far as to try to have her arrested as an accessory because she didn't call the police right away. McCullough noted as Isner's parent she had no legal obligation to do anything. Though she did. She gathered up the stolen goods and stored them in her car until she presented them to police. And she was prepared to testify.
McCullough said she sought advice from the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorney's Institute and former Pleasants County Prosecutor and Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Tim Sweeney.
McCullough is thankful no one was hurt and the victims had their property returned. She said Isner accepted responsibility for his actions, even the ones he couldn't quite recall, and faced the consequences.
"It is my fault," Isner said.
Once divorced, now remarried, with three adult children, McCullough is a local woman with deep roots in Ritchie County. She obtained her law degree from West Virginia University in 1999.
"I have always wanted to be an attorney. And I want to be a prosecutor."
She ran for Ritchie County Prosecutor in 2004 and lost, then tried again in 2008 and won.
McCullough, a Republican, is up for re-election this year. She's running against former county prosecutor Steve Jones, a fellow Republican.
Messages left for Jones were not returned.
Pointing to her record as a prosecutor, McCullough boasts she's lost just one felony trial as county prosecutor. She knows this year's election hinges on voters' reactions to her handling of Isner's issues.
Isner knows it too and he's not very optimistic.
"I know she is probably not going to get elected again because of me. I hope she is, but it is not real likely."
McCullough is almost defiant in defending herself as a prosecutor.
"I didn't break into that house, and Nick is not the prosecuting attorney."
Isner is the youngest of McCullough's three children. According to McCullough, her son is bipolar, has ADHD and has a history of drug abuse, including methamphetamines. He's had a few run-ins with law enforcement.
When her phone rang at home and it was the police or 911, McCullough said is was a 50-50 chance the call concerned her son.
"It is hard to watch your child turn into someone you can't stand, almost hate at times. It is hard to love your child so much and still be unable to help him when he desperately needs it. It is hard to know that people see your child, not as a young man struggling with an addiction and losing the battle, but as a criminal, someone to look down on."
McCullough said Isner's time in jail probably saved his life. For his crimes, Isner spent seven months in various state facilities. In October he was sent to a treatment center in Wheeling. In January, he was released to a halfway house.
He's been clean for almost a year, but for a person who's bipolar and suffers from ADHD, it truly is a one-day-at-a-time struggle.
It's been a struggle for McCullough as well and she said the last year has been harrowing. She spent months splitting time between her duties as prosecutor and mother to a jailed son, trying to find a treatment facility for him to enter. Many of those days left McCullough frustrated and in tears.
In addition to splitting time as a prosecutor of criminals and the mother of one, McCullough endured the public spotlight. Isner's criminal proceedings were front page news in the county paper. She has been sullied on the Internet and in print by anonymous posters.
She has also had a groundswell of support.
"I have actually had many people come up to me around the county, at gas stations and such, and offer their sympathy, and go out of their way to tell me that they were behind me, and they supported me. Many people, who I never would have thought gave a hoot, ask me how Nick is doing, on a regular basis. Those are the people I will never forget," she said.
"My mom is a very strong woman," Isner said. "She keeps her head up among all this crap and never turned her back on me. She's a very strong woman."