Below Rock Bottom

September 3, 2013
Beneath the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip lies a system of underground flash flood tunnels. Dark and dangerous, these tunnels house an untold number of the city’s homeless. Dr. Phil’s guests say their mom, Cindy, is one of them, and they want her out. Amber, Ashley, Angela and Atisha confide that Cindy, who is addicted to drugs and alcohol, lost custody  of them when they were small children, and they’ve had sporadic contact with her ever since. Angela says she even ventured into the tunnels to get her mom, but Cindy wouldn’t leave — refusing to be a burden on her children or leave her husband, Rick. Dr. Phil sends professional locator, Troy Dunn, along with Matt O’Brien, author of  Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, to find Cindy and Rick.  Watch Troy and Matt navigate through this hidden underground society. What are the living conditions? How are people surviving? And, when they finally track down Cindy, will she agree to leave with them? Don’t miss this compelling two-part series. 







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Cindy nowCindy thenCindy thenAmber and Ashley thenAngela and Atisha thenTroy Dunn, professional locatorAmber, 27, and Ashley, 24Angela, 23, and Atisha, 22Troy and author Matt O'Brien in the tunnelsCindy and Rick in the tunnels

A Dangerous Search

Dr. Phil sits down with The Locator’s Troy Dunn and explains that Amber, 27, Ashley, 24, Angela, 23 and Atisha, 22, are searching for their 46-year-old mother, Cindy, who has been living in the underground tunnels of Las Vegas with her husband, Rick. He shows videotaped footage of the tunnels. “This is not pretty. Frankly, it’s dangerous. It is disgusting. It is not healthy. It is not sanitary,” Dr. Phil says. “We talk about drug addicts hitting rock bottom. You’re looking at a culture that is below rock bottom … I want to give this woman a chance to walk in the sunshine and talk to her daughters.”

Troy says he’s up for the challenge.

A Family Torn Apart

Troy sits down with the four siblings. How did their mother lose custody of them? What were their childhoods like without her?

Learn what happened to the girls when they were taken from their mother.

Amber admits that she’s still angry with her mother, but says, “I wouldn’t be the awesome mom I am today if it wasn’t for her. Because I never, ever want to wind up like her,” she says. “That wasn’t going to happen.”

“Any of you struggle with drugs and alcohol?” Troy asks.
 
“I lost my son because I was using drugs,” Ashley says. “So, I kind of know how my mom feels, when you get your child taken away from you. I promised myself that I would never let that happen again.” Ashley adds that she doesn’t understand how her mother stayed away and didn’t try to get them back.

Ashley and Angela explain how they learned that their mother was in the tunnels, and how Angela attempted to get her out. "I don’t want her living like that."

Ashley says she’s angry with her mother’s husband, Rick, and thinks he holds her mother back. “She needs help. She needs to get out of there. That’s not a place for somebody to live. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” she says.

The youngest, Atisha, was still a baby when she was removed from Cindy’s care, and says she has no memory of her mother. “I want to try to meet her so I can at least be able to move on,” she says.

The sisters say they’re interested in having their mother in their lives, if she can take responsibility for the mistakes of the past.


Going Underground

Matt O'Brien, author of the book Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, takes Troy into the tunnels where he believes Cindy and Rick are living. He explains that the tunnels are storm drains that become raging rivers when it rains.

See a tour of Cindy and Rick’s underground home, complete with a living room, guest room, kitchen and pet rat. How do they stay safe?

Cindy and Rick say they got their pet rat, named Pilfer, from a pet store, unlike the wild one that lives in a hole of their tunnel. As Troy looks around, he notes the booming noise that happens when cars drive over the manhole covers above them. As startling as it is to him, Cindy and Rick say they don’t notice it anymore.
 
Cindy shows off a makeshift bat that she uses for protection when her husband is above ground. She says when she gets scared, she usually just runs out of the tunnels.

Rick shows Troy the tunnel downstream from them, which they use as their bathroom. It is littered with various possessions that were swept away from people during storms. “It’s embarrassing and belittling to me to be in this situation," Rick says.

“You know what, Rick? I don’t want you to be embarrassed, because I recognize that you clearly feel the responsibility as a husband to try to provide for your wife, and I know that this has been difficult for you,” Troy says. “The most important thing, Rick, is not where you’re living; it’s where you want to get to.”

Cindy explains how she lost the fight to get her daughters back. “I don’t know how to be a mother to grown children. When I dream about them, I see them as they were when I lost them.”

“It’s been evident to me, just in the tour you gave me, that you have an amazing heart," Troy tells Cindy. "You open your home to strangers to stay here, you share food — and you have hardly any. So, I know that inside you is a very compassionate, loving person. What is keeping that love and compassion from going out to your daughters?”

“I guess I’m scared,” Cindy says, growing tearful. “I don’t want to feel like I have that kind of bond again, only to be broken.” Cindy says she doesn’t think she can live up to their expectations of how a mother should be, and she doesn’t want to be a burden on her children.

Do Cindy and Rick really want out of the tunnels? Does Cindy want to establish relationships with her grown children?

Can Troy convince Cindy to come to Los Angeles and face her daughters? “Are you ready to walk out of this tunnel and never come back?”


As Cindy and Rick pack up their belongings, Rick begins to have anxiety. He admits, “Starting the program this way, I’m not likely to make it.”

Will the love of Cindy’s daughters be enough to convince them to leave the tunnels? Don’t miss Part 2!