Passing Thoreau

Passing Thoreau

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 

After a string of suicides two years ago, money and additional resources poured into the tiny town of Thoreau, N.M. The crisis that spawned a reservation-wide state of emergency is over, but the Navajo Nation still sits on a "ragged edge," as a pastor interviewed for this story said. Marilyn Berlin Snell, who has been writing about the Navajo Nation since 2000, spent a year speaking with people on and off the reservation for this report, which is being co-published with New America Media.

THOREAU, N.M. — It takes about 20 minutes to walk Thoreau’s main drag end to end, passing the Family Dollar Store and a flea market, where the smell of grease wafts through the stalls and women wearing velveteen skirts and concho belts sell Navajo fry bread and homemade CD mixes, from bands like the Thunders, the Wingate Valley Boys, the Navajo Sundowners. Bars cover the B&J Laundrymat’s windows; the owner provides change and boxes of detergent from behind Plexiglas. 

In the concrete skate park across the street, an athletic 17-year-old Navajo wears a skullcap with a kelly-green cannabis leaf stitched to the front. He skates, even though it is early afternoon and school is still in session. He has been expelled from Thoreau High for carrying his board to class, he said. Now he has time to practice.

He pushes off the homemade platform and maneuvers around the curved obstacles in front of him, over words painted on the track. A local church group arrived at the skate park a few months earlier with paint the color of the New Mexico sky. Young Navajos were given thick brushes and invited to express themselves. Now the gravel-strewn asphalt shouts “forgotten,” “trapped,” “grieving,” “ugly” and “broken-hearted.” 

At the far end of the street, next to the Zuni Mountain pawn shop, is a dirt-packed and weedy cemetery. Plastic gladioli and roses decorate many of the graves, a few newly turned, offering the road’s only splash of color. Some of the 15 young Navajos who killed themselves two years ago are buried here.

The teen suicides in Thoreau happened on the heels of nine others, which took place in another reservation town, Fort Defiance, about 60 minutes away. After New Mexico media reported on Thoreau’s suicide cluster, Joe Shirley Jr., then president, declared a state of emergency that summer of 2010, on this, the largest Indian reservation in the country. The declaration allowed the tribe to target limited mental health resources on Thoreau.

Still, the acknowledgment of a suicide epidemic was a long-time coming. 

“This has been going on for years, under the radar,” said Michelle Kahn-John, a Navajo nurse practitioner. “Five years ago, you would only hear about boys committing suicide,” she said. “Girls would make attempts, but boys would complete. Now girls are completing. That’s very different.”

The lives of those teenagers who “completed” in Thoreau were like puffs of wind to those beyond the town limits, invisible and quickly dissipated. Trying to figure out the whys is complicated by culture, history and grief. Few in Navajo country are willing to talk about death or these deaths, especially to outsiders.

Two years later, in this town known as D’lóó ‘a yázhi, or “little prairie dog,” in this high-desert stretch of western New Mexico, there is still unemployment and despair. The per capita income for Navajos in Thoreau is a little more than $6,000, and the unemployment rate for all residents is pushing 22 percent. 

But there has also been progress and help, parades and graduations. 

This is Thoreau, the town pronounced “through” by everyone here.

'It’s hard to talk about the suicides'

Michelle Kahn-John, a Navajo psychiatric mental-health nurse practitioner and director of behavioral health at the Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, said most of the kids in her unit are admitted for clinical depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She said many of them have witnessed or been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. 

She said young Navajo lives are still in danger. In a recent email, Kahn-John, who has worked at the reservation’s only in-patient adolescent facility since it opened in 2005, wrote: “Many Navajo communities question why there was such a large response to Thoreau when we’ve had the same number or even more completed teen suicides in previous years in neighboring communities.  Overall, we’re glad that attention and support was provided to Thoreau [but] the teen suicide problem is not over on Navajo.”

Though the suicide picture varies significantly across regions, tribes and communities within tribes, U.S. Indian Country suicide rates overall are high and skew overwhelmingly toward the young. It’s the inverse nationally, where suicide is most prevalent among those 65 and older. 

The national average for suicide among teenagers between 15 and 19 years old is 7.6 per 100,000 annually. Thoreau’s number — 15 deaths in less than nine months, in a geographic area of no more than 8,000 inhabitants — was 25 times higher than that.

Unemployment, alcoholism and violent crime have been acute on the reservation for decades, breeding a sense of hopelessness among the young and old. The recession, which coincided with the suicide clusters, was not so much a tipping point as just another turn of the screw. 

Thoreau is in an area of western New Mexico called “the checkerboard” because tribal lands, where alcohol is prohibited, intermingle with 160-acre parcels of private, state and federal lands. Thoreau itself is a checkerboard within a checkerboard, with Navajos and non-Navajos living within shouting distance. It’s where the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation becomes porous, where economies, cultures and destinies bump each other and mix. 

Analyzing what happened then or what is happening now is hampered by Navajo culture itself. 

 “Death is a fact of life,” said Ray Daw, a Navajo hired as director of the tribe’s Behavioral Health Services a month after the state of emergency was declared. “Death happens to everyone, so why talk about it? It’s something that one prepares for individually,” he said. Daw added that use of the word “suicide” is also discouraged. “We prefer terms like ‘life preservation,’ ” he said. 

Kahn-John was raised with the same worldview Daw described and struggled with the cultural proscription. In fact, many Navajos consider it taboo to even refer to a person who has died, Kahn-John said, and violating the taboo invites evil spirits and sometimes death to the transgressor.  “It’s hard to talk about the suicides just because of the cultural cautions that I have, like, ‘Don’t talk about it; don’t even say that.’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to be in trouble for saying that culturally.’ But clinically, that’s what I see,” she said.

She also was reticent to discuss the Navajo suicide clusters because there have been well-documented cases in which attention paid to suicides encouraged copycat deaths.  

The phenomenon of “suicide contagion” was first chronicled in the 18th century when young men inspired by the doomed hero in Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” shot themselves while wearing Werther’s trademark blue jacket and yellow vest. That was the era of slow cultural transmission. With Facebook and the human interconnectedness of small towns with deeply interwoven, tribal, clan systems, the “Werther Effect” can strike with the speed of instant messaging. The risk of suicide contagion is heightened for teenagers, according to Dr. Madelyn Gould, a psychiatric epidemiologist at Columbia University. In an interview with NPR, she noted that “adolescents are intensely focused on other teenagers and imitating the behaviors of other teens.” 

Hearing voices from the past 

“The problem of the Navaho is essentially the problem of all of us — adjustment to life,” wrote Alexander and Dorothea Leighton in their 1946 book “The Navaho Door.” The book was written 80 years after Kit Carson’s scorched-earth campaign starved Navajos from their homes and their hiding places and rounded them up, then forced them to walk 300 miles to a concentration camp near Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico. Hundreds died on the way.

Contemporary Thoreau lies astride the route of that forced migration, which is rutted in Navajo collective memory. 

The first suicide in the Thoreau cluster was a 13-year-old boy who hanged himself just before Halloween 2009. The 8th-grader was failing all his subjects at the time of his death and was seeing a substance-abuse counselor. Juliana Ko, then 22, was his math teacher, working in Thoreau in her second year of the Teach for America program. “He had so much potential. That’s the thing that really frustrates me because these kids don’t know even know what they have, the difference they can make. And he could have done a lot with his life,” Ko said. 

Ko is Korean-American, but with her long, black hair and dark eyes she was often mistaken for Navajo. A Christian Scientist, she said her faith was challenged by what she experienced in Thoreau: In addition to the suicide, she had cutters in her class, gang members, soon-to-be dropouts. In her first week on the job, she caught one of her students using drugs in class. Kids came to school hungry. Many didn’t do their homework because there was no peace and quiet, or even electricity, in their homes. Almost 40 percent of Navajo reservation dwellings lack electricity. “They are our most valuable resource as a Nation, and they’re getting the shaft in so many ways,” Ko said of the children. 

Ko’s student had loved the “horror core” rap duo Insane Clown Posse — wildly popular among kids throughout the reservation — and had carved the group’s initials into his hand before hanging himself. At his funeral, friends had wrapped an ICP necklace around the boy’s wrists and hung posters with ICP lyrics near his open casket. 

Lines from Insane Clown Posse’s “Suicide Hotline” include:

It ain’t no point to me wakin’ up

Everybody's time I'm takin’ up

You don't understand, so don’t say you do

I swear I'll put a motherfuckin' slug in you

I'm the only one, the lonely one  

At home alone loadin' a gun, thinkin' why not? 

Some on the reservation, including Ko, blamed the group’s dark lyrics for kids killing themselves. Kahn-John had another take. Commiserative and clear-eyed in what seemed a good combination for disturbed teens, she brought up Insane Clown Posse unprompted.  “Kids will make a good argument as to why they are a good role model,” she said, although their music conveys a lot of gore, blood, anger. “But that’s what they are experiencing. That level of anger. That level of ugliness,” she said.

‘You started seeing the kids change’

How one sees the Western landscape very much depends on frame of reference. The unimpeded horizons and massive geologic formations of the Navajo reservation that for many inspire a sense of belonging to something much bigger, something like the cosmos, are for others suffocating, oppressive and crushingly bleak. “You know what’s wrong with New Mexico?” asks Kirk Douglas’s irascible character in Billy Wilder’s 1951 movie “Ace in the Hole,” filmed outside Gallup. “Too much outdoors!” 

Walking down a dirt road called Paradise Lane in Thoreau one afternoon was a young transgender Navajo named Skyler Payaso. She was hungover but friendly after a night in Gallup, wearing tight pink pants, her mascara and eyeliner smudged. When asked about life in Thoreau, she said, “It’s the Rez! There’s nothing around here. If you stay home, you’re going to be bored, so the only options are hang out, drink, get high. You’re going to have to amuse yourself somehow.” She knew one of the suicides and said he had killed himself at 14 because his girlfriend had sex with another guy. “They are with that emo crowd,” Payaso said. She pulled her long, platinum bangs in front of her eyes, slumped her shoulders, peered through her hair and said, “ ‘Be all sad ...’ ” As she turned to leave, she threw her arms wide and said, “This is some sad poverty.” 

Payaso’s sentiments were echoed one night at the American Bar in Gallup. The jukebox was playing George Jones’s “Things Have Gone to Pieces,” while Ron Deschinny, a Navajo and an accountant for the tribe as well as a native of Thoreau, sat at the bar nursing a Bud Light. When asked about the teen suicides, he said, “I kind of look at Thoreau as the lost misfits community. Because they’re a border town. … The forgotten. … They’re like a community that’s been left out on the outer rim of society.”

His daughter’s friend at Thoreau High School committed suicide. Deschinny suggested that to really understand why young Navajos felt alienated and hopeless, one had to read “Brave New World.” Aldous Huxley’s novel, published in 1932, describes an industrial whirligig where conformity is scientifically engineered and pharmaceutically abetted, and where consumerism is the heart that keeps everything beating. The only place not yet infected is a remote reservation somewhere in New Mexico. John the Savage, the novel’s tragic hero, is brought to “civilization” from the reservation and pressed to assimilate. It is an experiment that does not end well. 

Huxley’s hero suffered from what would today be termed “cultural dissonance,” an existential clash over values and styles of life. Daw, who left as the Navajo Nation’s health director late last year to become behavioral health administrator for the Yukon-Kokuskwim Healthcare Corporation in Bethel, Alaska, said recently that he believed that the teen suicides in Thoreau were fueled in part by an internalized clash between Navajo and mainstream culture. “It has to do with personal and cultural identity,” he said, adding that language is a “big part” of that identity. Achieving a strong sense of the personal and cultural self has only gotten more difficult. 

Dr. Peter Stuart was witness to a Navajo culture in transition, and used the phrase “cultural dissonance” frequently when talking about the problem of teen suicides on the reservation. When Stuart arrived in 1993 as a psychiatrist for the Indian Health Service, Navajo boys were wearing Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots and cowboy hats. Country music was big. But within a few years, he’d noticed a change. “You began seeing these satellite dishes sitting outside hogans,” he said, referring to the octagonal earthen and wood structures in which many Navajos live. 

 “You started seeing the kids change from kind of very rural-, country-, livestock-, powwow-, rodeo-kind-of oriented kids with a kind of local perspective to starting to adopt some of the activities and practices of people in the cities,” Stuart said. “Until you end up with the kind of incongruous picture of a dirt hogan in the middle of the desert with smoke curling out the top, no electricity coming in to it, but they have a Honda generator outside that they have hooked up so they’re watching TV.” The first direct-broadcast satellite in North America, Hughes DirecTV, went on line in 1994. Kids born around then are high-school age now.

‘These people need some hope’

In May 2010, there were more suicides in Thoreau. A 16-year-old boy hanged himself on the school basketball court. A short while later, a 16-year-old girl hanged herself in her mother’s closet. Then the girl’s 17-year-old half-brother hanged himself. 

Members of these suicide victims’ families attended Pastor Mark Mitchell’s First Baptist Church on Thoreau’s main drag. Mitchell, an Anglo, is 6-feet-4 and stands out in his cowboy hat and cross-shaped bolo tie. The 45-year-old former rodeo man and Marine came from Florida, where his congregation had been mostly poor migrant workers. When the suicides started he had been in Thoreau only a short time. Mitchell presided over the half-siblings’ funerals. When the father of the two teens tried to hang himself, Mitchell was called to the man’s home and saved his life. 

The 17-year-old suicide had just been expelled from Thoreau High School for marijuana possession and was living with his mother, brother and sister and five other relatives — nine souls total — in a two-bedroom mobile home. The boy slept in his mother’s car because he had said it was roomier than the trailer. On the night he died, he took a picture of himself with the cell phone his grandparents had given him for his birthday the week before, then apologized to his grandmother for letting her down and being kicked out of school. His grandfather found him near dawn, hanging beneath the back porch. The grandfather’s shouts awoke the rest of the family, and in the ensuing chaos, the dead boy’s sister broke away and ran outside. She watched as her uncle untangled the noose from her brother’s neck and laid him on the ground. 

Two years later, Mitchell says of the crisis that led to the medical state of emergency, “I think it rode its course, but we’re still right there on the ragged edge. I wish there was a way to wrap the story up in a nice neat bow, but the same problems are still here. There is incest. There’s alcohol. There’s drugs. These people need some hope, and they don’t have it. There’s not a way to put a bow on that.”

Focus on the family

Research has shown that, on average, every suicide deeply and dangerously affects seven people. “But in tribal communities like the Navajo, with its complex clan system, it’s probably an order of magnitude larger,” psychiatrist Stuart said. “You have the immediate family as well as the extended relatives. The impact and reverberations throughout that family network are significant.” The clan system represents an interconnectedness that kept the Navajo tribe intact for hundreds of years. Now,because suicide is so prevalent on the reservation, that interconnectedness can work against many of its members. 

Komeiko Manuelito, a Thoreau teenager, explained the clan system one afternoon. When introducing themselves, she said, Navajos commonly state their mother’s, father’s, maternal grandfather’s and paternal grandfather’s clans. “It’s Meadow People born for Bitter Water,” Komeiko said. “Then Salt Clan, which is my mom’s dad’s clan, and then Filipino, which is my dad’s dad’s clan. That’s who you are.”

Of her two sisters and a brother, she’s the most “traditional,” she said. She’s learning Navajo and likes to wear traditional dress for special occasions. Her younger sister, Keona, wore a Run-DMC T-shirt with a “V” she’d cut into the neckline. Keona rolled her eyes when talk of tradition came up, but nodded in agreement as her sister described their family.

Their father had a job at the power plant east of the town, but can no longer work steadily because of a beating that led to a permanent injury, she said. Their mother was back in school, studying for a nursing degree while also volunteering and raising four kids. A cousin committed suicide. Komeiko spoke matter-of-factly as she described her family’s travails. 

“It was hard for us, but we have a strong family,” she said. Her parents are strict, Komeiko said. “But they push us to keep going. They want us to do good.” 

And she has. After graduating from Thoreau High School, Komeiko went to Albuquerque’s Brookline Community College. She’ll graduate in December and plans to go into the medical field, like her mother.

'I know what Clorox tastes like'

Knowing someone who has killed himself or herself is one of the main risk factors for suicide. According to behavioral health counselors in Thoreau, there were two families — extended through the Navajo clan system — involved in the majority of youth suicides there. “I had it down on a flip chart to help get a picture of how this whole family was related,” said Navajo counselor T. J. Anderson. He said if the suicides weren’t clan or family, they were friends.

The ringtone on Anderson’s cell phone is the opening theme from the spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” When it rang, he smiled. Only then was it possible to see he was missing his two lower front teeth. He’d lived a hard life, beginning at the nearby Fort Wingate Indian boarding school off I-40, where he was ridiculed and punished for speaking English with a strong Navajo accent. “I know what Clorox tastes like,” Anderson said. In what he described as a misguided effort to protect his own children from the fate he’d met at boarding school, Anderson didn’t teach them Navajo. 

His daughter, while a student at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., sent Anderson a paper she’d written about her upbringing. “She said, ‘I yearn to learn the language, the songs, the traditions. The essence of Dine spirituality, the essence of our existence, from my grandma. But how can I, when I cannot speak nor understand the language?’ … I didn’t want them to be teased like the way I was teased and picked on,” Anderson said. “I sat there and read it, and as I was reading, slowly come to realize I had become a perpetrator. I had become a warrior for the government. This is what the government set out to do back in 1868: Take the culture, the identity, the language, the ceremony, the way of life of the Navajo people, assimilate us. … I neglected and abused and abandoned my daughter.”

School-based prevention takes shape

Anderson had worked at nearby Gallup, New Mexico’s detox center for 14 years, beginning in 1983. He and Daw started one of the country’s first Native-based rehabilitation programs at the center, using traditional Navajo ceremonies and sweat lodges to treat their mostly Indian population in Gallup. The program was recognized nationally for its success.

Anderson was drafted by Daw to be a part of Thoreau’s Unified Command Incident Management team, set up in June 2010 after the emergency was declared. Anderson referred to himself as a “student of traditional medicine” — rejecting the label “medicine man” — and said he knew from experience what it’s like to be an angry and alienated young Navajo: He had been one of them. Anderson said that “spiritual and emotional starvation” led to the Thoreau teenagers’ deaths. 

Daw believes that the reason there have been no teen suicides in Thoreau in 2012 is due, in part, to the programs put in place after the emergency declaration. Daw and his team targeted Thoreau High School. “That’s where the work needed to happen,” he said. “We focused on school-based prevention and intervention and also invited elders in to talk about Navajo cultural practices … The programs had some good impact.”

Daw said many young Navajos “live lives of chronic anxiety, depression and anger, and make the decision to end their lives because they just don’t want to be that way anymore. … Almost everyone in Navajo society has bought into the market economy as a way to live. When you do that, these measuring sticks become valuable. Not just important but valuable as a way to identify ourselves. ‘Oh, I live in poverty, and my family makes less than $6,000 a year. I don’t add up, and according to the American way of doing things, I’m really close to useless.’ ” 

Daw — whose replacement to head Navajo Behavioral Health has yet to named — described what he said to teenagers when he traveled the reservation during the state of emergency. “I asked, ‘How many of you are looking to get a job when you graduate?’ It didn’t matter if it was in the heartland of Navajo or one of the border towns. It was 100 percent. In order to keep up with the Joneses, and surpass them — it’s going to be harder than hell doing it here. I told them: ‘OK. No. 1, finish high school. No. 2, go to college. No. 3, get a job off the reservation.’ ” 

 “That’s reality today, not five years from now,” he said, with more sadness than anger. After a pause he added that his forthrightness would probably get him into trouble. “That’s what ticks people off when I say those things, because Navajo culture, you’re talking about the future. And if we’re going to save lives, we’ve got to save lives today.”

The way forward for the Navajo is murky. As a practical matter, much that is regarded as Navajo today was perfected in the process of modifying what was introduced from elsewhere: Silversmithing and sheep-herding came from the Spanish, for instance. Legend says Spider Woman taught the Navajos how to weave, but so did the Pueblo Indians. 

Navajos have always been innovators. Those Navajo rugs may point to a way forward, in fact. In Thoreau’s pawnshops and trading posts and stalls at the flea market, one can see intricate patterns in the rugs. On many of them, a clearly visible woven line runs to their outside edge. Most tourists see this incongruous line as a flaw, but it is there on purpose. The patterns created by the Navajo weaver possess so much of her power that an escape route is required. It’s called a “spirit line,” and it allows the weaver, in essence, to repossess herself, to get her animating force back. Because the rugs are woven on a loom, with vertical warps and horizontal wefts, the patterns also look digitalized, and strangely modern. Those bitmapped designs, centuries old, fit our digital age and suggest the possibility that even those whose reality has become pixilated can read and absorb their meaning. These future-primitive messages are for Navajo teenagers as much as anyone, presenting in metaphor a way to breathe power back into themselves — to be “inspired” in the strict sense of the word.

As opportunities shrink and obstacles mount for young Navajos, inspiration is invaluable — and not just on the reservation. When asked recently whether Thoreau was out of danger, Daw was quiet for a long time before he answered. Finally, he said, “I don’t think any community is.”

Rebuilding Thoreau

Ko, the teacher whose 13-year-old student was the first suicide, finished out the 2010 school year at Thoreau Middle School. Her last class project was called Rebuilding Thoreau. Encouraging her students to use algebra and geometry, Ko introduced the themes of architecture, renewable energy and city planning. She separated the class into teams and tasked them with building to scale the community they wanted to live in. 

One team built a factory to make Monster energy drinks. Another had day care and different social services. One had a big hotel, complete with a swimming pool on the roof. The model that most impressed Ko, however, had solar panels on every building. “This was an inclusion class, and they had some low math skills, but they just took off with this project,” she said. The students even had a shop that sold solar panels, ands all the projects had parks and green spaces.

“That inspired me because the [kids] deserved those things,” said Ko. “They deserved a place to go after school if they didn’t want to go home to a dysfunctional situation. A place to do homework!” Partly inspired by these cardboard dreams, Ko decided to leave teaching and start the Thoreau Community Center. The center’s grand opening was in November 2010. It was attended by a medicine man who blessed the building with songs and corn pollen; grade schoolers singing in Navajo; and Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly, a Thoreau native.

Later, when asked why his hometown had seen so many self-inflicted deaths, Shelly said he wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know what’s going on here,” he said. “You’ll see a kid walking down the road. You see a lot of them here. They hang around, and that’s how things get started. I know the unemployment is high. What is it, that we’re so close to I-40? Is it that we go to the new casino?”

The next chapter

In 2011, a year after opening the community center, Juliana Ko returned to Florida to be near her family and boyfriend, but she continues to direct the center via telephone and Skype. And the center continues to be influential. One student has given up self-mutilation and begun typing and printing her poetry on the Community Center’s computers. She decorated each page with computer-generated art and kept them in a bright red folder in her backpack. 

October 2011 was the two-year anniversary of the first suicide, and the last Friday of that month was homecoming at Thoreau High School, complete with a parade that began near the cemetery. The entire route was lined with pickups and cars parked side to side, their headlights aimed toward the street. People sat on the hoods and waved at friends and family. Young women running for Homecoming Queen or Princess paraded by. Kimberly Johnson wore four-inch heels and a zebra-print strapless dress. Her bangs cut across her forehead like a Navajo Cleopatra, and she was perched on the roof of a Ford pickup, waving to the crowd in the perfect polish-a-light-bulb hand gesture of a beauty-pageant contestant. Raelene Charley, dressed traditionally in a long broom skirt and velveteen top, rode a horse and flung Halloween candy to the crowd from her saddlebag. Her hair was pulled back with white cloth in a figure-eight-shaped bun. She rocked her Navajo bling: a squash-blossom necklace, long loops of turquoise earrings, inlaid bracelets and a silver concho belt. 

It looked like the entire population of Thoreau was out to celebrate. Beyond, it is true, car tires dotted roofs, placed atop mobile homes as weights to keep the sheet metal from blowing off in the wind. Kids in the skate park were getting high and ignoring the festivities. The material facts and the presence of absence persisted, like T. S. Eliot’s shadows under his red rocks, like his “Wasteland.” Yet today, at least, the usually colorless street had life. 

The young man at the head of the parade, Tyrell Platero, carried the green banner of the Thoreau Hawks. He had known all 15 teenagers who had committed suicide in 2009 and 2010. Platero, a self-professed science nerd, sung in Navajo with his grandfather during the Grand Opening blessing ceremony. He remained on the Community Center's board of directors until enrolling in the Calvary of Albuquerque School of Ministry.

But some kids in the parade were unrecognizable. Their faces hidden by Halloween masks, they could have been anyone. 

 

This version corrects Tyrell Platero's post-high school plans and standing on the board.

This story was funded in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Passing Thoreau

Stories in this investigation

Multimedia

About the author

Marilyn Berlin Snell