Murder Of Teen Sheds Light On World Of Street Youth | KUOW News and Information

Murder Of Teen Sheds Light On World Of Street Youth

Nov 7, 2013
Originally published on November 8, 2013 12:38 pm

In Washington state, an upcoming murder trial involving street youth in Olympia is scheduled to begin.

The case has revealed a street culture where adults and teenagers live by their own rules – sometimes with tragic consequences. It is reminiscent of the dystopia imagined in “Lord of the Flies.”

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network reports.

Reporter

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ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

In Washington State, a murder trial involving street kids is scheduled to get underway early next year. The case has revealed a "Lord of the Flies"-like underworld in the state capital, Olympia. It involves a street culture where adults and teens live by their own rules, sometimes with tragic consequences. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network has our story.

AUSTIN JENKINS, BYLINE: Olympia Police Lieutenant Paul Lower leads me through a blackberry bramble-covered trail to the scene of the crime.

LIEUTENANT PAUL LOWER: So this is the general area right in here.

JENKINS: It's a trash-strewn, former homeless camp along Interstate 5 and East Olympia. It's here that last October, a 17-year-old named Forest Snow Bailey, who went by the street name Sonic, was stabbed to death.

LOWER: They ended up, in the end, trying to hide what they did by burning the victim's body in a barrel out here.

JENKINS: Police found the burned remains and quickly arrested a prime suspect who was 19 at the time: Christopher Lee Harrison, known as Skitzo on the streets of Olympia. Two alleged accomplices, Red and Discord, were also arrested. Jessica Alf was in drug rehab when she got the news.

JESSICA ALF: And I got a call saying that Skitzo had killed Sonic. And I flipped out.

JENKINS: Alf, who goes by the street name Joker, knew both young men. For her, the murder felt like a crime within the family.

ALF: And it is. It's a street family. We're tight.

JENKINS: Alf is a longtime client of Community Youth Services in Olympia where Charles Shelan is CEO. He says it's common for runaways and other disaffected youth to replace the family they ran away from with a street family.

CHARLES SHELAN: And they will normally call other people their brothers or their mother, or their father, but they won't be biologically related to them whatsoever. And sometimes that's really - can be very positive, and sometimes it can be a disaster as well.

JENKINS: On the streets of Washington's capital city, you can also find more formal alliances. Jessica Alf, Joker, is 22. She identifies herself as a juggalo. That's the name given to followers of the Detroit-based rap group Insane Clown Posse.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IS A JUGGALO?")

INSANE CLOWN POSSE: (Singing) What is a juggalo? I don't know, but I'm down with the clown and I'm down for life, yo. What is a juggalo?

ALF: We watch each other's back. We are always with each other. I don't know if you've ever heard around the street we say, whoop, whoop, which means I can.

PATRICK O'CONNOR: These kids are living outside the bounds of what we would consider society, I guess.

JENKINS: Patrick O'Connor is a public defender who represents the man accused of committing last fall's homeless camp murder. O'Connor won't talk about this specific case, but he says, over the years, he's defended dozens of young adults living on the streets of Olympia.

O'CONNOR: What we've seen is that they, in a way, are forming their own society with a kind of a hierarchy of members where some people have some authority in a community to set rules and the younger members follow the rules.

JENKINS: O'Connor allows it's a little like William Golding's classic novel-turned-movie "Lord of the Flies."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LORD OF THE FLIES")

GARY RULE: (as Roger) Halt. Who goes there?

BALTHAZAR GETTY: (as Ralph) Don't be stupid. You know who we are. We've brought the conch, and I'm calling an assembly.

JENKINS: It's not just Olympia. Street youth are fixtures in small cities across the Pacific Northwest. In Olympia's Thurston County, more than a third of the homeless are 25 and under. That doesn't count the young faces you see on the street during the day, but who couch-surf at night.

Olympia especially seems to be a magnet for street youth. It's a funky, liberal town, home to The Evergreen State College where alternative feels like the mainstream. There's also a myth about the city's downtown artesian water fountain. If you drink from it, you'll never leave Olympia.

JAMES: It's the water. That's what it is. It's the artesian well water. I blame it on that.

JENKINS: James is a 22-year-old graffiti artist from Tillamook, Oregon. I found him in a graffiti-covered alleyway less than a mile from the state capital. When I pressed James about why he was really here, this is what he told me.

JAMES: I feel like it's just really easy to get by here with no struggle, you know? Like we've got places that give us food, clothing when we need it, shelter if we really do need it. There's places you can go. I mean, there's ordinances where you can't sit on the streets, but, you know, there's ways to abide by that where you don't get bothered.

JENKINS: Several of the youth I spoke with said they feel safer in a smaller city like Olympia than in, say, Portland or Seattle. But they also complained that trust within the street family has broken down recently, mostly because of rampant drug abuse - meth and heroin.

Police say they've seen more violence, too. Charles Shelan at Community Youth Services says last fall's homeless camp murder was a galvanizing event. In response, he secured emergency funding to open a seasonal, 10-bed overnight shelter.

SHELAN: We know if that young man would have had a safe place to stay and chosen to stay there, he would be alive today.

JENKINS: That murder hit especially close to home for Shelan and his staff. Court records indicate the accused, Christopher Harrison, was one of their clients. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia, Washington.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Well, a quick check now on another story we're following. The biggest storm of the year is bearing down on the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan is getting stronger as it approaches land, with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. Thousands of people have been evacuated, and the president of the Philippines has warned people to leave high-risk areas where the storm surge could reach 23 feet.

Joining us on the line is Erik Pindrock from accuweather.com. Erik, looking at the images, the satellite images, it is just incredible. How big is this storm, and when is it expected to hit?

ERIK PINDROCK: Yes. Super Typhoon Haiyan is a massive storm. It's about 1,000 miles in diameter, which would be the equivalent of going from about Denver, Colorado, to Indianapolis, Indiana, comparing it here to the U.S. But we're within about four to six hours of this thing making landfall across the central Philippines. The center of the storm is going to go just to the south of Manila, and where the population center is located at the Philippines. But still, destructive winds and storm surges are expected here as we go into the next several hours.

Again, we can see wind speeds of 75 to 125 miles per hour sustained, with gusts past 160 miles per hour near the point of landfall, as you alluded to earlier, a destructive storm surge of at least 20 feet near the point of land fall, which again, can really cause destruction near the coast. And on top of that, we could see six to 12 inches of rainfall with locally higher amounts as this super-typhoon barrels through the Philippines.

Just some stats here: the central pressure is down to 895 millibars. And it is essentially the strongest typhoon that we've seen since about 1979, when we saw Typhoon Tip back - so, several decades ago. So we are talking about a powerhouse of a storm. And after the hitting the Philippines tonight into Friday, we're going to be watching the storm as it makes a track towards Vietnam.

HOBSON: That's Erik Pindrock, forecaster with accuweather.com. Thanks so much. We'll keep monitoring that storm. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.