Published in Bear's Lair section of My Town web magazine:


UPDATE: On February 19 2009, a just released plea agreement states the boy is guilty of one count of negligent homicide.  He won't go to a state penal institution -- but could spend some time in some sort of county facility and will likely undergo extensive psychiatric treatment.
Sometime today, the eight year old boy at St. Johns, Arizona alleged to have shot and killed his father and his father's friend with his .22 rifle, will have his first court appearance -- and all indications are that he'll be charged with premeditated first degree murder. The draconian nature of this version of criminal justice in the case of a third grader has surprised much of the country -- but, although it did cause me to lift an eyebrow, I can't say I am all that surprised. [When I was a kid, it took two years for thinking people at Flagstaff to get a padded cell at our local hospital for those especially challenged in the mental sense.]

Apache County is Arizona's longest county and covers much of the state's far northeast. Arizona, a very large state, of course, has only 15 counties. Until fairly recently, it had only 14 -- but a new one was carved out on the state's western edge along the Colorado River. The three northeastern counties -- Coconino, Navajo, and Apache -- are huge geographically and include much of the vast Navajo Nation [which is bigger than the state of West Virginia]. Coconino is my home county and, depending on with whom you speak, is either the biggest geographically or the second biggest in the United States. Our list members may recall that only a few days before this tragedy at Apache's St Johns, I posted on the fact that a Navajo sheriff had just been elected in Apache County -- a truly historic breakthrough and a testimonial to the '65 Voting Rights Act and the great determination of the Dine' [Dineh] people.

St. Johns is far south of Apache County's Navajo country. It's a small town, county seat -- no more than four thousand folks in and close around it. Originally pretty much a Mormon settlement, it's now more diverse and has several churches, including a Catholic one which has involved the members of the tragedy family. It's not at all unusual for smaller boys in the rural and small town West to get their first rifle early on. I had my first .22 Winchester when I was seven -- but did have plenty of all around adult supervision. And I've done likewise with some of my offspring. [This may horrify some people -- but that's Our Way and, if this troubles you, well, enjoy your horrification. Most of us have never been accused of shooting our parents.]

St. Johns, heavily dependent on livestock -- cattle, sheep, horses and an occasional tourist -- is on the edge of the White Mountains. It's in those that the Little -- Little -- Colorado River heads and it's much around the St. Johns region. Sometime in the 1880s, a man named John Brewer came down from Colorado with his Ute Indian wife and children, driving a wagon and some extra horses. Mr Brewer was one of three survivors of the Lost Adams Diggings situation. Everyone else had been sent into Eternity by the Apaches who were understandably upset when the Americans violated an agreement not to intrude into a sacred Apache area in the gold canyon. Of the three survivors, one disappeared soon after he was found. His co-survivor and fellow traveler, Adams, leader of the ill-fated expedition, spent the rest of his life searching fruitlessly for the lost canyon and its considerable treasure. He was always impaired by his total lack of any cogent sense of direction. Escaping by himself and rescued by friendly Indians, John Brewer eventually wound up in Colorado and his account of the gold hunting expedition, the initially friendly contacts with the Apaches, and the other subsequent happenings is clear, detailed, and admirably lucid -- given the fact that this was all totally unmapped turf. Years later, in describing some of the geography he had noted in the general gold canyon setting and per his own escape, Brewer was told that that was similar to the country around what is now St. Johns. So he came into that setting, stayed at the Tenney ranch, and searched -- and found nothing. Today, the name Brewer is found around the region but I don't know if there is any relationship to the long ago searcher.

Like hundreds of others, I have -- as I've noted -- my own idea of the whereabouts of the Lost Adams Diggings and I can say that "my idea" definitely includes geography that's extremely similar to that around St. Johns -- as well as some other pertinent landmarks given by the intrepid Brewer. [I could say much more but, of course, I won't.]

The circumstances involving this contemporary kid's alleged murders remain extremely murky and provocative. His family was split, his father had custody of him, and the mother had recently paid them a visit from Mississippi. Lots to think about, much on which to speculate. We'll be hearing a great deal more in due course for sure. I personally hope that, whatever the circumstances, the kid gets a fair deal. My hopeful hunch is that sensible and sensitive public opinion in Arizona especially will force at least some approximation of that.

I've never really thought much over the years about St. Johns. As towns go, it's nothing special. But I have a strange memory of the place -- 'way back in my own time, a little more than 48 years ago. It was mid-May, 1960, and I was on my way with my coyote, Good, to the District Ranger Station at Alpine, Arizona -- Apache National Forest. There I was due to embark on the journey south via rough road and then, accompanied by a mule skinner packing my groceries and other things, the very, very long mule trail 'way 'way up to spend the whole summer as fire lookout on Bear Mountain -- the most remote lookout in all of Arizona.

And with no other humans anywhere around me in that most pleasant and extremely vast wilderness region.

On the way to Alpine, I entered St. John's, smaller then than now -- but not much. Dusty side streets, hitching posts and water troughs for horses, small town businesses. A few folks on the slim sidewalks. I had no sooner gotten into the town when I noticed an old rattle-trap junker pickup following me, damn near bumper-to-bumper. My earned paranoia was diluted somewhat when I saw the two women in its cab.

I am often mistaken, for better or worse, for "someone" that "someone knows." I should also add that I'm often followed around department stores by people whose business it is to grab shoplifters. [I assure All reading this that I am Not and never have been a shoplifter.]

But back in that day, I couldn't figure out what those two women were up to. I've always believed in meeting challenges directly. So when I reached the far edge of the little town, I pulled over, told my coyote buddy I'd be right back, and stepped out. They disembarked. One, with a sack slung over her shoulder, was a heavy woman with a lined Southwestern face. The other, not unattractive by any means, appeared to be her daughter. There was a rather drab quality about each.

Levi-clad and with boots, I was wearing my brown, wide-brimmed Stetson, molded somewhat to my taste and by rough weather. [It was five years old then and I still occasionally wear it to this very day.] In traditional rural Southwestern fashion, I touched its front brim and, reverting momentarily to my early Teen Explorer Scout days, asked,

"Can I do something for you good ladies?"

The response was a little stunning. "Would you buy one of our newspapers?", the older woman asked with a kind of intensity.

"A newspaper?" I exclaimed. "Well, sure," said I. And so she pulled one out of her sack.

It was a quarter. I gave her a dollar bill, and she laboriously counted out the change.

Then, without another word, they got back into their pickup and turned around in a dusty whirl. I got into my vehicle, glanced at the paper -- just a regular small town Western weekly: water rights, mostly family news, church doings, a few business ads, a few classifieds.

I was on top of Bear Mountain some hours later [with the paper]. And, as I've indicated before, my great little coyote eventually left home to get married. When the summer was over, I was on my way to Wisconsin for my first college teaching job -- and Eldri -- and then to Mississippi and far beyond.

I kept the paper, oddly, for months -- well into Wisconsin. Then I finally tossed it. I've passed through St. Johns a number of times in the years since. But I never saw the two women again.

So when I do think of St. John's, I always think of those two -- and their somewhat innovative salespersonship -- and I do hope that that little paper continues to function. The journalism business has been having a rough row to hoe these days.

But now, when I think of St. Johns, I hope that, whatever the circumstances, that little kid gets a truly square deal.

Yes, it is a strange place.

And that kid is one of the least and one of the littlest of our brethren.

Hunter [Hunter Bear]
Geetings, Hunter Bear.
Thank you, for shining some light on the tragedy in St. Johns.  I was rather disappointed with the dispassionate reports, two as I recall, viewed through the eye of the boob-tube.  Although there are intelligent folks behind the scenes, all too often concern, passion and clarity, as well as a measure of intelligence ... is missing. 
I hope it will cause you no grief, that I have forwarded your commentary to members of my family whom it is my belief, will value your words. . .
Please accept my personal best wishes to you, and your family.  Be well.


I can not imagine how they treat children these days under the legal system.
In McMinville Oregon, some girls and boys were playing "catch a feel" and when the boy touched the girls dress known to hold her breasts, he was charged with FELONY SEXUAL ASSAULT, all of 13.
Rather stupid folks, glad we have an Obama, hope a whole lot of folks and institutions, no longer functional, wanted or needed will find they hvae no tax dollars and go away.



Hey Hunter,

Thanks for the article.  That incident with the 8 year old the .22 is crazy- more poverty and mental imbalance?  for an 8 year old?  That must be the four corners area where the Hansa virus was popping up?  Or is that south of there?  Same poverty, though, I would imagine...I just looked at what you wrote again- same story of little to no social services- lassez faire malign capitalist neglect...chaos by design.... .




Here's a neat spoof that says much (I point out that it's a spoof
because the person who sent it to me thought it was for real).

- Reber Boult
November 10, 2008

Are Prosecutors Really Seeking Death Penalty Against 8-Year Old Boy?
by Geoff Mousseau

Prosecutors from Texas, Oklahoma and Florida are offering their services
to seek the death penalty against an 8-year old boy in Arizona accused
of 2 counts of premeditated murder. According to their spokesman, "the
death penalty is the ultimate deterrent and we want to stop this trend
of children murdering adults." The spokesman, who spoke under condition
of anonymity, also said that they are actively recruiting prosecutors
from other states to join with them.

This may turn out to be a watershed issue for death penalty advocates.
"There is no limit to the deterrent effect of the death penalty," noted
another of the prosecutors, "this is an efficient and effective tool
that should be used to stop crimes like this." The group resurrected
their explanation that violent video games and rap music lyrics are
probably to blame for the decision by the young boy to kill. Arizona
officials are already seeking to try the child as an adult while they
investigate the child´s actual motive.

The group of prosecutors also cited a growing trend of children killers:
"We are very concerned that young boys in particular are among the
fastest growing segment of murderers." Their statistics show that,
although the rate of murder in this country is rising very slowly, the
number of children under 10 who are accused of murder has grown
considerably. "This boy is the third child under 10 to be accused of a
double homicide this year, compared with only 1 last year," they said.

This 300% increase is not only alarming, they claim, but supports their
argument that the failure to use the death penalty in these cases
actually is encouraging youth to kill. They reason that the increase is
due to the fact that the death penalty was not sought against the first
child charged with murder. According to their spokesman, if the death
penalty had been sought in the first case, then the others would clearly
been deterred.

One of the prosecutors also noted the fact that this child was living in
a home with two people of the same sex. "A marriage is between a man and
a woman … look what happens when we allow the sanctity of a marriage to
be disregarded." Arizona officials have not reported on whether there
was a relationship between the two victims.

Death penalty opponents are obviously appalled by the thought of
charging this boy as an adult, much less seeking the death penalty in
this case. "This child needs to be hugged for as long as it takes to
begin his healing process," said a noted death penalty opponent who also
requested anonymity. Statements from other anonymous opponents included:
"We need to use this case as an example of our desire to begin to change
our society," and "punishment is not the best solution to every problem."

Death penalty opponents also questioned why this child had access to a
rifle. "Statistics clearly establish the fact that guns in homes are
much more likely to be used to harm family members than an intruder."
These opponents want to use this case to demonstrate the risk to
children and others when guns are kept in the home. "The question is
whether we have finally hit bottom, both in terms of what is going on in
our society and how we are going to respond to these tragedies."

When asked about the comment that the victims were of the same sex, the
death penalty opponent was rendered speechless.

The child remains in jail in Arizona.
Well, thanks, I guess, Reber.  Fortunately you have a very finely tuned and realistic eye and ear on these issues and their nuances -- but the fact that Anyone could believe [and I can believe many would and did] the brutal prosecutorial dimension of this little satire stands as an indictment of just how far down our country has actually sunk into the primeval muck.  And it's done so without taking on any of the gracious blessings and benefits of the [to use Audubon's term] "perfection of primitiveness".
Yours, Hunter



Part of his interrogation is online now. I'm quite amazed that an 8 year boy can be interrogated by two police officers without an attorney around.
What's your thoughts?



Good to hear from you, Loki.  My thoughts are the same as yours on this lawyer-absent televised and publicized "interrogation."   By any yardsticks, none of this could be used in any court. Initially, at his first court appearance, the kid was in handcuffs and shackles -- but the judge ended that.  With speculation and various possibilities still flying to the Four Directions, we'll have to wait to get some sense, hopefully a substantial one, of the truth.  He's obviously a victim of Something.
You sound fine.  We hear from Joan, the intrepid World Traveler, with regularity.  Not much exciting news from here.  Thomas is completing his 4th year of Med School [Minneapolis] and is lining up a residency in internal medicine and psychiatry.  Josie and Cameron are having a baby in May.
Everything else is about the same -- though I'm getting bored.
Take care, amigo, and keep up your fine creative work -- and your fine work in personal family management as well.
Our very best from all of us,
H or J


There continues to be considerable media coverage, relatively fair in thrust, of the St Johns, Arizona, shootings of earlier this month, and the 8 year old third grader alleged to be the perpetrator -- and, in the last day or two, clips from a video taped "interrogation" of the boy carried out by local law enforcement authorities. Containing obvious contradictions and suggestive adult prompting, this little proceeding is being widely questioned across the country from both ethical and legal perspectives. CNN's roundup on that score is pretty good and I attach it here.

In the meantime, speculation is rife from all directions about Whatever really happened and why. The kid is being examined by psychiatrists and we will likely hear more in the fairly near future.

I'm especially interested in this, not only from a criminal justice/due process perspective, but also because I know the town of St Johns somewhat -- and am quite familiar with the immediate regional setting.

In the matter of the FLDS polygamists -- now well vindicated by the rulings of the Texas appellate courts and by a good deal of public opinion as well -- I did post consistently and in interpretative fashion. I know their "land and people and culture" -- which were initially grossly misrepresented by virtually all mainline media in this country. Those bizarre characterizations continued for weeks. So I was happy to do what I could to present the polygamists and their beliefs in a reasonably informed fashion. These efforts of mine fell on essentially objective ears on virtually all discussion lists -- especially as time and the situation went on.

In this case, I won't be posting consistently. Like most folks around the country, I don't know the particulars regarding the people directly involved nor the specifics of the killings. So I'm waiting.

But I do want, as I've said before, for that 8 year old to get a square deal. Left solely to the people of St Johns, do I think he'll get that?

I have to say, No.

I do have much more faith in the various public and private systems conveying the feelings of Arizonians in the state as a whole.

Our webpage on this Apache County tragedy with my original post and a sampling of subsequent comments can be found at:

Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]


I saw the interrogation tape on CNN and thought it was outrageous. Most, if not all, states require that a parent be present while interrogating an eight-year-old child. Here the two uniformed policewomen clearly broke him down until the eight year old finally said, "I think I shot Tom," etc. What you see is a microcosm of the classic coerced confession technique used routinely on adult suspects, but only occasionally repudiated by the courts. When are the American people going to wake up to this kind of abuse?
Steven F. McNichols
268 Bush Street, #3602
San Francisco, CA 94104-3503
Dear Judge Grimsley: As a retired attorney, I was shocked when I saw CNN's
broadcast of the recent interrogation two St. Johns police officers
conducted with an eight-year-old third-grader about the murder of his father
and another adult in his home. I'm not familiar with Arizona's constitution
and statutes, but I assume some safeguards should be provided when a young
child is interrogated such as the right to counsel, having a parent present,
etc. The California penal code leaves much to be desired, but throwing young
children to the wolves isn't one of them. This is a classic example of a
coerced confession, which finally caused the young boy to say "I think" he
killed them. Forgive me if my email has a self-righteous air, but I'm
outraged by that interrogation tape as, I'm sure, many others are. Arizona
is a wonderful state. You can do better.

Steven F. McNichols
268 Bush Street, #3602
San Francisco, CA 94104-3503

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