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News & Views - Feb, 1997 Issue #44


By: Mike Weland (208) 267-3856
for: The Kootenai Valley Times
(Continued from Woodbury Reports #43 - December 1996) 

The death of Cedar Ackley-Pfenning and a tenuous link with friends not involved in the heady lifestyle on Camp Nine Road are all that saved another young girl from what she is now only beginning to see as a wretched fate. Her name will remain anonymous. “It’s a whole different life up there,” she said, “Its like,” ‘this is your family, these are your friends, the people who love you and will look out for you.’ Everybody watches out for everybody, and it feels good to be part of that. It’s a good place if you run away, because no cops go up there and no one brothers you. They promise you a place to go.’ The lifestyle she describes at the end of Camp Nine Road sounds, at first, idyllic, but rapidly descends into darkness. She admits her motives were self-destructive. 

“I have people who care for me, but I didn’t want their care or concern,” she said, “I figured that if I pissed them off enough, ran away enough, they’d let me go.” Thankfully, she said they didn’t. Yet it’s still hard for her to see the true peril she was in. “While I was there, it was nice,” she said. “We played, picked berries. There were about 15 people up there, kids and adults, and there was no pressure. I wasn’t there long, but no one told you what to do. There was no running water, no electricity. Everybody bathed in the creek. The girls could go topless if they wanted to, and not worry about it. There were drugs, but there wasn’t any pressure if that’s not what you wanted.” 

Via wasn’t often there, she said, normally leaving early in the morning and returning late at night. Still, everyone there called the camp “Via’s place.” While there, she said, she, too, was offered a new identity, more maturity and a good job in Portland. “I wondered what the job would be,” she said. “They said I could stay with friends there while I found a job. I figured with a new ID that showed I was older, a job wouldn’t be that hard to find.” She said she wants to be a counselor, or a flight attendant. Adults who know her, care about her and look forward to her achieving her true potential firmly believe that, had she not gotten away from there, the life she would have found in Portland would have been far different from the one she envisioned. Instead of becoming a flight attendant, they think, she’d have joined the thousands of nameless, faceless youths drawn into desperate lives of child prostitution. While she said she never had sex at Via’s, she said she has little doubt that others, her age and younger, did. “It didn’t seem that big a deal.” she said. 

Cedar, too, had been an occasional runaway, fleeing home at least twice in the year prior to his death. He, too, according to people who knew him, had fled occasionally to Via’s place. On August 4, the day after he was allegedly murdered over an unpaid debt of less than $200.00 for marijuana and a week before his body was found, Cedar was again listed a runaway by his parents. This time, however, there would be no return. In testimony during the preliminary hearing of the accused killer, age 18, a witness said that hours before she last saw Cedar alive she saw the accused killer give another man an undisclosed amount of money. Not long after, she saw this same man give the accused a bag of marijuana. That evening she heard the accused talk about killing Cedar for “ripping me off,” then saw Cedar and the accused depart on a “drunken stumble through the woods.” Less than a week later, Cedar’s body was found. It was Cedar’s death, the young girl who had briefly stayed at Via’s said, that was the catalyst that set her thinking, and while discussing his death with friends from earlier days she began to realize that the freedom and promises of her new life might be false. I don’t know that it was any one thing that made me come home, to see what was going on, but a lot of little things.” she said. “I did a lot of thinking after Cedar died, and being up there began making less and less sense.” Home now, her heart goes out to the circumstance Sarah is in. “I’m happy she’s safe,”, she said, “I hope she stays safe.” The life Sarah longs to return to, she said , is seductive. 

The problem isn’t confined to Camp Nine Road. Numerous times, police have been called to Circle K, to the pay phone outside where many kids have been heard ordering drugs. Again, the name heard most by customers and employees is “Via.” It’s ridiculous that this is going on,” said one employee. “I’ve gone out there and have heard kids as young as nine or ten years old asking for Via and ordering drugs, and I’ve stepped around the building and smelled their pot. I’ve had customers come in and report it. I don’t know why we have to put up with this.”

Police can do little unless they actually catch the juveniles with marijuana or other drugs, and in most cases the kids are alert enough to part with the evidence before the police arrive. Because of laws that protect juveniles, not from those who would take advantage of them but from their parents and from those who enforce the law, proof must be absolutely positive before any action can be taken. Other than ask kids to leave, to offer the child a free ride home properly documented with dispatch, in most cases there is little an officer can do. Hearsay, rumor and second-hand reports do not constitute probable cause of evidence that can be used to prompt a search or bring charges. “Sure, I’d like to see this sort of thing stopped,” said sheriffs deputy George Voyles, who took Sarah into custody, “but law enforcement officers have a strict set of rules they have to work under. Sarah’s case is under investigation to see if a crime has been committed. If there has, we’ll gather evidence and give it to the prosecuting attorney. That’s all I can say at this time.” Among those who’ve found haven at the place on Camp Nine Road, there is a code of silence, a strong loyalty to protect “family” and a lingering fear that lasts long for those who leave the camp. “Yeah, I know what goes on up there,” one young man said. “But I sure as hell won’t tell you.” That code makes it even more difficult to legally break through the veil of secrecy, to get at the heart of the cancer. Until that veil is ripped aside, however, and until the community fully faces the disease gnawing at our most vital resource, the cancer will continue to spread and children on the edge will continue to succumb to lives short on future. 

(The above is the 2nd part of an article that recently appeared in a local paper in Bonners Ferry, Boundary County, a small rural community in North Idaho. Via’s Place sounds like many places throughout the nation where children can escape from responsibility, support, and those who love them, and find adults who will help them escape from accountability in the name of freedom and children’s rights. Since this article was originally published, to help Sarah and her parents, the Catherine Freer wilderness program, 541-926-7252, granted her a generous scholarship. The results were positive, and she is now in a long term follow-up program. Woodbury Reports Inc. Is also helping create a FUND FOR STRUGGLING TEENS to help other out-of-control teens in Boundary County. -Lon).

Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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