Skyline Neighborhood Responds Quickly to Disappearance of Second-Grader
Please call the Multnomah Co. Sheriff's Office tip line (503) 261-2847 if you have any information to report regarding Kyron Horman.
By Miles Merwin
On June 4, 2010, second-grader Kyron Horman of Sheltered Nook Road did not come home on the bus after participating in a morning science fair at his school, Skyline Elementary. The school and law enforcement, including police, sheriff and FBI, immediately became involved. Search and rescue teams mounted an extensive search of the surrounding area and also parts of Sauvie Island. The major search effort lasted more than 10 days and was one of the largest in state history, involving over 1,300 people from Oregon, Washington and California. As of late November, 2010, the investigation by law enforcement and the search for Kyron are still active and his whereabouts remain unknown.
This frightening and heart-wrenching disappearance has weighed most heavily on Kyron’s family, but also on the staff, students and parents at Skyline School and the community at large. This has been a difficult and trying experience for the Skyline area. We have been under intense scrutiny by the local and national media, and false and misleading stories about our school and our neighborhood have circulated. Parents, students, and school staff have been interviewed, and often re-interviewed by law enforcement. However, rather than becoming paralyzed by fear, school parents and neighborhood residents responded quickly with an outpouring of generous support and concern…for Kyron’s family, for school staff, for fellow neighbors and parents, and for the amazing men and women who appeared by the hundreds to search for Kyron.
The staff at Skyline, including principal Ben Keefer and school secretary Susan Hall, met one of the worst situations a school could face with an unwavering commitment to the children of Skyline. They provided the students, in the last remaining days of the school year, with a complex mixture of continuity and normality combined with an acknowledgement of the unexplainable. Their caring professionalism in the face of this tragedy – not allowing their own emotions to get in the way of serving the kids - was an example that helped many Skyline parents manage their grief in the early days after Kyron’s disappearance. As always, they have our community’s full support and appreciation.
There were many people who gave donations and/or long hours of volunteer time to help support the search and rescue effort in a variety of ways. SRN received over $3500 in cash donations which were given to the search and rescue support fund. SRN helped broadcast the call for non-monetary donations and other factual information on the Newsline and website. Neighbors and area residents contacted local merchants for food donations and dropped off a huge amount of food, water, and other items at Brooks Hill Church and the Skyline Grange which were then taken to the search and rescue command center at the county facility on Quarry Road. Neighbors assisted there in the making and serving of meals. This generous, selfless response clearly demonstrated that although our homes are relatively far apart, in reality we are a close-knit community that is ready to come to the aid of neighbors in need.
Following are two first-person accounts from neighbors who were in the middle of it all at Skyline Grange and Brooks Hill Church during the first weeks of the search effort. Of course, there are many others who have equally compelling stories to tell about how Skyline School families and Skyline neighbors have responded to Kyron’s disappearance. And there are many more people who deserve thanks for their hard work and donations during the on-going crisis, even though we do not know all their names.
On Friday, June 11 I needed to be at the Grange at 10 a.m. to meet our conservation forester. So I got there early after I’d heard the Grange would be a place that the searchers for Kyron would be using for “down time.”
Pat Barnard, our hardworking Grange Master, was already there. She’d made an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. commitment. At 9:30 a.m., the joint was already jumpin! Folks came from all over our city to drop off donations. Cases of water bottles, boxes of granola bars, baskets of fruit, bags of candy bars, packets of individually wrapped cookies; it went on and on and on.
I spent the day acknowledging these generous gifts, unloading rigs while also listening to donors’ fears and anxieties. People needed comforting. This was a grandmother’s nightmare and all the moms and grannies were out in force! Jan Campbell, who volunteered to help feed the searchers, had amassed an impressive array of lunch meats and 25 baguettes. Those loaves became 100 sandwiches for the next day’s lunch. A steady stream of people wanted to help all day long. Tables groaned under the weight of the city’s generosity.
The workers kept searching, which meant they were still hungry. At one point I was asked to take potato salad to the Quarry Road site where the search teams were based. I collected an Air Force reservist on my way and was astounded to see Parr Lumber had arrived at the old quarry with grills, hot dogs, burgers and workers. They were serving hot lunches. It was as if a little city had been born at the Multnomah County facility. Plenty of cars, tents, fancy equipment and people. People everywhere. It was a mighty impressive scene!
Saturday, more sandwiches needed to be made. Someone had acquired 30 more long loaves. Laurel Harroun joined me in the Grange kitchen. Pat, Laurel and I cranked out another 120 buns with meat and cheese but it still wasn’t enough.
Pat stuffed four 20 dollar bills in my hand and we called the Fred Meyer on Cornelius Pass. “Can y’all find 50 baguettes for us?”
“Sure, just give me 30 minutes.”
“Really? OK !” So we set off with our list and found a full basket of 50 more baguettes in the bakery.
At the store, I paid for my own small pile of groceries and inquired of the checker, “So, Ben, can you make me a deal about these loaves of bread?” I briefly explained what we were about.
“Oh no, but maybe if you talk to Paul. He’s the one in the red vest.”
I addressed Paul: “Can you and I make a deal about these loaves of bread?”
“Oh no, you need to talk to Gordon.” Gordon had just walked up.
I stuck out my hand. “Hello Gordon.” I introduced myself and explained, “These baguettes are destined to become 200 MORE sandwiches for the searchers up at Skyline School. May I make a deal with you about this $84.50 ticket?”
At this point he looked me right in the eye, palmed that ticket, stuffed it in his pocket and said, “Go make more sandwiches; we’ll take care of this part.”
On to the next meal. Jan had acquired 300 big baking potatoes. Friday afternoon, the Sunset Presbyterians came by, collected those spuds, took them to their congregation and baked them for the steak dinner planned for Saturday night. The coordination duties were complex. Pat was remarkable in her calmness and her ability to keep letting the right hand know what the left hand was doing. So much energy going so many directions, there was so much to do and so many volunteers involved. Pat Barnard stayed calm and peaceful and steady with it all. Thanks, Pat!
Sunday there didn’t seem to be much to do at the Grange as the sheriff had transported all the supplies to the Wapato Jail site. So I tried to read the paper and think about something else. But I live on Newberry Road and never in the 23 years I’ve been here has my road been so nonstop busy! Full buses, empty buses, BIG trucks with trailers with 4-wheeled motorcycle gizmos, horse trailers, police cars, sheriff’s rigs, news vans; it was a steady stream of vehicles up and down. Too much activity to suit me on my country road and still we have not found the boy. Giving up the idea that bad things don’t happen in my sweet neighborhood has been the most difficult part of all.
Brooks Hill Historic Church
(taped interview transcribed by Libby Merwin)
On Friday (June 4th), after I came home from work, I heard a knock and the door and it was two officers and Ben Keefer, the principal of Skyline School. Ben said, “We’re missing a little guy. Have you seen him?” I said, “No, I haven’t. Do you want to search the church?” We searched then talked a few minutes about where else could be searched and then they left.
I seriously thought it would be over in a few hours. I thought, “Oh, he’s just over playing video games with a friend, or the wrong parent picked him up, no big deal.”
A few hours later, the news trucks started to arrive. The longer it went on, the more trucks arrived. I really didn’t understand the impact of what was happening. The next day there were even more news trucks and more reporters there. On Sunday, a ripple went through the parking lot where the news trucks were parked: “The nationals are coming!” One of the women from a local station came up to me and said, “The nationals are coming – you’d better be prepared because this will explode, and they’re going to take over your property. You’d better set some rules.”
On Sunday, the sheriff and the FBI were outside in my parking lot giving press briefings in the pouring rain. After watching Captain Gates getting totally soaked, I thought to myself, “I’ve got this huge empty building, and these guys are just trying to do their jobs; they should really come inside.” So, I invited them inside. Once they were set up inside, that’s the way it stayed – it just seemed logical to me. A neighbor was is trouble and law enforcement was trying to do something for us in the neighborhood and I just felt like it was my duty.
When I got up the next day to go to work, the national networks had arrived. There were huge satellite trucks parked up and down Skyline in front of the church. They actually ran their cables through my flower beds and along my eaves (where I hang holiday lights). Frankly, I was overwhelmed, and I found it kind of shocking. I just kind of glared at them and went to work.
As the press conferences went along in the coming days, we started setting up systems for handling it. When law enforcement wanted to have private meetings before the press conferences, we would clear the receiving hall 20 minutes before the press conferences. We knew which stairwells and doors needed to be watched. We got out our walkie-talkies. We usually use them so that brides can find us or we can tell them when to come down the stairs.
I got a message from a former neighbor on Facebook asking if I would keep everyone updated on so I kept a live feed of all the press conferences at the church on my Facebook page which I made public so that everyone in the neighborhood would know what was going on. I had all of them in the first ten days of the case.
Vickie Coghill did the most of anyone involved to help. She spent over 200 hours of unpaid staff time there. Instead of working on her farm and doing the things she needed to do, she basically ran the church while I was at work. She had to give up a vacation she had booked and lost the deposit. I went to work early so I could come home for lunch, and then come back at 4 pm for the daily press conferences, then towards the end of the first week I just decided to take vacation days off because it was becoming too hectic.
We learned about 3 days ahead of time that the family was going to come and speak to the press so we had to arrange how to get them in and out of the church without the press mobbing them. We moved my car out of my driveway (off Brooks Road), so the sheriff’s van could park there. We took the family in through my apartment entrance and up the back stairs.
Everybody really jumped in and helped. Jan Campbell came to help us. As time went on and the press conferences became more hectic, Elinor Markgraf, Rhonda Kelvin and Ras Sauer all came to help manage the crowds. Jan soon volunteered to help coordinate meals for the search and rescue teams based at the Multnomah County facility on Quarry Road. The original plan was to do food intake and meal preparation at the Grange, but when they figured out that it was logistically better for the searchers to eat at the Quarry Road location, they decided to take donations at the Grange, and prepare and serve the meals up at the Quarry Road facility.
It was amazing how everyone just came together. It was only a few days after Kyron’s disappearance that people started stopping by asking if they could help. People would come by and say, “We want to help with the search for Kyron so bad, and we don’t know what to do.” Food was dropped off at the church, there were donations to Kyron’s fund, people dropped off sandwiches for the searchers, they dropped off food for the press, bottled water. Total strangers came and asked if I needed help with managing the church. One very kind woman dropped off toilet paper and paper towels knowing that this was having an impact on my supplies. It was really touching and really amazing how people came together -the immediate way people got organized. It was something else. I think what is says about our neighborhood is that we have a neighborhood of deeply caring people and that we are very well-prepared to deal with a crisis.
I went across the street to the school when the parent meeting happened, and a couple of the parents and I started coordinating email lists, what should go out on the Newsline, how to get info out, how to get posters out, etc. Everybody just pulled together with one goal: to help the family and to help coordinate the neighborhood response. Amazing.
Ten days after his disappearance, the sheriff came and said the major search and rescue operations were about the cease. Many people in the room choked up, thinking, mistakenly, that that was the end of it, that they (law enforcement) were going to stop searching for him. But then the Sheriff clarified that they were only sending the out-of-state searchers home, and that the local searchers would be on call. The sheriff clarified that he did not want this to become a “cold case.”
Then the sheriff cleared the property of the press, and he said, “We can see that this has had a big impact on your property, and we’d like to help you get it cleaned up.” They sent a big truck with ten inmates, who mowed the grass, hand-weeded, and took down four diseased trees. They cleaned the church from top to bottom, the carpets were professionally cleaned. The place really has never looked that good.
As far as the press goes, every major press organization was there – every local station was there, People Magazine, Willamette Week, the Oregonian. NBC, ABC, and CBS all had reps on the ground. The Today Show, Good Morning America, all had people on the ground almost immediately.
It was very annoying is when the news trucks ran until midnight and I had to be at work at 5 AM. It got to the point where we had to set up rules because, first of all, people didn’t know this was a privately owned building – they thought it was a public building, so they just ran wild. I handed out the top ten rules for being on my property. It was really simple stuff, like: “If there’s a piece of garbage on the property, the closest truck or camera to it gets kicked off the property, so if you see it, pick it up.” There was no garbage after that. Also, “if you see us, be nice to us. We’re all volunteers. If you’re nasty to us, you get kicked off.”
Some of the press was very courteous, some were not, but the sheriff wanted them there. The sheriff said at every press conference that they needed the press to get the word out. People would be surprised to learn how much law enforcement works with the press on these things. This is why we agreed to allow the press there: to help the sheriff. Our attitude toward the press was: they were just trying to do their job and they were useful to the sheriff.
We found that there was a varying degree of professionalism between the organizations and between the different reporters. I heard lots of really rampant rumors run through the crowd , and I watched who reported them and who didn’t. There are a lot of very ethical people in the press. I was kind of surprised, actually, at how many people wouldn’t print stuff they’d heard, because they couldn’t substantiate it.
Because I dealt with the press so much, I’ve been really interested in tracking what’s going on in the articles and forums and also what’s going on in Facebook and the blogs. What’s been most striking to me is the difference between what’s going on in the outside media, and the maturity and compassion that the neighborhood has shown. Neighbors who talk about the school, or talk about the sheriff, or talk about what’s happening show a real intelligence and patience, even if they are sad and want answers. That’s very different from what’s going on in the media. The thing I’m most proud of is that while there’s a lot of negativity toward the school in the outside media, the people in the neighborhood have rallied behind the school and supported them, and I think that’s wonderful.
The FBI was there the first night. People have a misconception that FBI was not there until later, but they were there the first night and dogs were there the first night. In fact, one of the things that made us really angry was that there were stories in the press that law enforcement had been slow or disorganized in their response. That wasn’t what we saw at all. There was an unbelievably competent, caring, and organized response to what happened. I was shocked at how many people were on the ground that night after he was reported missing. They were incredible.
One of the things that hit me the most, besides the fact that everybody in the neighborhood came together, was watching law enforcement. When you watch too much TV, you get kind of jaded and you think everything’s an episode of “CSI” and everybody’s walking around talking tough. What I saw instead was real people in law enforcement trying to do a real job. They’re emotionally invested in it, they’re there on their days off, they’re pulling incredibly long hours, and officers are donating vacation time to each other so that they can stay on the case. The captain was having a hard time getting people to go home - they’re there all hours. I saw officers there for 10-12 days in a row without a day off, and I saw officers in tears. I saw officers there at 6 AM and then again at midnight. I was really impressed, touched and amazed at how hard working they are, how much they care and how much they have sacrificed to contribute to the case.
Both Vickie, and myself, as owner of the church, feel very honored that it’s available for this. The family is using it now when they need to meet with the press. When I bought the building, my intention was for it to be an asset to the community and so I’m very happy that it’s been able to help with something like this. As long as I’ve lived in this neighborhood, people have helped me. They helped me when my dog was sick, they helped me when my mother died. When I almost lost the building last year, the neighborhood stepped in and helped me stop it. I’ve always hoped that I would be able to give back. This is not an inconvenience, it’s an honor.
Reprinted from July 2010 Ridge Runner