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For the week of November 15 through 21, 2000

Big time in small city

Local youth group encounters urban reality

"They saw a man in a white T-shirt and jeans with the rifle in his hands, and then somebody said they’ve made an arrest."

Andrea Baker, chaperone

Express Staff Writer

A group of middle-school children from the Wood River Valley emerged shaken but wiser when an undercover bust occurred in their vicinity while they were visiting Boise.

It started on Saturday afternoon when the 20 non-denominational Youth Group kids were working at the Boise Community Café, a soup kitchen near River and 13th streets in downtown Boise.

After serving lunch, adult chaperone and group leader Andrea Baker said, most of the youths were taking a break outdoors while a few began helping with clean-up inside.

One of the diners looked out the window and reported that there was a man with a gun down the street. After momentarily doubting the sanity of the homeless woman, two of the adult chaperones, Nancy Bates and Lynn Knudson, looked out the window and confirmed the presence of a man with what seemed to be a shotgun.

They suggested to Baker that the kids be hustled inside and put safely in the bathroom until they could assess the situation.

While they were inside the windowless restroom, the kids had no idea what was going on.

"Several of the girls were upset," Baker said. "Their imagination ran wild. We didn’t know what was going on."

She said the children were unaware until later that the men with the guns were not inside the building.

Knudson and Bates watched the action develop from a window, apparently unconcerned about their own safety.

"They saw a man in a white T-shirt and jeans with the rifle in his hands, and then somebody said they’ve made an arrest," Baker said.

No shots were fired. The man turned out to be an undercover police officer.

When the children emerged from their hiding place, several were crying and shaking, Baker related.

The manager of the soup kitchen, who knew the arrested man and had recently paid his electric bill for him, explained to them what he thought the situation was.

Apparently, the police, whose station was down the block, had had the subject under surveillance for sometime regarding threats of a political nature.

It turned out that he had been one of those to whom the St. Thomas youth group had served lunch earlier that day. Baker said he had eaten lentil soup and hot dogs.

"For a lot of these kids--they’re sheltered--they’ve never seen police or anybody with a weapon, except for the Ketchum Shoot-out," Baker said.

"Serendipitously, the experience led to a lengthy discussion about what had happened and why the adults had reacted as they did, and about the students’ feelings about the incident."

They returned to St. Michael’s Cathedral, where they were spending the night, and had a debriefing for over an hour, Baker said.

"It was very, very cool."

A couple of the kids, who had lived in other places--Memphis, L.A.--shared stories about situations in which shots had been fired in neighborhoods, or cars broken into. That was one of the reasons their families moved to the Wood River Valley, Baker said.

"Somehow that segued into an open discussion on drug and alcohol abuse with teenagers," Baker said.

One of the issues that was raised, Knudson said, was the assumption, wrongly made, that the homeless people were involved in the incident, when in fact, they were looking out for the kids. Knudson said also that a 9-year-old boy came in for lunch and that the Wood River Valley kids were surprised and saddened by this.

Despite the moments of fear, the children returned home unscathed but wiser about the realities of life that include not only men with guns, but the plight of homeless people and the need for keeping an open mind.


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