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October 26, 2006

 In the News

COP SHOOTS TEEN, CITY REELS AGAIN The news, heard Monday afternoon, though initially scant was enough to make a person want to lock the doors, cover the windows and sit on the floor -- just like the kids at Washington Elementary School have had to do twice now this month while police-related neighborhood dramas unfolded outside their papered-over windows. Someone had been shot. And it happened near Washington School.

No doubt many citizens, hearing this from friends and friends of friends, replayed through their minds news events from other school shootings in the country. Most likely they also instantly recalled the incident earlier this month when someone reported that a suicidal man was allegedly walking toward Washington Elementary to pick up his kids (nothing came of it). Was it related? Who was shot? Why? Don't know: Lock the doors, cover the windows and make the Photo of The altar to 16-year-old Christopher Arrion Burgesskids sit on the floor.

Then the news spread that the shooting didn't involve the school or any of its students, but that the EPD had indeed shot someone. Later in the day, the EPD sent out a news release confirming it, saying police officers "were called to the 2200 block of Chester" at about 2 p.m. "to assist Humboldt County Probation officers chasing a [male] subject armed with a knife. A Eureka Police officer and an off duty Humboldt County Sheriff's deputy joined in the foot chase, pursuing the subject into the gulch area behind the 2200 block of Chester. Reports were received of shots being fired. It was learned that the suspect with the knife was shot by a Eureka Police Officer." It said he was 16. The EPD release did not reveal the name of the officer who shot him.

Right: The altar to 16-year-old Christopher Arrion Burgess.

It's likely then that the community's thoughts turned closer to home, to another departed citizen: Cheri Lyn Moore, the mentally ill woman shot to death by EPD officers in April during a standoff in which she allegedly wielded a flare gun. Soon, people would be calling alternately for blood -- storm-the-police-station and get-rid-of-the-whole-damned-regime-and-start-over sort of talk -- and patience, on a local blog.

Tuesday morning, Eureka's streets appeared outwardly calm, aside from the proliferating anti-war protest signs in front of the county courthouse. Inwardly, the community had sunk deeper into shock. Not only had a kid just been shot by police, but it had already been a helluva tragic week in general. On Sunday, a 21-year-old woman and 4-year-old child had drowned in the ocean near Orick after a rogue wave swept the child away and the woman jumped in to try to save her. Then, Monday, the same day as the shooting, a 79-year-old fisherman from Eureka drowned in the Mad River.

Up on Chester Street, across from Washington Elementary, where the police chase Monday afternoon had begun at a house and then ended, in a nearby gulch, with the shooting death of 16-year-old Christopher Arrion Burgess, several men were quietly walking the scene. One of them -- an EPD officer -- scanned everything, trees, houses, sidewalk, backyard, with a video camera, and another in a HCDA Investigator black vest stood talking to another man in plainclothes. The Humboldt County Critical Incident Response Team continued its work. The sun struggled free of the clouds, and on the far side of the Washington Elementary building, out of sight of the Chester Street houses, the children flooded the schoolyard for recess, free of yesterday's lockdown.

A small altar had emerged on the sidewalk outside the home where reportedly Burgess had been contacted by probation and police officers moments before the chase and shooting. Several stuffed animals sat around a large picture of a bald eagle, a small framed picture of a wolf, several flickering candles, a bandanna and other articles of remembrance and affection. Burgess, who according to news reports had been in juvenile hall and foster care off and on over the years, had friends and family -- who now grieved behind doors and, it is likely, debated the facts put out so far by the police (the Times-Standard's Tuesday news report quoted Burgess' mother, Marjorie Burgess, saying her son was not carrying a weapon).

Downtown in front of City Hall also on Tuesday morning, Mayor Peter La Vallee gathered the media for a news conference. He didn't have much to say as of yet, he said -- he'd only talked with the city manager so far, who had called him after the incident happened. His phone had rung nonstop until 2 a.m.. He was planning to meet with Burgess' family later in the day, and at some point he hoped to talk with the police chief. In the meantime, he said, he wanted to let people know that the lines of communication between the city and the community are open.

"Our community has suffered a tragedy by the death of this young man," La Vallee said, reading his prepared statement. "As of this morning we do not know all of the facts, and we should reserve judgment until we do. However, the grieving process for our community begins now."

La Vallee said he was pushing for a special session of the city council this Thursday to share information about the incident and allow the community to discuss it.

After the news conference, La Vallee admitted that the first thing that went through his mind when the city manager phoned him Monday night was, "`Oh, here we go again.'" He added, "We don't need this right now. I think we're still reeling from the Cheri Moore thing."

But, he repeated, he's reserving judgment until he's heard all the facts. "This is a tragedy for the officers, too," he said. "It's a tragedy for the family [of the boy], the friends, the officers, the city and the community."

The EPD was still gathering information early Tuesday afternoon and had scheduled a late afternoon news conference. Meanwhile, Humboldt Friends of the First Amendment and others were planning a vigil for Burgess that night in front of the courthouse in Eureka.

-- Heidi Walters



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