"It's like something out of Lord of the Flies," commented Norm Frink, Multnomah County Chief Deputy District Attorney. He was talking about the recent murder of 22-year-old Jessica Williams, whose body was found May 23, beside the train tracks on the Steel Bridge.
According to her family, Williams was a gentle giant--six-foot-four inches tall--and, born with fetal alcohol syndrome, had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. The autopsy revealed that she had been bludgeoned and stabbed to death, reportedly for breaking one of the rules of the company she was keeping--a homeless group of friends that had formed a "family."
Over the past week, 11 people were rounded up and indicted for the crime, including James Daniel Nelson, recently released from prison after serving 11 years for murdering a 15-year-old homeless youth. Those who allegedly carried out the crime itself are two 18-year-olds--Jimmy Stewart, who goes by "Neo," and Danielle Cox, who calls herself "Shadow Cat." Another suspect, Carl Alsup--nicknamed "Death Knight"--has eluded police. He was last spotted and chased into the woods near Astoria by a National Guard Helicopter over the weekend.
These arrests, and ensuing articles in the Oregonian, have angered homeless advocates in town. Last week, reporting from details in the police affidavit, the Oregonian ran a story that claimed the people involved in the crime initially met up at the Portland Peace Encampment. PPE started three months ago as a protest against military actions in Iraq. Located directly across the street from City Hall, PPE has recently shifted its focus to protesting the city's camping ban and other ordinances aimed at homeless persons.
But Members of PPE claim that Nelson had never stayed there. "They never even talked with anyone from here," says Todd Kurylowicz of PPE. "They just claimed in the paper that the Peace Encampment was where everything got started."
One Oregonian article simply labeled the murder--where the corpse was set ablaze--as the "latest example of violence" among downtown street youth. Advocates bristled at this description, saying that it gives the impression that such heinous crimes are par for the course. The article went on to explain that street youth commonly "live by their own rules and mete out their own justice."