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JonBenet's hometown back in spotlight

A decade after their town was turned into a media spotlight, residents of Boulder, Colo., are reluctantly preparing to be the focus of attention again.
Bob Rickert
Resident Bob Rickert sits while his son plays in a park in Boulder on Sunday. "People really aren’t that impressed by this guy they picked up in Bangkok," Rickert said.Rick Bowmer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Just when they thought the media spotlight had faded on the slaying of JonBenet Ramsey, residents of this college town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains reacted to the latest glare with a heavy sigh: We’ve had enough attention, thank you. Please leave us alone.

That is unlikely to happen after the arrest of John Mark Karr, a school teacher who cryptically claimed to have been present when JonBenet Ramsey was killed in 1996.

The body of the 6-year-old beauty queen was found beaten and strangled in the wine cellar of the Ramsey family’s 15-room house in a pricey Boulder neighborhood that now draws curious onlookers and news media.

Karr has said her death was an accident but offered no details.

“We’re all sick of it,” said 22-year-old Charles Bond, emptying a trash bin at a park just blocks from the shuttered Ramsey house that has stood empty for years.

“It had all blown over. No one talked about it anymore. Now the reporters are back,” Bond complained.

And downtown Boulder, with its long pedestrian mall and many high-end shops, “is a circus,” said Bond, grumbling about the new swarm of journalists.

Suspect to be sent to Boulder
Karr arrived in Los Angeles late Sunday after a flight from Thailand, where he was arrested last week. He faces legal proceedings in California before he is sent to Boulder.

Karr flew in business class, sipped champagne and dined on gourmet food on the trip. Some Boulder residents questioned whether they should pay for the trip.

“I don’t think anyone who’s being extradited from a country should be schmoozing on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Brandon Pelcher, 25, a worker at the Boulder Book Store. The case “is already a comedy of errors, and this just seems like another twist in a crazy saga.”

To understand Boulder’s aversion to limelight requires a bit of history: The city for years has struggled with the occasional problems of the hometown University of Colorado. Two years ago, prosecutors alleged the school’s football program was using sex and booze as a way to attract recruits. Last year, professor Ward Churchill compared some of the World Trade Center victims to Nazi Adolf Eichmann, a key planner of the Holocaust.

But the city is also home to Nobel laureates, top cyclists and rock climbers. It has a budding tech industry and lots of boomers and hippies. It’s mostly white and upscale and carries a reputation as a liberal bastion.

Ties to the case
Still, most people around the world associate Boulder with JonBenet Ramsey.

“People are fascinated about how something so horrible could happen in a place like this,” said Dan Hessey, pushing his 8-year-old daughter on an outdoor swing. “The media has this maw that has to be fed. But it’s not a healthy way to understand this community.”

Bob Rickert watched his 3-year-old son on the Pearl Street Mall and wished the publicity would end.

“It’s not that interesting anymore,” said Rickert, an ad agency designer. “People really aren’t that impressed by this guy they picked up in Bangkok. They’re waiting for it to go away.”

Bill Patterson, configuring a display of handmade clay bowls at an outdoor market over the weekend, stopped for a moment.

“I haven’t talked to one person in town who thinks ‘Yeah, they got him,”’ the potter said. “Cynical is the word I’d use for how the town feels.”

Keith Alpert, walking a mountain trail at Chautauqua Park, said he saw more media coverage of JonBenet’s death than he could stomach while living on the East Coast. He moved to Boulder in 2004.

“It was nauseating,” he said. “If it was a poor black kid, it wouldn’t have been blown up. It was because they were rich, white, pretty, whatever.”

Boulder’s population of some 90,000 is 86 percent white. Seventy percent had at least a bachelor’s degree, and the median home price hovered around $300,000, according to census data.

Strict laws
Located 30 miles northwest of Denver, the city’s strict laws limiting development and protecting wildlife earned it the nickname “The People’s Republic of Boulder.”

But historically, its liberal ideals have sometimes swung just as hard in the opposite direction. Despite the national repeal of prohibition in 1933, Boulder County prohibited the sale of liquor until 1967.

This is also a place that protects its own and sometimes draws a hard line against what it perceives as the outside world. That was evident Sunday, as members filed into St. John’s Episcopal Church, where the Ramseys once worshipped.

Three parishioners stood guard on the sidewalk.

“We just want to keep things normal,” said vestry member Myles Roche. “We don’t want any interference with people on their way to services.”

Next to him stood an older, immaculately dressed woman who refused to give her name.

“We were hounded to death 10 years ago,” she said through clenched teeth. “And we won’t have it again.”