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A Boy Lost

One minute, Christopher Rapier was a likable kid trying to straighten out his life. The next, he was a criminal, apt to do anything. But what happened next shocked everyone he knew.

By MARY HARGROVE

This article was published February 28, 2000 at 4:03 a.m.

"I'm going to tell you a story about a child who hurt others, who stole property, and who touched my soul. I saw him laugh. I saw him cry. I saw him in shackles and I saw him free. He looked like a man. He was a child."

SHAWN WILSON wrote this epitaph about 15-year-old Christopher Rapier in March 1999. At the time, the boy lay comatose in Arkansas Children's Hospital after hanging himself in the Yell County Detention Center. Christopher, who had suffered severe brain damage, was about to be disconnected from life support when Wilson visited him.

Wilson is an "intervention specialist" -- a counselor -- for the Searcy Behavioral Health Clinic. He had counseled Christopher between August 1997 and December 1998. Daily, Christopher drank alcohol or used drugs, sometimes both. He threatened his teachers and was expelled from school.

His home life was chaotic and unstable. He hadn't seen his father in eight years. His mother and uncle were in prison. His younger sister frequently ran away from home and also used drugs.

He lived with his grandmother, a recovering alcoholic, in a trailer in Searcy. His grandfather, who had served two prison sentences before Christopher was born, was again convicted in 1997 for possession of methamphetamine. He was placed on probation. He and Christopher argued constantly.

Christopher was committed in 1997 to the custody of the Division of Youth Services, a part of the state Department of Human Services. He had threatened to kill an 11-year-old boy; afterward, he stole a car. Before that he had robbed a convenience store using a knife and was facing adult charges of aggravated robbery.

Wilson, 26, had worked with dozens of troubled DYS children. But there was something more to Christopher than his criminal background suggested -- a kindness, a deep love of family and an intelligence that made him smart enough to realize how far he had to go to conquer his past.

"As he lay there in that hospital bed amid infants and other small children, it became vividly clear that this person whom I had attempted to 'rescue' from his life had taught me more than I could ever have taught him," Wilson wrote to his colleagues at the clinic that day in March.

"I kept thinking over and over: He wanted to be an Air Force pilot."

What Christopher wanted to be, what he might have been and where he ended up were determined March 11, 1999, just before 3 a.m. in a concrete jail cell. Authorities say he hung a white sheet from a sprinkler head, twisted it into a noose, placed it around his neck and stepped off a ledge into a world where promise and pain no longer competed for his life.

His home environment and his drinking habits and drug use may have made it inevitable that, in what should have been his sophomore year in high school, Christopher Rapier would end up in a Bald Knob cemetery with only a temporary nameplate to mark his passing.

When he was 13, Christopher was thrown what could have been a lifeline. He was placed in the custody of the state Department of Human Services. But DHS failed to provide the long-term residential drug treatment and other rehabilitative services that the state's own experts repeatedly prescribed for him.

Christopher ran away from home several times during his last few months. He tested positive for marijuana use, a violation of his juvenile probation. Yet, the state always sent him back home to his grandmother or to a foster home.

He was out of control. Time and again, he broke the rules. No one reined him in.

The story of Christopher Rapier is not unique. Hundreds of Arkansas boys fit his profile -- troubled, frightened, and dangerous to themselves and others. Lacking a moral compass, many invariably turn to their peers on the streets and to drugs.

Despite the efforts of counselors, teachers and some well-meaning youth services workers, DHS, through its Division of Youth Services, does little more than warehouse them.

Last year, some 800 children were sent by juvenile court judges into the system -- to the Alexander Youth Services Center or to one of the five serious-offender camps -- to be incarcerated.

Because of a lack of funding, many of these children, whose crimes ranged from theft to rape or murder, only received group counseling for an hour once a week. (Psychiatrists do hold individual sessions with some of the most troubled children).

When Alexander is overcrowded, children are released early or placed in any available program -- even when that program does not fit the child's needs. Children are often returned to their homes still unable to cope.

"We're going to have to do more of everything," said White County Circuit Chancery Judge Robert Edwards. "For example, drug abuse plays a big role in the large percentage of juveniles at DYS. I know DYS is underfunded and has more kids than it can deal with. For every one you put in, you have to put one out. That results in people being released that, in a perfect world, shouldn't be.

"If you're in the juvenile justice system, you have to be willing to accept failure," he said. "It's frustrating. There are so many problems out there that the system is not equipped to handle."

At any one time, DYS has 320 children in these residential facilities. DYS has contracts with treatment programs for 18 sex offenders, seven mental health cases, and 23 substance abuse cases.

DYS Director Russell Rigsby has begun a five-year plan that will expand treatment to help 65 sex offenders annually and to create 103 mental health slots, including 35 for the developmentally disabled and 12 for youths with acute psychiatric needs. The 50 alcohol and drug treatment openings are for 30- to 60-day programs and would treat 300 children a year.

But the additional treatment programs will come too late for Christopher.

Wilson counseled Christopher as often as he could. But the boy needed long-term alcohol and drug treatment or a stable home environment. He got neither.

"Chris' story is one of repeated failures on the part of adults in his life," Wilson said. "As time progressed, he seemed to lose his dreams."

Christopher Wayne Rapier was born June 22, 1983, in Roswell, N.M., the second child of Cleresa and Harold Rapier. His brother, James, was 1 year old. His sister, Mary, was born a year later.

Cleresa and Harold Rapier's marriage was stormy. They finally separated just before Mary was born. The children's father stayed in New Mexico and had little to do with his family, which moved back to Arkansas, according to state records.

The combination of Cleresa's eighth-grade education and her drinking made it difficult for her to support three children.

By 1988, Cleresa had no money and recalled roaming the streets of Little Rock, carrying baby Mary on her hip, while James and Christopher tagged along behind.

"I'd walk all day and then go from this friend to that friend hoping they would take us in for the night," Cleresa said. "We'd always find someone to take us."

Cleresa finally found a job as a bartender.

During the week, 6-year-old James stayed with his grandparents, Mary and Huey Moles, in their trailer at a Little Rock wrecking yard. His grandmother saw that he got to school. Christopher, 4, and Mary, 3, went to a baby sitter and visited their grandparents on weekends.

The Moleses had married when Mary Moles was 16 and Huey was 30.

"I found out after we were married that he [Huey] had been in prison for burglary," Mary Moles said. "I had my first child, Cleresa, and Huey done a robbery and went back to prison."

Her grandchildren, James and Christopher, were not only brothers, but best friends. A picture of the two grinning little boys, arms draped around each other's shoulders, captures the affection between them.

"They had bunk beds and they would fight over who'd get to sleep on the top, and sometimes they'd take and sleep in the same bed," Mary Moles recalled. "Other times, they'd both cuddle up in bed with me."

Mary Moles was hospitalized with hepatitis for a week in June 1988. She returned home June 17. The next day, Cleresa left all three of her children with the baby sitter while she went to work.

"James seen a little dump truck under the trailer. He went after it and hit his head on a 220-volt of electricity. The trailer wasn't grounded. He was killed instantly," Cleresa said. "Chris and little Mary saw it. Someone tried to pull James out and he got shocked. It took forever for the ambulance to get there, but James was already dead.

"Chris always felt guilty. He said he should have saved James. He saw a single tear come down James' cheek. And he never forgot it."

James, the big brother Christopher adored, was buried June 22. It was Christopher's fifth birthday.

"Cleresa was never very stable before James was killed, but after, she began to drink a lot," Mary Moles recalled.

After James's death, Christopher and little Mary often were left with their grandparents. Christopher later told a DYS psychologist that he began "huffing" paint when he was 5. He failed first grade. When he was 9 years old, he began heavily smoking marijuana.

Men moved in and out of the children's lives.

Cleresa Bullard and her children lived with a boyfriend for six years. She married another man in 1991 and eventually gave birth to three more daughters.

Christopher's uncle, Walter Moles, was released from a New Mexico prison in 1991. He had served a three-year sentence for forgery. Christopher was 8 years old and adored his uncle.

"Walter was the kind of uncle who wrastled with the kids when he was around," Mary Moles said. "Chris thought he was cool. Chris took Walter as his mentor. He wanted to follow in his footsteps, and he was following them well."

In 1993, when Christopher was 10 years old, Walter Moles was sent to the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan., for bank robbery.

"Chris used to brag to friends 'My uncle took and robbed a bank,' " his grandmother recalled.

That same year, another uncle, Huey Jr., known as Bubba, died of AIDS in the grandparents' small trailer. He was 25 years old, and Christopher sat with him through the painful death.

"Chris loved the Bible and could quote it. He would dress up in a little tie and jacket and pray for his Uncle Bubba," his grandmother said. "It really hurt him when Bubba died."

One November night in 1994 when Christopher was 11 years old, his unchecked lifestyle caught up with him.

His mother and stepfather rushed the fifth-grader to the emergency room at Arkansas Children's Hospital. They reported that he had been "huffing" gas and spray paint, and that night he was also drinking. He had become so combative that they had to hold him down, according to hospital records.

"He broke a mirror and began cutting himself on the arm with it," a doctor wrote. "His mother states that he frequently threatens to harm himself or others. ... His mother works in a factory and is away from home much of the time.

"He had tried other drugs including marijuana, crystal methamphetamines and crank. He drinks to get drunk about two times a month. ... He denies any suicidal or homicidal thoughts at the time of admission, but reports that he did have suicidal thoughts on the night prior to admission."

He was sent to a residential treatment facility for a week. His diagnosis included, "Polysubstance abuse. Problems with primary support and social environment."

His mother was encouraged by a doctor to apply for Medicaid and put Christopher in an adolescent alcohol and drug treatment program. But Cleresa Bullard, herself an alcoholic, did not do it.

In 1996, Christopher was inducted into the Folk Nation gang. He was 13. The word "James" was tattooed on his left forearm.

On Aug. 7, a phone call from his father sent Christopher into a rage. The boy had repeatedly asked his father, who lived in Arizona, if he could go visit him. Christopher had not seen his father for several years, Mary Moles said. His father refused, telling him that it was not a good time. (Harold Rapier has not returned calls for comment on this story.)

"Chris got drunk and out of control," Mary Moles said. "He said, 'He ain't my father anymore.' Chris was so bad that Cleresa called the police, and he took off."

Christopher was about to cross the line from being a defiant teen-ager to a juvenile delinquent. And there would be no turning back.

A few hours later, Lisa Edelhuber laughed when she saw the boy with the baseball cap stick his thumb in the air, trying to hitch a ride near her home.

"Hitchhiking in a neighborhood in Searcy seemed weird," she said. "We waved at him."

She and her husband, Stephen, and their 11-year-old son, Jonathan, drove into their driveway and parked the car. Jonathan stepped out of their 1992 black-and-wood-grain station wagon when the boy with the baseball cap rushed across the lawn and grabbed Jonathan around the throat.

"He had a hatchet, and every time he thought we were going to do something, he would come down with that hatchet like he was really going to hurt my son," Lisa Edelhuber said. "It was 5:30 on a Wednesday evening in our own front yard. I couldn't believe it was happening. It was a nightmare."

The boy demanded the car keys, dragged Jonathan to the car and tried to push him inside.

Stephen Edelhuber knew one thing. This dark-haired stranger, who looked as if he were about 18 years old, was not going to leave with Jonathan.

"I threw him the car keys, and he snatched them out of the air," Stephen Edelhuber said. "I got close and warned him, 'You're not going to take my son. I will rush you and kill you with that hatchet if you try. Do you understand?'"

The boy, whom they would later learn was Christopher Rapier, nodded that he understood, but he continued to threaten Jonathan. "You need to back off or I will put this hatchet in his head."

Christopher finally pushed Jonathan aside and jumped into the car. Lisa Edelhuber grabbed her son and ran into the house to warn her daughters, ages 13 and 15, to stay inside. Stephen Edelhuber called the police on a cell phone.

Christopher did not leave immediately. The car's hand brake was set and had locked the car into place. Christopher did not know how to disengage it and could not back out of the driveway.

Stephen Edelhuber shouted instructions to him. "I just wanted him out of here."

The car finally sped away. In a matter of minutes, a police officer arrived. Just as quickly, a dispatcher alerted him that the Edelhuber car had flipped over into a ditch a few miles away near the fairgrounds. Christopher was inside, unconscious.

The Edelhubers went to the hospital. "We told the police we wanted to press charges, but we didn't want to see him hurt," Stephen Edelhuber said. "I felt sorry for him. I knew he was disturbed."

At the juvenile-court hearing, they talked with Christopher's mother and grandmother.

"The family attributed his problems to seeing his brother electrocuted," Stephen Edelhuber said. "They said he wanted to steal our car to visit his dad. Christopher looked at me and said, 'I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt your son.' I felt like it was more than just for show. I felt he was remorseful."

Judge Edwards declared Christopher to be delinquent and placed him in the custody of the state.

Carla Fuller, who represents most of the children in White and Prairie counties' juvenile-court cases, was appointed to represent Christopher.

"My first impression? I loved him. I really like most of these children. You see what circumstances they come from and you understand what happened to them," she said. "Only five percent of the kids that I see come from homes where the biological parents are still married.

"Chris was different than most," she said. "He was charming. He seemed to have a survivor's instinct. He acted like 'Whatever it takes, I'm going to get there,'" she said. "I tried to stay on top of how Chris was doing and make sure he was getting every chance in life that he possibly could."

Fuller said White County generally sends its children through "every treatment regimen possible" before placing them with the state but, "Chris's offense was so serious, he went straight to DYS."

Christopher spent 106 days at the Central Arkansas Observation and Assessment Center in North Little Rock, where he was evaluated.

"He has a history of breaking curfew, carrying a gun, breaking and entering, getting into fights with weapons, running away and setting fire to basketball hoops 'because it was fun,'" wrote psychiatrist Mark Jennings.

"He has had two prior instances in his life where he cut his wrist or put a knife to his head. He says that there are times when he is quite depressed and that there is no point to life. ... The boy desperately needs substance abuse rehabilitation. This would be most effective in an inpatient setting."

Christopher was sent to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Wilderness Camp at Lewisville, a serious-offender program. Then 13, he remained a year and thrived in the structured environment. He made all A's. He was selected student of the month three times.

But none of the camps have full-time psychiatric staff or intensive individual drug treatment programs.

"A serious-offender program is a correctional environment," said DYS Director Rigsby. "It is not an appropriate placement for a boy who needs intense psychiatric help. One hour a week of counseling won't fix those problems. A boy like that needs to be in a mental health environment where there is appropriate personnel to analyze daily progress and develop treatment for him."

Christopher missed his mother and made plans to live with her when he was released. "Mom, we'll be together soon," he wrote her from the camp. Soon after, she was arrested on a charge of manufacturing, delivery and possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamines, and was jailed. Christopher was devastated.

"My kids, I love them with the most, but I'm not a perfect mother," Cleresa Bullard said recently. "Chris was upset, but he understood my luck don't run real well. He was my best friend. Tough times make your love stronger. We have that bond that nothing could make us mad at each other."

Shawn Wilson drove to the wilderness camp at Lewisville to get acquainted with Christopher before the boy was released.

Wilson had been assigned to work with Christopher at the Searcy clinic, one of 10 satellite offices of the North Arkansas Human Services System Inc.

Wilson met a slender but muscular 14-year-old with a strong, square jaw, and intense, disarming eyes.

"At that first meeting he smiled very little and glared a lot," Wilson recalled.

Christopher's grandmother had agreed to take him into her trailer home in Searcy. She did not have a car. So Wilson returned to Lewisville in August 1997 to transport Christopher to Searcy. On the long drive, he and a co-worker discussed what they would do if a boy with such a violent criminal record got out of hand.

Then, Wilson met the other Christopher.

"I will never forget the smile that stretched across Chris's face when he stepped into my car and realized that he was going home. He was very anxious to prove to the world that he could be the person he had spent the last year being told he could be," Wilson said. "His eyes were full of hope, and it was on that trip home that he inspired me to be the best that I could be for him.

"Dropping him off at his grandmother's house and seeing the joyful, heart-touching reunion, I chuckled to myself that only hours earlier I had been running mental drills on how to protect myself from this monster," Wilson said.

Christopher had spent his 13th year without seeing his mother. Now, he walked by the White County Detention Center hoping that he might glimpse her through a window and tell her he loved her.

"I still remember the radiant pride with which he announced that she had been released from jail on bond," Wilson said. "He loved his mother and his sisters more than can be put into words.

"Chris usually maintained his composure but his eyes betrayed his 'in control' demeanor by silently screaming for help. The thing that endeared him to me was that those silent screams were not for himself. They were for those he loved."

Life in his grandparents' trailer was tense for Christopher and his baby sister, Carol. Their grandparents constantly fought.

"Huey would get drunk and he would start in on one of us," Mary Moles said. "Life with Huey was always rough. He beat me from the start. I've had broken arms and broken legs, and stitches in my head, and black eyes."

Huey Moles admits he drank and beat his wife. But, he said, he was provoked by his wife's behavior. "It takes two to make a marriage," he observes.

The couple fought over what he said was his wife's failure to discipline the children and grandchildren. "When I was growing up, it was 'spare the rod and spoil the child,'" he said. "I got tired of trying to teach them kids right from wrong and have them run to their grandma."

On Oct. 27, Huey Moles argued with his wife. He walked toward her and hit her nose with his finger.

"Chris stood up and said, 'If you're going to hit somebody, hit me,'" Mary Moles said. "Chris had punched Huey before for slapping his mother. Huey got mad when Chris threatened him and called the police."

It was a call Huey Moles would come to regret. The police found drugs in his bedroom. He pleaded guilty to possession of a Schedule II controlled substance -- methamphetamine. He received probation and a $500 fine plus court costs.

Five months later, Mary Moles divorced her husband of 33 years.

In November 1997, Christopher was suspended from junior high school. He responded by running away. He was caught and returned to the Observation and Assessment Center.

On Dec. 22, 1997, Cleresa Bullard, Christopher's mother, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for manufacturing, delivery and possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamines.

On Jan. 5, 1998, Christopher was sent to a residential treatment program in Pine Bluff for 30 days for evaluation of his substance abuse problems.

Then, he was returned to his grandmother.

He ran away from home two weeks later. When he returned, his grandmother promptly called the police. He got into a furious argument with a Searcy police officer who came to pick him up. As a result, Christopher faced additional juvenile court action for fleeing, terroristic threatening and disorderly conduct. He was returned to Alexander.

Jacque Nash, a youth services worker at Alexander, grew fond of Christopher.

"Some kids you get attached to. You talk to them and you see they have so much potential," she said. "He really loved his mom, and he wanted to be with her."

But his mother was in prison.

When Nash was off work for six weeks recovering from a fall, Christopher made a get-well card and left it for her. "He drew me a flower and wrote, 'Get well soon. I love you,'" she said. "He called twice to see how I was doing."

In a six-month span, DYS paid five times to have Christopher assessed. The recommendations were strikingly similar: The boy needed long-term, residential drug treatment and a stable environment -- away from his family.

April 27, 1998, from North Arkansas Human Services System: "After reviewing Chris' file, it is apparent that the only possible chance for rehabilitation is to assign him to a long-term, structured environment," a caseworker wrote.

"Chris' family structure, social interaction and the environment he has been subjected to since childhood have molded him into what he is

"However, upon completion, if at all possible, Chris needs to be placed where he will not be subjected to the adverse influence of certain family members nor those of his old friends."

Judge Edwards declared Christopher delinquent a second time on May 1 because of his behavior with the Searcy police officer. Christopher remained at the Alexander Youth Services Center.

June 23, 1998, from Willow Crest Hospital: "Scores show he is in the late stages of chemical dependency. He says that he has had auditory and visual hallucinations in the past and is depressed," according to a second evaluation from a hospital in Miami, Okla.

It was recommended that he be admitted to a residential program that could treat both problems.

June 25, 1998, from the Alexander Youth Services Center: "He continues to have the need for a structured residential program. ... He will need continued substance abuse treatment. Chris will need to be in DHS custody given his lack of ability to make it at home for the next year or two," according to an evaluation.

But very little happened. Christopher spent just six days at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences pediatrics/ adolescent medicine clinic where he attended eight substance abuse therapy sessions.

A Sept. 1, 1998, DHS memo again warned, "This is definitely not a child that we want to place in the community. DYS does not have contract dollars they can use to serve this child."

A month later, DYS asked Mary Moles, Christopher's grandmother, to take him back.

However, she petitioned the court to have DHS take custody of Christopher. She was raising his sisters, who were 2 and 14 years old, and could not handle him.

"When he would drink, he would talk about James," Mary Moles said. "Chris would say, 'It was my fault James is dead. I should have got under there and pulled him out.'

"He would not stay home and he was with others who were doing drugs. I was afraid he would get hurt or he would hurt someone else. I always turned him in."

DHS placed Christopher in a children's shelter in Russellville while looking for a long-term residential clinic. All of the private provider programs in the area refused to take him, citing lack of space, his background or his failure to qualify for federal funding.

The state made plans to return him to his mother as soon as she could establish a stable home environment. Cleresa Bullard had just been released from prison. She was working at a Sonic drive-in and was engaged to a man she had known for two months.

A memo from a White County DHS caseworker on Oct. 15 echoed previous opinions that Christopher be placed in a long-term substance abuse program and not be sent home.

On Oct. 29, the Ray Sims family of Searcy, which was already hosting two foster children, agreed to take Christopher.

"I had him for about six weeks, and I couldn't say a bad thing about him. We had a good friendship," said Sims, whose family has taken in 40 foster children in seven years.

"He was unique. He talked about his mama and grandma. He loved them so much. He thought the system gave his mama a raw deal," he said. "As long as people didn't bother them, he was fine."

But Christopher's dreams of living with his mother were dashed again. On Nov. 17, 1998, Cleresa Bullard violated her probation by using drugs and was arrested.

An enraged Christopher ran away from home again after threatening "to put a cap" into his mother's parole officer. When he was caught five days later, he tested positive for marijuana use.

"With Chris, it was too much to expect him to go back into the same situation," said Wilson, of the mental health center. "Friendships don't change. The drug dealer is still living down the street. These kids don't want to reoffend. It's the lifestyle they know. It would be wonderful if we could change them in a couple of months, but we can't."

Wilson recommended that Christopher be returned to the Alexander Youth Services Center. The Division of Children and Family Services returned Christopher to foster care at the Simses' house. He ran away two more times in 1998. Each time he was returned to the foster home.

"He ran away again on the first of the year," Sims recalled, "He said he had never been free on New Year's. He had borrowed some pants from one of the other boys and he washed and ironed them and left them sitting on his chest of drawers. That told me something about him.

"Chris didn't want anything bad to happen or anybody to think badly of him at our house. That will always stick out with me," Sims said. "He could have been the best. There's a lot of kids you go the extra mile for and he's one."

But Christopher was running out of time.

"911. Do you have an emergency?"

"Yeah, I just got robbed."

On Sunday, Jan. 17, 1999, clerk Josh Maddox propped open the front door of the FINA Quik Mart on South Main Street in Searcy. It was 7:30 p.m., and he was about to light a cigarette when two boys walked into the store.

One boy put a can of beef jerky on the counter. The other went into the restroom, then came out and picked up a 44-ounce soft drink.

As Maddox rang up the purchases, the first boy asked, "Do you see this gun?"

The second boy was Christopher Rapier. He was wearing a black bandana around his forehead and a Pittsburgh Steelers cap. He moved behind the counter, holding an orange-handled carpet knife in his right hand. Both boys warned Maddox that they would kill him if he tried anything.

Christopher grabbed about $400 out of the register and stuffed it in his jacket. As he was about to leave, he noticed Maddox's gold nugget-style watch. He ordered Maddox, who was lying on the floor, to give it to him. The boys told Maddox not to call the police, then ran out. Christopher later sold the watch to his grandfather for $20 without telling him where it came from.

After the robbery, Christopher went back to the foster home where Ray Sims checked him for drugs or illegal weapons. He found $156 that Christopher insisted he had worked for. Sims confiscated the money and called DHS to see what he should do with it, as required by state regulations. The next day, Christopher ran away again. The money was turned over to the police.

Christopher was picked up on a runaway warrant in a trailer park where several of his friends had gathered to hear details of the robbery. This time, the Simses refused to take him back.

One of his friends grew nervous and called the Searcy police to tell them she knew who committed the robbery. One by one, Christopher's friends and his sister related to the police what they knew. Christopher was arrested while hiding at his grandfather's house. He confessed on Jan. 26.

The prosecutor decided to try him as an adult for aggravated robbery, a felony. He was sent to the Yell County Juvenile Detention Center in Danville.

Wilson read a newspaper story about the robbery and later learned that Christopher was involved.

"I was angry. I was angry that he broke the law. I was angry that he was armed. I was angry that I did not have a magic wand that I could wave to instantly change my clients so that they would no longer continue to hurt themselves and others," he said.

"It took the wind out of my sails because I was optimistic that Chris would become a productive member of society."

The detention center, which is next to the Yell County sheriff's office, is a gray concrete 2-year-old building that has beds for 24 youthful offenders. It is operated by the county. The sheriff's office helps the staff oversee the facility where DHS contracted for bed space.

Here, the two faces of Christopher Rapier were again evident.

"I met Chris on the cellblock," said one 14-year-old boy. "We talked a lot about everything. He was trying to get me into the Bible. I like church now. I didn't then. I was into 'science can create everything.' He showed me it couldn't. He could really quote the Bible.

"He was scared to go to the pen," the boy said. "He would pray every night. He told me this place wasn't that bad but the pen would be."

Yell County jail guard Brandi Womack found Christopher to be intelligent, charming and kind. At one point, he drew her a card with a rose on it and composed a poem for her.

"He cared about people, but he was also tough as a boot because he had to be," she said. "He dealt with a lot all his life. His behavior was totally separate from his heart. His attitude reflected both. The battle of good and evil was really hard for him. He fought it all the time."

Christopher also fought life in detention. During his 43 days in Danville, he was written up six times for various offenses including cursing, kicking doors and stealing a part from a computer mouse. The boys like to make tiny dice out of the mouse ball.

On Feb. 8, Christopher and another boy beat and banged on the cell doors, according to an incident report. Christopher denied he was making noise and cursed the guards when he was accused. He was taken to the drunk tank at the nearby adult jail for six hours.

Christopher was written up on Feb. 23. He was pacing and talking and hitting the wall. Another boy was in the cell with him. "I talked to Kristi (detention center director)," reported guard Robin Barefield in her incident report. "She said tell them if they don't settle down, they would be strapped down."

"Juveniles are never threatened, argued with or physically stuck," a detention center pamphlet states. "However, juveniles who 'test the system' are met with one level of force higher than they exert, as personnel must maintain order and discipline within the center at all times."

Christopher met that force on March 2. He was in cell B1 kicking the door, upset because he was on 24-hour lockdown, the incident report stated. Lt. Burl Boyd of the Yell County sheriff's office tried to handcuff him and take him to the isolation cell, but he resisted. Danville Police Chief Lloyd Maughn tried to help Boyd. In the scuffle, Maughn's finger was severely sprained when he hit a wall.

The cell was drenched with pepper spray, which drifted into the other cells.

"It's critical to subdue these things as soon as possible with the least amount of confusion," said Lt. Dave Kimball of the Yell County Criminal Investigation Division.

"Our staff is trained, maybe not in take-down methods, but to speak to the children," he said. "Burl is an older gentleman and Lloyd had a heart problem. They couldn't handle him." Three more members of the sheriff's office were called.

The men finally handcuffed and shackled the 15-year-old Christopher and took him to the isolation cell.

On March 10, Christopher did not eat his dinner. He was on a hunger strike.

Barefield told him he would starve to death if he didn't start eating.

Christopher replied, "If I wanted to kill myself there are other ways that I can do it." He explained that he could put a bedsheet around the sprinkler in the ceiling and hang himself.

Barefield told the state police that she passed this information to guard Womack, who came to relieve her at 11 p.m.

Womack said all Barefield told her was, "I want you to watch him real close. He just acts funny. Keep an eye on him."

"At that time, we didn't put kids on suicide watch unless they said they were going to kill themselves," Womack said. "That all got stricter after Christopher."

That night, Christopher called his grandmother, Mary Moles.

He had decided to accept a plea bargain. He would get 20 years as an adult for robbery but would only have to serve five years.

"He was in a good mood. He said he was going to serve his time and be a minister when he came out. He said, 'I love you, grandma,'" Mary Moles recalled.

Womack talked with Christopher around 2:45 a.m. on March 11.

"He wanted to know when I was working next. He said, 'I want to see your pretty face. I know you care about me. I care about you, too.'"

She left to check on boys making noise down the hall.

At 2:57 a.m., 10 to 15 minutes later, she returned to the isolation cell and saw a sheet hanging in front of the window of the cell door.

She reached through the food slot and pulled down the sheet. Christopher was hanging from a second sheet attached to the water sprinkler.

"His eyes met mine," Womack said. "They were open, but they were glazed over. That split second felt like eternity."

She called for help and tried to open the door. But Christopher had jammed the lock with putty from the window frame.

Between 10 and 13 minutes elapsed. The paramedics arrived and stood by helplessly, unable to enter the cell. Finally, the jammed lock gave way. The paramedics carefully cut Christopher down and found a faint pulse.

The ambulance carrying Christopher arrived at Chambers Memorial Hospital in Danville at 3:20 a.m. "He was without vital signs and has fixed dilated pupils at the time of admission," hospital records stated. "There is no cardiac activity." But after working on him for 25 minutes, circulation and blood pressure returned.

Christopher was transferred to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. In the days that followed, his mother was let out of prison on an emergency pass to visit him.

Other visitors included Wilson, of the mental health center, and Christopher's attorney, Carla Fuller.

No one could believe that Christopher, who seemed so full of life, would kill himself.

"Saying I was surprised would be an understatement," Wilson said. "I questioned if it was really Chris, at least the Chris I knew. Then, when I learned the effort he had gone to ensure that he was successful, I knew. He was nothing if not determined."

Christopher was nearly brain dead. He never rallied over the next week. The doctors discussed Christopher's medical outlook with his family.

"If we'd kept him alive he would have to be fed through his stomach and his throat cleared every hour. He would have to use diapers," Mary Moles said. "The day we decided to turn the machines off, I'll never forget as long as I live. He was just laying there. He didn't recognize any of us."

Distraught and exhausted, his mother and grandmother walked the hospital hallway together.

"Mama, he wouldn't want to be this way," Cleresa said. She gave the doctors permission to disconnect life-support equipment.

At 8:35 p.m. on March 20, Christopher Rapier was pronounced dead. It had been nine days since he hanged himself.

When the family was notified at the trailer in Searcy, Mary Moles finally broke down.

"I started back to my bedroom and I couldn't make it," she said. "Cleresa and his other grandmother was there. The whole house got silent except for the sobs. It was awful."

Those left behind still speculate about one boy's turbulent life -- how it was lived and lost.

Judge Edwards said he believes that the state could not undo the destructive patterns of Christopher's early years.

"His grandmother was a nice lady, but she couldn't control him. We were all getting into his life at a point when it was well down the road to disaster," Edwards said. "As a judge and as a human being, it's frustrating to look at everything that everybody did and it didn't change anything. I wish it had."

Stephen Edelhuber, whose son had been terrorized by Christopher with the hatchet two years earlier, visited Mary Moles the day her grandson was taken off life support. He also attended Christopher's funeral.

"I told her we had forgiven Chris for what he had done," he said. "I'm a youth minister. I knew the system and what was happening shouldn't have happened. He should have gotten some help. He did have promise."

Mary Moles still aches over the loss. At Christmas, she strung colored lights around Christopher's picture and watched home movies of him.

"Chris had a rough life growing up," she said. "It was never stable. Going to that wilderness camp didn't help. The state just put him in there and let him do his time. That's it. He didn't get help to the extent he should have.

"After James was electrocuted, Chris would want to see him. So I'd tell him, 'Look at the brightest star up in the sky. That's James and he's watching over us.' And Chris would go out and look at the sky every night. Now, I guess he's with him."

Mary Jackson taught Christopher at a Searcy alternative school. Now, she was at his funeral.

"He was tough. It was almost like a walnut. That exterior is so tough and almost impossible to break through," she said. "But when you get inside, it's mush. He didn't want anybody inside as much as he longed for that."

On the day of Christopher Rapier's funeral at the Valley Baptist Church in Searcy, family members, teachers, counselors, DHS caseworkers, foster children and gang members sat side by side.

Shawn Wilson was a pallbearer. So was foster parent Ray Sims.

As they walked outside, teacher Jackson turned to attorney Fuller and voiced the silent prayer of the adults who were heading back to work with other troubled children whose lives were hauntingly similar to that of the boy they had just buried.

"Please," she said, "let's not go through this again."

Postscript: On Jan. 6, another juvenile offender, Christopher Howard, hanged himself in the Crossett jail. The 16-year-old had escaped while on a trip overseen by Youth Bridge Inc. where he had been sent by DYS. He was facing felony charges of kidnapping, aggravated robbery, terroristic threatening and first-degree escape.

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