By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
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By Melanie Asmar
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Jeb and Kris Bryant say God runs their lives. He helped them find each other while they were going to school in Maryland. He led them to the Calvary Chapel School of Ministry in Southern California. He brought them to southwestern Colorado, where they started a Calvary Chapel church in the Bayfield Elementary School basement. "That's just where God wanted us to be," Kris Bryant says. God also helped them find a small ranch with a double-wide trailer on the Buck Highway, a county road that connects Bayfield and Ignacio, two rural La Plata County towns east of Durango. The Bryants run some cattle during the summer, and they keep horses, sheep, goats and chickens. They also breed dogs for sale.
Back in California, the Bryants had taken in teens from time to time, so when they heard about the Jacob Center, it seemed like a natural fit; they could take juveniles into their home as they had in the past. If the boys were interested, they would hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Because the boys had to stay under their supervision, they had to go to church, but they didn't have to sit in the same room where the worship services were taking place. The Bryants were also paid about $600 per month for each placement, of which they had as many as four at one time. Sometimes that covered the expenses for things like food, clothing and transportation to various appointments, says Kris Bryant, and sometimes it didn't.
Jeb Bryant says he agrees with critics who say the juvenile-justice system is driven by budgetary concerns. "I think the system is motivated by finances more than caring about kids, the way they move them around all the time," he says. "They're like stockbrokers, making a commission each time they move a kid."
In April 1996 Gallegos moved into the Bryants' home. Even though Gallegos was still officially in the custody of the Division of Youth Corrections and was in the first year of a sentence for felony assault, nobody told Bayfield marshal Jim Harrington, Ignacio police chief Pete Gonzales or La Plata County sheriff Duke Schirard of the new arrival. Harrington knows just about everybody who can cause trouble--of which there is not much--in or near his quiet town of 1,400, but he never heard of Gallegos until it was too late. "The first time I heard the name Joe Gallegos is when a Greeley police officer called me," Harrington says. There is no requirement that the Division of Youth Corrections notify local authorities when placing a client, although the Department of Corrections tells local officials when it is releasing adult prisoners--even when they haven't been convicted of violent crimes.
Jeb and Kris Bryant say they were not worried. "[Jacob Center officials] called him their poster child," Kris Bryant says, adding that he lived up to his billing: He did all of his chores around the house with great diligence; he even straightened out the other Jacob Center boys living in the home and would tell her if one of them had brought drugs into the home. "Joe would tell on them every time," Kris Bryant says. "He was the best kid we ever had."
He also seemed to embrace the Bryants' new church and attended Sunday services, Saturday morning Young Men's Accountability Group, prayer meetings on Monday and Friday nights and teen Bible study on Wednesday nights. Saturday nights they would get together to watch a video of a film friendly to their Christian values, such as Chariots of Fire. "We pretty much have something every day of the week," Kris Bryant says.
It was in one of those meetings that Gallegos met Josh Turville, a twenty-year-old who a generation earlier would have been known as a "Jesus freak." He had shaggy, brownish hair and a scruffy beard and could lead a group in Christian songs on his guitar for hours.
Turville and Gallegos quickly became constant companions. Turville got his strong, young friend a job working with him building homes. When the two were not working or in a church meeting, they climbed rocks, swam or went to Navajo Lake to jump off rocks into the cool water. The Bryants let Gallegos go with Turville to do things they never knew about, even though such freedom of movement--and participation in dangerous activities such as cliff-jumping--was technically against Jacob Center rules. It was a privilege that Kris Bryant says she didn't extend to the other juveniles in her home. "He was so trustworthy that we let him do anything," she says. That included cooking up crystal meth on the Bryants' stove without their knowledge, as his ex-girlfriend later told Greeley police.
With no prison in southwestern Colorado, the Bryants and Turville were following the instructions in Matthew 25 by ministering to prisoners who happened to be "incarcerated" in the Bryants' mobile home. Nobody doubts the sincerity of the Bryants' and Turville's faith, but in the wake of the tragedy that followed, a few people questioned whether they were equipped to handle a violent felon like Gallegos. "They come from the school that if you just love kids enough, they'll be okay, and what you really need are people who are extremely reality-based," says one person involved in the juvenile system and familiar with the Gallegos case. "Kids who go through this system are extremely sophisticated, and they just eat up people like that."