They're Not Columbine Knolls

Jefferson County struggles to find a place for its sex offenders.

"I don't want my granddaughter to become a victim at their hands," said a man who identified himself as having lived in the Columbine community for 29 years. "They have to pay the price."

Neighbors got up to report numerous offenses allegedly committed by Shiloh boys, the most serious of which was a woman's claim that one of the boys told her daughter he was going to "come over and rape her."

Others said they were afraid because they'd seen boys sneaking out of the homes at night. One man said a Shiloh boy pointed a laser light into his bedroom window.

Neighbors worried about juvenile sex offenders living in this Lost and Found house.
John Johnson
Neighbors worried about juvenile sex offenders living in this Lost and Found house.
The Boys Next Door
In the rush to ban sex offenders, cities and counties may inadvertently be creating more of them down the line.

Checking It Twice
The sex-offender registry brands kids well into adulthood.

Most of the reports, however, were generated by fear, not facts. Group members had been unable to find records of any crimes directly related to the Shiloh homes.

John Fasciani, who represents a church fellowship group that works with the Shiloh youth, went to the meetings to support Shiloh and said he discovered "the closest thing I've seen to a lynch mob."

"I'm disappointed in the community that we live in," he said at a planning meeting. "I've had people call me an idiot. A man with a beet-red face challenged me to a fight in the parking lot."

But there were reasoned comments, too.

An Aurora woman, whose son is living in a treatment program in Fort Collins, told the gathering that she would love to have Shiloh-like programs in her neighborhood. "Please," she said, "put these services in my backyard. The problem is there's not enough group homes in our community...There are only four residential programs in the state that will take my son."

And numerous treatment providers and therapists took the floor to advocate compassion.

Compassion, however, "is not the issue," says Hansen. "How can any of us say we don't want to help troubled youth? But that's not the point. The point is that it's wrong where they're doing it."

The county commissioners agreed with Hansen. In January they approved an ordinance banning more than one unrelated sex offender per household. Shiloh was given two years to comply.

"The thing that I think really got lost in the whole zoning controversy is that there are criteria for kids to be in the community," says Gail Ryan, director of the Perpetration Prevention Program at Denver's Kempe Children's Center. "It would be much more useful to involve the community in that criteria design process, to have them say, well, that criteria seems reasonable, that makes us uncomfortable. Those kinds of conversations can be helpful in that they know the kids must meet certain criteria, and that if they don't, if they cross a certain line, they're out.

"But no one wanted to talk about that criteria. I think many people were not in a good place to listen and to ask the right questions. It was a very adversarial process."

Jefferson County, in the meantime, is trying to find a place to build a facility for the offenders. The plan is to make it a public-private enterprise, with the county providing the land. Leah Wicks, former supervisor of the probation unit for Jefferson County, says she thinks the county may be planning to build a family-style treatment model in which small homes are scattered over a campus-like setting.

But that plan already has run into roadblocks. County commissioners had agreed to buy nine acres for the group home site as well as a surrounding 140-acre parcel for open space, giving the offenders and the public some breathing room.

But Golden city officials protested use of the site, which lies just beyond that town's borders. They and residents who live near the site complained that the group home would compromise their safety and that of anyone who chose to use the open space.

The protest prompted county administrator Ron Holliday to ask in exasperation, "How far is far enough?"

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