By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Cody Wille stands flat-footed outside the back door of Clark's Market in Aspen. He fumbles with his mask, trying to get the eyeholes right with one hand while clutching a BB gun in the other.
The gun is a surprise. His friend Moses Greengrass handed it to him moments before. "Here, you take this," Moses said. "I've got the safe."
It's a cool, magical summer evening in the Roaring Fork Valley, just a month past Cody's seventeenth birthday. The parking lot is deserted except for the two masked young men hurtling toward the supermarket. Leaving Cody behind.
This is not happening, Cody tells himself. This is -- well, a goof, right? Somebody's going to burst out laughing, and we'll just take off.
But then Moses crosses the threshold of Clark's, pushing an employee in front of him, and Cody hustles to catch up. He goes into the store and points his realistic-looking pistol at the clerk behind the register, who grabs a bag and begins to fill it with cash. Nobody is laughing.
Moses cleans out the open safe. The third robber, later identified by police as seventeen-year-old Stefan Schutter, trains a .22 rifle on the rest of the employees and a few late-night customers. Cody glances around and sees a man who looks a lot like the minister of his church. The man stares at him.
Cody goes numb all over. He's not sure he can move. Then he feels the .22 being jammed in his back, hard, with a sharp command to get it together.
Cody turns. His friends are already out the door. Cody takes the bag of cash and runs after them.
It's already too late to ask, How did I get here? Where the hell am I going?
Last fall, the citizenry of Aspen was stunned by the arrests of twelve teenagers for a string of burglaries, armed robberies, car thefts and home invasions. The nine-month youthquake was the biggest crime story to hit the Western Slope's bubble of privilege since the romance between actress Claudine Longet and skier Spider Sabich ended with a bang a quarter-century ago.
Compared to big-city mayhem, the robbery spree was relatively tame. No shots were fired, and the weapons used in the robberies were apparently unloaded. But the hurt put on the town's pride and its wallets was considerable; the haul in the Clark's Market robbery, for example, came to more than $21,000. And the threat of violence seemed to increase with each heist, spreading fear and outrage in the business community. One store clerk was pistol-whipped during a stickup. A shop owner closed her business after two break-ins. Whether the guns were loaded or not, employees who had those guns stuck in their faces suffered nightmares just the same.
But the real shock was the identity of the thieves. They were Aspen's own -- familiar faces from the slopes, the pedestrian mall, the bike trails. They were popular students or recent graduates of Aspen High, for the most part, including some star athletes and scholars thought to have exceedingly bright futures.
One was the mayor's son. Others bore the names of prominent second- or third-generation Aspen families, families deeply involved in civic life and community service. Only one or two could be considered wealthy by Aspen standards, but none were less than solidly middle-class. A few had prior juvenile records, but most had never been in trouble before. Several had worked in stores that were robbed, and were now being prosecuted as finger men.
The town's sense of betrayal was profound. In a place where the social ills of the wider world are scarcely felt -- where city council members make impassioned arguments to ban charcoal lighter fluid or to provide free parking for electric cars, where the gulf between rich and poor translates into the gap between a government-subsidized condo and a 10,000-square-foot second home -- why would some of the best and brightest turn to crime?
It was a puzzle. For months the debate raged on in the courtroom and the taverns, in the lodges and the shops. There was talk about broken homes and drugs, inadequate parental supervision and the "permissive" atmosphere at the high school. There was talk of eroding values and of the need for busy, self-absorbed folks to spend more time with the young. Most of all, there was talk of consequences -- or the lack of them.
"Not one kid honestly thought he would serve time for all of this," says Tom Farrell, superintendent of the Aspen school district, who visited several of the teens in jail. "The reality is, our kids do not get a lot of consequences. We don't correct them the way we should -- the school doesn't, the community doesn't, law enforcement doesn't. If a kid steals a piece of candy and gets caught, the idea is to give the candy back. The next thing you know, they're stealing CDs, shoplifting -- they never see the consequences."
The dirty dozen are seeing plenty of consequences these days. Five of them accepted plea bargains that sent them to prison, their sentences ranging from three to twelve years. Four others received probation, with various conditions for community service, restitution or credit for time spent in jail. Three are still awaiting trials, slated to begin in late August and early September.