The Rainbow Family portrays itself as a benign group populated by people who resemble throwbacks to the hippie era. But is it actually a dangerous amalgam of humanity stocked with criminals, petty and otherwise?
The latter description reflects the view of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office following the arrest of Norman Wheatley in a quadruple stabbing -- and there's also a Rainbow Family connection to this week's high profile pit bull attack on a toddler in Commerce City.
As noted by the Fort Collins Coloradoan, annual gatherings of the Rainbow Family typically take place circa early July in either Nevada or Utah. However, members of the group come from all over the country in order to attend and Colorado is a popular spot to congregate either en route or after the fact. CW2 points out that many consider the very first Rainbow Family get-together to have taken place near Paonia in 1972.
Members of the Rainbow Family see themselves as peaceful nature lovers, as is depicted in this collection of images from a 2006 event in Colorado:
These photos couldn't contrast more sharply with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office view of the Rainbow Family. The LCSO refers to it as "a migrant association of individuals who are known to law enforcement and believed to be holding a gathering in Larimer County through the middle of August." The number of family members currently stands at around fifty, the sheriff's office notes, but reports suggest the total could eventually grow to as many as a thousand people. And that worries authorities because "at other gatherings in adjacent states, members of this association have been known to engage in various criminal activities, including possession/consumption of controlled substances, theft and fraud."
A considerably more serious incident is said to have taken place on Tuesday, July 15, northwest of Red Feather Lakes off County Road 73C -- a spot located on U.S. Forest Service land.
At around 11 p.m., deputies responded to a report of a stabbing. There they found four injured people: a woman who refused medical attention, a man who was taken to an area hospital by deputies, a second man transported via ambulance and 37-year-old Wheatley, who was airlifted to the Medical Center of the Rockies.
Wheatley was subsequently arrested and charged with second-degree assault.
The boy's mother is referred to as "Mama Rocket," and according to Sue Tacket, who was arrested after her dog, Zeus, bit the boy's face and neck, the events that led up to the attack included drunkenness a pulled knife, a kick in the stomach and an attempt by a wanted man currently at large to run over some of those on the scene with a motor home.
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The Larimer County Sheriff's Office is girding itself for more problems. A release from the department maintains that "citizens recreating in the National Forest lands within the county should maintain situational awareness and preparedness by securing valuables and locking car doors, and letting someone know where they are going and when they will return.... Anyone who witnesses or is a victim of a crime, or who experiences any other type of emergency, is urged to move to an area where they can contact the Larimer County Sheriff's Office as quickly as is safely practicable and call 911."
Here's a larger look at Norman Wheatley's booking photo.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.