Family friends describe teen suspect in Battlemen Mesa killing
July 23, 2005
As the western Garfield County community reels from news of the shooting death of 9-year-old Taylor DeMarco, people are trying to piece together answers. But they don’t come easily.
How could the tragedy in Battlement Mesa on July 20 have been prevented? And who’s to blame?
YouthZone Executive Director Deb Wilde cautioned on Friday against blaming any one entity in such a tragic situation.
“We all ask, ‘Who is that magic person or thing or entity that could have made everyone safe?'” she said. “It’s a natural reaction to blame somebody. We have to take our anger out on something. It’s got to be somebody’s fault. But I’ve learned through the years that there are always different sides to a story.”
Laurie and Arnold Pressler of Rifle are close family friends of Rick and Val Stoneman ” the parents of 14-year-old suspect Eric Stoneman ” who divorced about a year and a half ago. The Presslers talked to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on Friday afternoon but declined to comment on how Eric was able to get the .22-caliber pistol he shot Taylor with. But they did want to share their opinions about the Stonemans’ family situation.
“Val and Rick are good people,” Arnold said. “They didn’t know how to deal with Eric. They have two older, great kids, high achievers. They sought help for Eric. They probably called the police and sheriff’s office a dozen times because of incidents with him. They locked him out of their room at night. They went to therapy. They had him in lockup. But nobody took it seriously. People are going to think the parents screwed up. But they tried. And they couldn’t get the help they needed.”
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Wilde said that help isn’t easy to come by, though.
“In an odd way, the law really protects parental rights,” Wilde said. “It’s very difficult for the court to take a kid away from his parents. People have to understand that the courts only have so much authority. They can’t put a kid in jail because of a petty offense, or pot possession, or because of something he said or the menacing way he might look at you.”
Laurie and Arnold said they’ve known the Stonemans since Eric was a toddler. They said the Stonemans moved to the upper Colorado River Valley in the early ’90s, and lived in New Castle and Rifle before moving to Battlement Mesa in 2003.
They said he liked skateboarding and loved snowboarding. He’d go snowboarding at Sunlight Mountain Resort a lot, Laurie said.
But the Presslers said they knew Eric was a troubled toddler, boy and, now, teen who constantly demanded attention and energy.
“He consumed them,” Laurie said.
The Presslers described Eric as a big kid ” maybe 5 feet 10 inches and chunky.
“You know, he’s in the middle of that adolescent growth spurt,” Laurie said.
Laurie said Eric was an outcast. It didn’t seem like he had any real friends.
“He’d go from one counselor to the next,” she said. “One would give up on him, and he’d go to the next.”
Eric attended Rifle Middle School, but Laurie said he was kicked out. Most recently he attended Wellspring Treatment School, a school at Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs for special-needs students in fifth through 12th grades.
Yampah Mountain High School Principal Tom Heald said he couldn’t speak specifically about Eric Stoneman because of juvenile confidentiality laws. But he said a number of factors contribute to an incident such as this.
“There are 168 hours in a week, divided into time spent at school, at home, sleeping, alone and with family and friends,” he said. “You know the phrase that it takes a village to raise a child? Well, it can take just one child to raze a village, and by that I mean level a community. A child can level a village with one action like this.
“Could this have been prevented?” Heald said. “This is an incredibly unfortunate incident where a number of circumstances conspired together. Kids were left alone, an unlocked, unloaded weapon was available, and poor choices were made. The best we can do is learn from this.”