Youth Experience student gunned down in his hometown |

Youth Experience student gunned down in his hometown

Eben Harrell
Charles Simpson, a regular visitor through the Aspen Youth Experience program, was shot and killed in his hometown last week.

A 15-year-old boy enrolled in Aspen Youth Experience, an Aspen-based program that works to empower at-risk youth, was shot and killed in his hometown of Kansas City last week.Charles Simpson had been to Aspen four times, as recently as January, as part of counseling retreats for inner-city children organized by the Aspen Youth Experience [formerly Grass Roots Aspen Experience]. Representatives from the organization called the shooting tragic, saying Simpson had made great strides since he first came to Aspen two and a half years ago.Simpson was shot six times in the chest after getting off a bus near his mother’s house on the afternoon of Feb. 10. He was coming home from seeing a counselor at Operation Breakthrough, a Kansas-based partner of Aspen Youth Experience. The Kansas City Star reported that Simpson had visited his counselor to show off a report card with straight B’s.

“This was potentially the greatest day of his life,” Aspen Youth Experience Executive Director Bennett Bramson said. “He had been in a gang when he first came to Aspen and he had gotten out and made a statement about what he could do with his life. It’s really devastating.”Bramson said police are investigating whether the shooting was a retaliation for Simpson leaving the gang.Simpson, who entered foster care at age 4, had lived with his grandmother until two years ago, when he moved in with his biological mother. Simpson was a regular afternoon participant at Operation Breakthrough and his attendance had secured him several trips to Aspen.

His next trip was going to be this summer, where he would take the position of peer counselor, a position he secured through hard work, Bramson said.Former Aspen Youth Experience program coordinator Sarah Blangsted, who worked closely with Simpson, said Simpson was a big personality who quickly made friends during his trips to Aspen. “At the summer program I remember him doing back flips. Everyone in the program knew Chuck. The program meant everything to him. He really shined here in Aspen,” she said.

Blangsted, who flew out this morning for Simpson’s memorial service in Kansas City, said she will be joined by many of the kids who were with Simpson in Aspen. Bramson said the organization has been working with the other youth participants to help them grieve and keep their spirits up.”This has given our kids across the country the chance to grieve and come together. ” he said. “When they found out, many of the kids immediately wanted to look for retribution, to hunt down who did this. We are working to counsel them and show them that the answer is not more violence.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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