Fatal shooting of student splits community known for love of the outdoors
Saturday, November 21, 2009
FERRUM, VA. -- Jessica Goode needed to clear her head. It was Tuesday afternoon, her senior project presentation was due by Friday and it wasn't going well. She wanted to be in the one place where she always felt better: the woods.
In the years that she'd been studying the environment at Ferrum College at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural southwestern Virginia, Goode had learned every trail crisscrossing the 700-acre campus. She'd paddled her kayak in nearby Philpot Lake, hiked the hollows of Fairy Stone Park and camped under the massive Tuscarora quartzite monolith called the Dragon's Tooth. The 23-year-old from Winchester was, friends said, fearless.
She grabbed two friends, heading across the smooth green soccer field behind the dorms and into the woods. Goode wore a white shirt. The others wore white and brown.
That afternoon, Jason D. Cloutier, 31, a son of country folk with deep roots in the area, set off into the same woods. He donned blaze orange to comply with Virginia hunting laws and packed his .35-caliber, high-powered rifle, equipped with a scope to get a better bead on his target. Deer hunting season had started three days earlier, and because he'd been laid off from his pipefitting job, he had the afternoon free.
Shortly after 4 p.m., a single pull of the trigger propelled a bullet into Goode's chest from a distance of 100 yards. She was killed instantly. After slicing through her, the bullet continued into the hand of her friend, Regis Boudinot, 20, a Langley High graduate from McLean.
Cloutier remains free on a $20,000 bond, charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless use of a firearm and trespass, charges that together carry a maximum of 12 years in jail and $5,000 in fines. Toxicology reports are pending, and law enforcement officials said they might add charges as the investigation continues.
In this tightknit community of 1,400 that consists, literally, of the college and a scatter of farms and solitary houses in the woods, the killing of a beloved student has unleashed a welter of questions: How could he have shot her? Couldn't he see she wasn't a deer? And from another perspective, some neighbors want to know what Goode was doing in the woods in hunting season wearing white? Didn't she know she might look like a deer's throat?
Sgt. Karl Martin, who is heading the investigation for Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said he sees no fault anywhere but in Cloutier's actions. "The first thing that hunters learn is that they have to be sure of their target, and that wasn't the case here," Martin said. "The victim and her companions were doing nothing wrong. They were there legally, in what was supposed to be a safe setting. The burden is on the hunter."
Ferrum is in Franklin County, hunting country. Hunters here killed more than 6,000 deer last year, along with turkey and bear, putting it in the top five Virginia counties for hunting. Hunting is a tradition not just among the locals but on the college campus.
Ferrum's campus police chief, Libby Legg, pulled a thick black Weapons Registration binder from the shelf in her office. Students check their weapons, bows, shotguns and rifles in her office safe, then check them out for hunting trips. "Some students come and check out their weapons after class to go hunting," Legg said.
"Hunting is everywhere," Goode's friend Katie Porter said Friday as she walked across the bucolic campus among students tossing footballs and packing for the Thanksgiving holiday. Porter said there is no divide on campus between those who are drawn to the woods to hike or camp and those who go to hunt.
"The outdoors are the outdoors," she said, pointing to a mud-splattered Ford Explorer with blaze orange baseball caps on the dashboard and camouflage seat coverings. "And we all love it."