Robert Brown is standing in the driveway of his home here on State Park Road, pointing out landmarks from the life--and death--of his wife. Through the treetops to his left, he can make out the top of a wooden building where she was born, Penny Lockwood, 39 years ago. The church where Robert and Penny were married 15 summers ago is a few blocks from there, on Broad Street.
"The jogging path starts down there," Brown says, pointing farther down State Park Road. His voice is slower, heavier.
"And just over there," he says, turning around, pointing over the trees behind the back of the house, "is where the murderer lived."
It was Mother's Day this year, the day Penny Brown went for a run and never came home. She was a nurse, a midwife, a wife, a mother of two girls, ages 10 and 13, who were napping when their mom walked out the door with their two dogs, Nancy and Keeper, early that Sunday evening. The next morning, more than a dozen hours after Robert reported Penny missing, a search party discovered her body in a small ravine next to the jogging path, buried beneath a pile of leaves, branches and twigs. She had been raped, then strangled with the leash of one of her own dogs. It was the first murder to take place in this tiny city of 6,000 in 27 years.
Immediately, the residents were transfixed with horror: Who could have done this? A stranger who stopped off Route 17 for gas or a snack at the nearby Burger King? One of a handful of newcomers spotted downtown? Or--heaven forbid--one of their own?
One day after recovering Penny Brown's body, the police arrested 15-year-old Edward Kindt and charged him with second-degree murder. And the town had an answer: Troubled Teenager Kills Neighbor.
Only things are never that simple. In this town, with its fractious history, it was almost inevitable that this murder would be filtered--rightly or wrongly--through the prism of race. Built almost entirely on reservation land, Salamanca has been a battleground for much of this decade, a community torn between the Seneca Nation that claims the land and the whites who live in, and pay mortgages on, the buildings. It is a battle being played out between Native American tribes and the government all across this country, with homes, towns--entire counties--often caught in the middle.
The battle for Salamanca ended less than two years ago, with 16 white families evicted from their homes for refusing to sign a new land lease approved by Congress. And the bitterness lingers.
"There has been some healing, but to be honest, there is a lot more that needs to be done," says Mike Peters, a local minister. "I believe it's been scabbed over, but whenever the whole incident comes up again, emotions run very high. You worry that anything that happens can open that wound again."
Edward Kindt is Native American. Penny Brown is white. And so people worried. Spoken, unspoken, the race issue was there. Nine paragraphs into the Salamanca Press story, there came this one simple sentence: "At least one person in the crowd shouted a racial epithet at the Native American teen who was surrounded by police and wearing a bulletproof vest." Racial epithets. Bulletproof vests. In a town so safe, so insular, that Penny Brown's parents never bother to lock their front door.
It came as little surprise, then, when Peters spoke at the memorial service of the town's need to set aside its divisiveness and search for a way to heal. Mayor Carmen Vecchiarella, ever cautious of his split community, still declines to talk to reporters about the impending trial--Kindt, who is currently in the county jail, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Vecchiarella cites concerns over taking sides.
But when Edward Sharkey, the district attorney, wrote in an affidavit to the court that "this incident has caused tensions to run high and create the possibility of violence"--many people here were taken aback.
Walk through the town, past the Seneca-owned smoke shops selling tax-free tobacco, past the kids on bicycles who still say hello to strangers, past Veterans Park where 2,000 people gathered--whites and Native Americans alike--to mourn Penny Brown's passing, and you will hear voices from all corners who chafe against the suggestion that this tragedy is about race. Penny Brown, those voices say, delivered too many tiny Native American babies--their mothers' blood on her fingers, their tiny heads in her hands--to be described as simply "a white woman."
And Edward Kindt? Mention his name and the voices talk of Columbine, of Jonesboro, Ark., of this epidemic of teenage violence that now has reached its fingers into their town, into their community, into one of their own. White voices, Native American voices, that's how they describe him: One of their own.
"Please," Jerry Lockwood says, his voice low, a plea. "Don't make this about a race thing."
Lockwood is on his front porch, ushering out a visitor, his eyes still a bit red from remembrances of his daughter. Lockwood was the mayor of Salamanca when the new land lease was negotiated, and a firsthand witness to the anger it brought.
"Penny just wouldn't believe that," he says. "That's not what she was like."
'There's a Lot of Pain'
Penny Brown started jogging the trail out by the old, unused railroad tracks back in her early twenties, when she was still Penny Lockwood. The trail was cool, quiet, peaceful--as is Salamanca.
But before long, Penny decided it was time to see more. She joined the Air Force, served as a nurse, met Robert Brown. And when her time in the service was up, she asked him to move to Salamanca. A good place to raise children, she said. Brown joined the reserves, fought in the Gulf War. Penny got involved working with lower-income mothers and their children. She was passionate about breast-feeding. Robert Brown used to come home and find his living room filled with moms breast-feeding their babies. It never surprised him. That was Penny.
Penny was in her late thirties when she decided she wanted to be a midwife. By the time she died, she had delivered more than 100 babies--many of them through her work at the health center in Jimersontown, a part of Salamanca that is home to the Seneca Nation headquarters. Her memorial service was crowded with parents--and grandparents--of children she had birthed, among them Bill Krause, whose granddaughter had been delivered by Penny. Krause, a Seneca leader, spoke movingly at the service of the experience.
"She worked so hard to become a midwife," Robert Brown says. "She loved what she did."
It is late summer. The older of the Browns' two daughters, Kaitlyn--tall, thin, more mature than her 13 years--is reminding Dad she needs a haircut appointment for school.
A calendar hangs on the kitchen wall, marked with reminders and appointments. In the box for Aug. 25, Robert Brown has made a notation in small, precise letters: "15 years anniversary," it reads. "It would have been great. But now it won't ever happen. Due to Edward Kindt murdering my wife. Please Almighty 'God' JUSTICE!!!"
The word "JUSTICE" is underlined three times. In the box next to it, the one for Aug. 26, the space reads simply "payday."
"It's hard," he says. "At first, it's like somebody hitting you with a bat. There's a lot of pain. But then you realize you've got two healthy children, just a lot of things, and you do what you have to do." He makes meatballs. On the stove, sauce bubbles. He goes to work--he helps the developmentally disabled now--comes home, worries about Bradleigh, 10, who used to like to climb in bed with her mother and now spends all her time down the street at her grandmother's, where she double-checks the locks on the windows and doors. And he brings out pictures: Penny in her nurse's uniform. Penny the day they got married. "She has pretty eyes, doesn't she?" he says.
Ten seconds later, his voice is hard, talking about the death penalty, declaring himself "one of those George W. Bush conservatives, tough on crime." He rails about the fact that he and his wife weren't allowed to know "who the people are you should be looking out for on the street" because the law required that Kindt's juvenile record be sealed. He makes angry references to hanging the guilty from trees.
He never mentions Kindt's race until asked, and then he seems surprised by the question.
"What does it matter?" he says. "I'm a little more scared of teenagers these days than I am of Native Americans. So he's Native American. All of that is [expletive] propaganda. I have a Native American living in this community, and I have an Italian American neighbor. So what? All it boils down to is Edward Kindt was bad."
'This Is Not Racial at All'
Dawn Koleta is clutching the birthday card her little brother sent her from jail. Inside, there is a handwritten message, more printing than cursive: "I wish I was there to celebrate with you, but my memory will always be there with you. Love always, Edward."
Koleta holds the card, shaking it fiercely.
"Eddie's not mean," she says. "He's not."
Koleta is outside a house on West Avenue, the one Robert Brown calls "the murderer's house." It is a simple two-story blue dwelling, with a screened-in front porch filled to bursting with boxes that don't fit in a place that has been home to so many. There is a sign near the back door, delicately painted, with a floral motif, that decrees this "Grandma's house."
Edward Kindt's adoptive mother, Brenda, is at the county jail this evening, visiting her son, who was moved there from a juvenile facility when he turned 16 this summer (Kindt is to be tried as an adult). Koleta is home with her boyfriend, and her daughter. Koleta was 3 months old when the Kindts--who are Native American--adopted her. Edward, too, was adopted, one of six children adopted by the Kindts, who also have given a home to several foster children, all from Native American backgrounds.
She says she has "nothing to say" about Edward, but the truth is there is so much she wishes she could defend. Like the town's reaction to the one, brief interview Brenda Kindt gave, in which she said her son was born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
"They think we're blaming it on FAS," Koleta says. "But that's not it." It's about the way his condition might have skewed his responses to the police, she explains.
People here want to tell you stories about Edward Kindt, about his juvenile record, which is sealed by the court, about his background. There are wild rumors--he killed a cat, he attacked a cousin, his mother gave birth to him on the roof of a local bar--and it is almost impossible to sort the fact from the fiction.
This much is known: He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and abandoned by his birth mother as an infant. He loves sports, played football, soccer, lacrosse. He was expelled from the Salamanca city schools, then from a nearby 11-student private Christian school just two days before the Brown murder. The Christian school superintendent, William Ferguson, has said that Kindt routinely fell asleep in class.
"It's not that he's not good at schoolwork because he is--he's smart," Koleta says. "He just kept falling asleep."
Kindt has a juvenile record, and, according to a report in the Buffalo News, spent a year at the Owatka Secure Detention Center outside Rochester, N.Y. Asked about her brother's previous trouble with the law, Koleta glances at the ground and says, quickly, "I can't talk about that."
Sybil Lockwood, Penny's mother, is not particularly interested in the details of Kindt's life. She fixates on one description of him, which she read in a local newspaper article: "a troubled boy with a mean streak." She repeats the phrase. This is enough for her. This is all she needs to know.
"I have a niece in Denver, who used to live in Littleton, and when that happened with the shooting, in my heart and my mind I was so upset," Sybil says, referring to the killings by two teenage boys at Columbine High School last April.
"When those things were going on," chimes in Jerry, "you'd think always in the back of your mind, 'not here.' "
Sybil's hands flutter then with her sorrow, and her husband turns slightly in his chair as he blinks away the tears.
"He was a troubled boy with a mean streak." Sybil says it again. "We've heard that more than one time. We didn't know anything about him. From the trail, you can look at that house . . . "
Five blocks away, outside that house, Koleta is trying to explain why her brother didn't do it. Eddie, she explains, owns a three-wheeler, which he regularly rode on the trail that Penny Brown used for jogging.
"That's his way of transportation," Koleta says, pointing to the trail. "It's right behind the field there. It takes 20 minutes to get places one way, 10 minutes if he takes [the trail]. He admitted he was up there, but he didn't do it."
She stops, too, afraid she's saying too much.
"It's all going to come out in the end," she finally says, sighing.
Then she gets angry. "It was just a convenience arrest because he lives right here and it was easy to blame him."
Easy to blame him, the town thinks, because he had a history of trouble. Easy to blame him because the police have a witness who saw him near the crime scene, and because he had a fresh cut on his arm the night of the murder. Easy to blame him because he gave a statement to police--a statement that has been sealed by the local courts--that has been the focus of all kinds of speculation here.
Easy to blame him because he is Native American? Even Kindt's sister doesn't believe that.
"After they started saying it was racial, I'd walk down the street with my boyfriend, who is white, and I'd laugh about it," Koleta says. "This is not racial at all. We like Penny Brown. We like the family. We just wish they'd find the right guy."
'It Brought Us Together'
There is a memorial to Penny Brown on the trail now. Blue ribbons are tied to trees to mark the way to the site, which sits next to bench placed there in her memory. There are flowers--fresh ones, even though Penny has been dead for months now--and poems and letters and pictures drawn by schoolchildren.
In the county jail in Little Valley, Edward Kindt is morose, according to his sister. His mother visits every week, the rest of the family as often as possible. Edward asks for crossword puzzles and books--mostly about Native American culture and history--to pass the time. His case is still in pre-trial hearings.
The court has placed sharp limits on the amount of information released about the case, citing concern that the small potential jury pool could be polluted by extensive media coverage. It was in his affidavit to the court that Sharkey, the district attorney, made the now infamous comments about racial tensions and the possibility of violence.
Asked about it now, Sharkey voices frustration.
"I got crucified over that," he says.
The Salamanca Press ran a scathing editorial denouncing Sharkey and his arguments, and Duane Ray, the president of the Seneca Nation, wrote a letter to the paper doing the same.
"What he said was wrong," Ray says. "If he doesn't make that statement, and the media doesn't write what it does, the issue of race never comes up."
Then he pauses, searching for words he thinks might be more fair.
"There are always going to be the certain few who see things differently," he says. "I'm not saying, either, that the only racists are in Salamanca. We have them here [on the reservation], too--reverse discrimination, or whatever you want to call it. There have been problems here, we admit that.
"But this thing that happened to Penny Brown, I think it brought us together. I honestly do."
CAPTION: Robert Brown and daughters Kaitlyn, left, and Bradleigh are trying to walk through life without Penny Brown, inset, who went for a Mother's Day jog and never returned to their Salamanca, N.Y., home. A Native American teenager has been charged in the murder.
CAPTION: Robert Brown stands by a memorial near the trail where his wife, Penny Brown, was found dead this past spring.