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April 19, 2014

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Shooting rattles affluent suburb

Fingers point and tempers flare in Summerlin after 15-year-old is killed

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Steve Marcus

Palo Verde High School students Victor Ordenez, left, and Alexis DeSalvio visit a memorial on Alta Drive for Christopher Privett after school Monday. Privett, a freshman at the school, was fatally shot Feb. 15 as he walked home from school. Ordenez said he knew the victim from football, DeSalvio through friends.

Updated Tuesday, March 4, 2008 | 3:35 p.m.

Correction (March 4, 2008): The following story had several reporting and editing problems as well as some factual errors. The premise of the story was that even affluent and normally peaceful Summerlin, where a Palo Verde High School student was shot to death by another youth while walking home from school, was not immune from the crime that occurs in other parts of the Las Vegas Valley.

The story quoted two of many racist-tinged comments from a Web site to support the thesis that some people in Summerlin held racist views. (The victim, who lived in Summerlin and did not know his assailant, was white; the alleged shooter, who did not live in Summerlin, was black.) The problem was that the quotes were anonymous and, because of the way the Web works, could have come from anywhere in the world. Although some people in Summerlin may hold racist views, these quotes, because of the lack of identity of the writers, in no way proved that possibility.

It is the Sun’s policy not to run anonymous letters to the editor and in the future the Sun will not run anonymous comments from Web sites.

In another place in the story the Sun called the 311 Boyz, whose crimes were in the news several years ago, a Summerlin gang. The 311 Boyz were a group of white teenagers from mostly well-off families who came together through attendance at Centennial High School, which is not in Summerlin. They committed a notorious assault at a party at a house in Summerlin, but their activities ranged around the northwest part of the metropolitan area. They were not a Summerlin gang.

The story also stated that none of the 311 Boyz was sentenced to jail. In fact, four of them were sentenced to jail and a fifth alleged member of the gang also was sentenced to jail after he violated his probation.

Finally, in an effort to show that crime around Palo Verde High School was as high as crime elsewhere, the story attempted to compare crime statistics within one mile of Palo Verde High School with crime statistics within one mile of Durango High School, which is near Russell Road and Rainbow Boulevard. Several things were wrong here.

First, the story mistakenly used “incident reports” as crime statistics. Incident reports are a listing of the calls police respond to. Some turn out to be crimes and some do not. By calling all the incidents crimes, the Sun reported the number of crimes around the two schools to be much higher than they were. And the story wrongly counted traffic accidents among the incidents.

Furthermore, it was inaccurate to compare the mile around Palo Verde High School, which is a very developed area, to the mile around Durango High School, which is still largely undeveloped. Had the story taken into account the levels of development around the two schools it would have been clear that there were comparatively far more incidents around Durango.

All these errors tended to give the following story an anti-Summerlin tone, which was not intended and which the Sun regrets.

Click to enlarge photo

Students leave Palo Verde High School on Monday, 10 days after classmate Christopher Privett was killed near the school.

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Did they think it couldn’t happen here, in Summerlin?

Apparently, some thought they were immune, safe in their community where the grass is manicured, glossy Mercedes and BMWs zip to schools full of sons and daughters of the upper middle class and “mountain view” is more than a subdivision name.

But since the Feb. 15 shooting death of Christopher Privett, a 15-year-old Palo Verde freshman, the Internet has been littered with comments from angry and scared people trying to pin blame — on the lower class, on the middle class, on race.

The alleged shooter is black. The victim was white.

On its Web site, the Las Vegas Review-Journal carried the remarks of hundreds of readers in response to stories about the Privett shooting. They include attacks on anyone who doesn’t earn enough or have the right appearance. Many move toward a common conclusion: How dare those people presume to think they can live in Summerlin?

“This sort of problem belongs in the hood, not in a decent neighborhood,” one writer said. “Why on Earth are all these welfare queens with their gangbanger kids allowed to bring their ghetto lifestyle into our lives? Summerlin was a beautiful, peaceful place to live until apartment complexes started popping up all over the place.”

From another: “No more will we accept Vegas’ rejects and leftover garbage. No more apartments in Summerlin. No more low/middle or middle class here. We are tired of it. We need to send these middle-class people back to Vegas where they belong. I’m so tired of having to deal with these people in the grocery store, shopping; they are cramping my lifestyle and I say ENOUGH. Middle class belongs in Vegas. Now leave us alone. Leeches.”

So what is Summerlin? And what’s the origin of such comments?

Construction on Summerlin began before most people who live there now likely had even moved to Las Vegas. Master planned by the Hughes Corp., it is a 22,500-acre swath of desert in which homes began to pop up in 1991. The full build-out is expected in 2020, when about 200,000 people will call it home.

Go to Summerlin.com and you’ll read glowing descriptions: “Find the most wide-open spaces and the widest selection of new homes ... Find soaring mountain peaks beside you and a higher standard of living in front of you. Find more than 100 neighborhood parks connected by more than 120 miles of meandering trails.

“Find everything you imagine life has to offer in a community master planned to perfection. Welcome to Summerlin, the 22,500-acres we like to call home. Our residents will tell you — life in Summerlin just feels better.”

Within Summerlin, Palo Verde High School, at 333 S. Pavilion Center Drive, abuts Interstate 215, about as far west as you can travel in the Las Vegas Valley.

The school’s students come from some of the wealthiest and most educated families in the state. Data provided by Las Vegas from the 2000 Census estimate Summerlin’s median household income to be about $75,700, while the Las Vegas median was $44,000. Roughly 40 percent of Summerlin residents had college degrees, versus 18 percent in Las Vegas. And 89 percent of the homes were owner-occupied, compared with 59 percent for Las Vegas.

The neighborhood’s demographics might have something to do with comments expressing the belief that Summerlin is somehow immune to serious crime — a wishful perception belied by reality.

In 2003 a Summerlin gang made national headlines. The 311 Boyz were a group of kids who mostly attended Centennial High School. In July 2003 nine of them were arrested after an incident during a party. From the group, a softball-sized rock was tossed at a fleeing pickup truck, breaking the arm and mangling the face of the driver, Stephen Tanner. Tanner’s vision in one eye was permanently damaged. None of the gang members was sentenced to jail.

In that case, the victim and the attackers were white. Some were upper middle class, others were middle class. But they weren’t poor.

For those who have lived in Summerlin for any length of time, even thinking the area could wall off what lurks in the rest of society is absurd.

“I’m assuming some people think, ‘Gosh, I’m paying these special dues and fees so that I live in a better place that has nice parks and great shopping and good schools,’ ” said Brigette Kirvin, a mother of two elementary-school-aged children who has lived in the area for more than a decade.

“But I can’t believe people think that we’re not going to have problems just like everyone else. None of this has anything to do with socioeconomics, it has to do with how we raise our kids and what they are doing after school, and that is a parental problem as much as anything else.”

But is there truth to what many are saying online? Was Summerlin intended to be a halcyon paradise where the rich could park their BMWs unlocked, leave their windows open on cool spring nights, let their children frolic unwatched but safe on heavily watered lawns, where school kids need never fear anything?

Terry Murphy, who has been a consultant for the Hughes Corp., developer of Summerlin, said the community was designed as a destination for a wide range of people, not just the rich. But she acknowledges that people who move to wealthy, gated communities often do so with the expectation they will be insulated from urban problems like crime — and to a large extent they are.

“All elements of our society exist everywhere,” Murphy said. “Now, is Summerlin safer than many? I would say yeah, because of the manner in which it was planned — schools and churches and community centers are convenient. But does that mean no crime will occur? Crime occurs in Disneyland.”

Statistics available through Metro Police’s “CrimeView” support Murphy’s viewpoint. CrimeView provides a rough view of crime in an area for up to 60 days, noting that many crimes are still under investigation and locations might not be precise.

With that caveat, these are the overall crime numbers within a mile of Palo Verde High for the 60 days before Thursday: There were 189 reported incidents, including 22 traffic accidents, 41 burglaries, 34 juvenile disturbances, 13 stolen vehicles, five recovered vehicles, 13 assault/batteries, two assaults with a gun, four fights, five narcotics incidents and one assault with a different deadly weapon. The remaining 49 incidents were categorized as “other disturbances.”

Now travel 10 miles southeast to Durango High School, near Russell Road and Rainbow Boulevard, and the numbers aren’t so different — and in some cases look better, despite the fact that Durango serves a less affluent population. At Durango, for instance, 22 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. That compares with only 9 percent at Palo Verde.

Within one mile of the school over the same time period 204 incidents were reported: 43 traffic accidents, 45 burglaries, eight juvenile disturbances, 15 stolen vehicles, 10 recovered vehicles, three assault/batteries, one assault with a gun, five fights, one narcotics incident, three assaults with a different deadly weapon, one larceny and five robberies. Another 64 were “other disturbances.”

Go deeper into the urban core of the city and the numbers grow. Within a mile of Bonanza High School, about six miles directly east of Palo Verde High School, 456 incidents were reported to police during the same two-month period.

The picture painted by the numbers, then, shows that contrary to the rosy marketing and public relations image, Summerlin is far from immune to the ills found in any major community.

And yet, when you have events at your elementary school like the one parent Linda Gordon describes, it would be difficult not to think that Summerlin residents live in somewhat rarefied air.

Gordon, who works in real estate, tells of the “Muffins With Mom” day at her children’s school, accenting just how beyond-the-realm the Privett killing seems.

“There were so many people at my children’s school,” Gordon said, choking up as she spoke. “So many people show up we have them waiting out the doors.”

After the shooting, her church was packed “like it was after 9/11.”

“It’s people, I think, saying, ‘Wow, this stupidity can happen anywhere,’ ” she said.

What School Board member Terri Janison hopes is that residents in Summerlin, which she represents, get beyond pointing fingers and use all this emotion and anger and brainpower to do something constructive.

“I’ve read the comments and I’m hearing the conversations,” said Janison, whose district includes Palo Verde High School, where one of her daughters will be a freshman in the fall.

“I’m really feeling it’s not going to be just talk. You’re going to see organizations and people and families coming together to figure out how to make this community better.”

They need that, even in Summerlin.

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