Strassmann: My New Neighbor, John Mark Karr
John Mark Karr has moved to Atlanta. To my neighborhood.
You remember the name, the case, and probably his face. Karr's the guy who confessed to killing Jon-Benet Ramsey. DNA testing proved he was not her killer, and more likely, on some level one of those lost souls looking for attention any way he can get it.
Normally, that would be the end of it. Karr's the sort who would vanish from notoriety's radar as quickly as he popped up. But that's not the case. Since his name first surfaced as a suspect in the Ramsey investigation, Karr struck a lot of people as creepy, especially parents. He married one girl when she was thirteen; he was facing charges of possessing child pornography in California, charges later dropped after investigators lost crucial evidence; and at various times he had made comments about children and hinted at relationships with children that sent off alarms. Bear in mind, he faces no outstanding criminal charges, and has never been convicted of anything. He's a free man, entitled by law to come and go as he pleases, and to live virtually anywhere. But to many people who followed his story in recent weeks, there's just something about him. He strikes them, fairly or not, as the kind of guy they don't want in their neighborhood, especially around their kids.
Which leads me back to my neighborhood, and my kids.
Karr's living at his father's house in northwest Atlanta, in a neighborhood called Chastain Park. It's a pretty, prosperous area, hilly and heavily wooded. At its heart there's a huge neighborhood park with well-kept ball fields and an eighteen-hole public golf course, a horse farm, and an outdoor amphitheater. From before dusk until after dawn, you see people on the move for fun: joggers, walkers, bicyclists, golfers, ballplayers. It's an active playground of sorts for adults. But there are lots and lots of kids of all ages.
My daughter's ten, my son's three. We go to the park all the time. My kids love the playground, which is often packed with parents and kids. It's a slice of Americana: kids on swings pumping their legs and competing to go highest, toddlers climbing over playground sets, parents looking on as they sip Starbucks and swap stories. John Mark Karr now lives three blocks from that playground. Within a couple miles, there are three schools for young kids. This neighborhood, which often sees itself as insulated from many of the world's troubles, suddenly feels on edge.
So far, Karr's stayed out of sight. But our neighborhood association sent an e-mail to its 2,000 members, clearly a warning about the new arrival. Families are trying to figure out how to handle it. For instance, Kelly Seagraves lives there, and has two sons. At the playground, she said she's now felt forced to talk to her six year-old about Karr, and show him Karr's photo. "I've kind of sheltered him from it, because it hadn't been a concern to us," she said. "But now it's going to directly affect us and I'm going to have to talk to him about it." Other parents are less measured, more apprehensive, even angry. Karr's free. They're the ones who feel handcuffed.
In Atlanta, Karr's arrival has had a fair amount of play in the local media. So outside his father's home where Karr lives is a sign. "No Trespassing." A lot of my neighbors would wave the same sign at him.
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