Remembering a 17-Year-Old Runaway Who Died Alone

Tamara Thompson, a 17-year-old resident of Mountain View, was killed last Monday night in Oakland, after being sexually assaulted. (San Jose Mercury News, 4/04/09). Police are investigating it as a homicide. The girl had been in the Santa Clara County Juvenile Ranch but was allowed to visit home on weekends. Unfortunately, four weeks ago she ran away, perhaps to hook up with a boyfriend in Oakland.

I hope Tamara’s life and death aren’t soon forgotten. I never met Tamara nor was Tamara ever seen at the Bill Wilson Center. However, we see many like Tamara every year – a girl with hopes and dreams who somehow got off track and ended up in Juvenile Hall.

Recently, we moved our Quetzal House program to Mountain View. This program works with troubled girls like Tamara. We also have two host family homes that can also shelter runaways. I only hope the next Tamara is sent our way before being sentenced to the County Juvenile Ranch. Often juvenile probation and the court are quick to order girls to the secure Ranch rather than seek alternatives in the community. Probation staff systematically send girls off to the Ranch without seeking community alternatives first.

Once allowed back home these girls often revert back to old patterns unless other help is provided for them in their home communities. When Tamara was allowed to visit home on the weekends, she did what many girls do – she took off to visit a boyfriend. The consequence for this action was steep — once she spent a night away from home she was in violation of her court order and a warrant was issued for her arrest. She would have known this and most likely was afraid to return to be locked up in Juvenile Hall. So, instead, she stayed on the run, far enough away from the local authorities. Oakland is not safe for girls on the run.

I wish Tamara knew to call Bill Wilson Center or the Status Offenders Services Network. We would have arranged to pick her up and have her stay at our youth shelter. I hope her probation officer and the supervisors from the Ranch will remember Tamara. The Chief Probation Officer should call a group together to review her situation and see if something different could have been done for her.

One thought on “Remembering a 17-Year-Old Runaway Who Died Alone

  1. Thank you for your nice response! I get around 3 hits a day from people searching on Brian Hegarty’s name. People are still grieving and searching for answers on the exact causes of his death, which we may never know. It takes time for a community to heal over such major losses of not only two great teachers but also a principal who was promoted to superintendent. My son, Javier, who graduated last year continues to go to St. Clare School to volunteer and to process how he is currently feeling about the tragedy. Everyone is extremely welcoming to him when he returns. It still breaks my heart when he talks about returning to the 8th grade classroom and sitting in his old desk and remembering Brian at the podium.

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