This land is their land: New law aims to help more New Mexico kids get outside

GILA NATIONAL FOREST — In the shadow of a cliff, 15-year-old Nathan spools an arc of fishing line into the Gila River and waits. Tall and watchful, the teen has been quiet for most of the day during this outing, organized by Families and Youth Incorporated (FYI), a Las Cruces nonprofit that works with troubled kids. 

A little while ago, at a swimming hole downstream, Nathan stood on the bank skipping stones while the other kids whooped and splashed and jumped from depressions in the cliff face into the cool water. He doesn’t know how to swim. Now he stands in the middle of the river, wet sneakers forgotten, watching the water in front of him for any sign of movement. Finally, a tug: He reels a fist-sized fish into the bright August light.

A chill in the air: The problem of teen suicide

Just before dawn, as the Albuquerque sky filled the house with thin, pale blue light, 16-year-old Aurra Gardner took the small handgun out from behind the bed in her mother’s bedroom. Kerianne Gardner, Aurra’s mother, sat in the living room, typing an email, listening idly as her other daughters tied their shoes and packed their lunches. She heard what sounded like a door slam and assumed it was Aurra’s cello case falling over. She walked down the hall and tried the door of the bedroom. It was locked.

El Paso’s strong but wounded heart

Something clicks inside of me every time I land in El Paso. My shoulders make peace with my neck. I get off the plane and look for my cultural North Star: an actual star shape made of giant light bulbs on top of the Franklin mountains — mountains that hug the city like a protective mother nestling her young. Home, is above all things, a welcoming place. Many people say their hometown is hospitable or friendly, but El Paso’s warmth is a fundamental tenet that holds up daily life.

Death highway: A massive oil boom in the Permian Basin has turned rural roads into deadly highways

ROSWELL AND CARLSBAD — At one end of Pauline and Joe Ponce’s spacious dining room in Roswell lies a cabinet crowded with photographs and mementos of their son, Michael. An old wrestling match program rests amid snapshots of Michael with his daughter, his parents, his wife. Pauline lingers beside an image of Michael holding his then one-and-a-half-year-old son, captured in December 2017. “That was taken only two months before Michael died,” she said. On the morning of Feb.

Locking down revenue: Small towns profit from incarcerating migrants

ESTANCIA — Two years ago, the county jail in this small town shut its doors because it didn’t have enough inmates to lock up. Hundreds of jobs evaporated, and the town lost a million dollars in tax revenue and other payments. Then in May, Torrance County landed a contract with the federal government to re-open the jail — mostly to house migrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The contract was a windfall for a town where steady, well-paying jobs are few and far between. “Now that it’s comin’ back, money’s comin’ again!” exclaimed Bo Bardy, who has worked at Gustin Hardware in Estancia for the past five years.

False alarms: When schools abuse CYFD hotline, families suffer

Carrizozo is a windswept town just north of the Sacramento Mountains, a tiny place of 936 souls, where everybody knows everybody else. So when a state investigator showed up at Christy Cartwright’s doorstep in January, the mother of five was horrified to learn that an employee of Carrizozo Municipal Schools had reported her for child abuse. Her kids had attended the district’s three schools for the past 15 years. Despite a spate of run-ins with the high school principal and special education staff, Cartwright called Carrizozo home. How, she wondered, could anyone there believe she was capable of hurting her children?

In tough enforcement climate, immigrant victims of crime shy away from a visa that could protect them

Six years ago, Virginia B. packed a framed picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, her San Judas statue and two daughters into a blue minivan and made a beeline for the bridge that would take her away from Ciudad Juárez and the brutal beatings of her husband. As she fled to the U.S. border, her husband, a former Juárez police officer, pursued her in a white pickup, simultaneously trying to run her off the road and demanding she stay, shouting at her through the truck’s window. Virginia made it through U.S. customs – legally, thanks to a temporary visa – but she wouldn’t go back to Mexico. She took up residence in Hatch. Her husband followed – stalking her, attempting to kidnap her, crossing the border every week to threaten and terrify her.

Oil Well and pump jack searchlight

The price of oil: Expanding development near Chaco raises health concerns

COUNSELOR — About halfway through a late-April Sunday service at the Living Spring Baptist Church, the sermon took an unusual turn. Pastor Tom Guerito’s exhortations to trust in God and resist sin, delivered mostly in Diné, gave way to a more earthly concern: oil and gas. “People say, ‘I smell it,’” Guerito told the 20 or so parishioners, who since 2012 have lived among an expanding constellation of oil and gas wells. But an air monitor installed nearby found nothing out of the ordinary, he said. “There’s nothing in the air.

Criminalizing disability: Special-needs kids who don’t get help in school are winding up in jail

It was right after the fifth-period bell last October that Sebastian Montano lay face down in the grass outside Alamogordo High School, screaming for his mother, as two police officers pinned him to the ground and thrust a Taser in his back. Moments earlier, a staff member had called police after learning that the 16-year-old, a special needs student who’d recently dropped out, was now trespassing on school grounds. A shy teenager with light brown hair and big green eyes, Sebastian was well known to staff and students at Alamogordo High. He had a long and messy school history, including 16 documented run-ins with school police officers — all in relation to behaviors associated with his disabilities: autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD, epilepsy, and ADHD. But he was also a boy who showed great promise.

Left behind: Special needs students suffer when schools skimp on funding

QUESTA – When the fire alarm sounded before lunch in November of 2017, the staff at Alta Vista Elementary School knew they had a problem. A 6-year-old boy confined to a wheelchair needed to evacuate with the rest of his class. Unfortunately, the school had never purchased a chair that would let him leave the building. As the alarm kept sounding, teachers hovered nearby and debated what to do. The school had never put together an evacuation plan for the child.