Sitting at the end of the bar in the American Legion Post 149 in Athol, manager Shirley Hyke doesn’t know what North Idaho is coming to.
The brutal killings and kidnapping of members of the Groene household, a close call in a police standoff earlier this week, and now a 12-year-old girl stabbed repeatedly and left for dead have left Hyke emotionally tattered.
“I think our sleepy little community isn’t a sleepy little community anymore,” Hyke said, sipping on a drink and smoking a Virginia Slims cigarette. “We think we live in a world that’s safe, and obviously this isn’t true anymore.”
Friday, while rain fell at the end of a warm summer week, residents across the Inland Northwest hid from the unusual July clouds. In the past few months, they’ve watched as the region played host to terrifying tragedies, and many are struggling to understand why.
“I think everyone in North Idaho is just horrified that these kinds of things can happen,” Hyke said.
In a region known for its scenic lakes and rugged mountains as much as its relative isolation from the rest of the world, some longtime residents say that natural beauty gave them a feeling of safety and security that now is fading.
“Because we have been an area that didn’t have many people, everybody knew everybody,” Hyke said. “People want it to stay the same, and people aren’t overjoyed by the (population) increase,” or by the changes that seem to come with it.
The City Beach in Coeur d’Alene was nearly empty Friday, as only a few hardy souls braved the storms. On most July days, the sands are teeming with sun-seekers, but today, idle lifeguard Dan Taylor returned from a run to stretch his legs under a shelter by the beach. Taylor grew up in Coeur d’Alene and said that as the city grows, so does a noticeable gap between the natives and the newcomers.
The value of North Idaho land is increasing, and with that cost comes an expectation of an idyllic lifestyle, Taylor said.
“I think a lot of people want that facade,” he said. “But they don’t really want to face the problems and the negatives. The way people treat (crime) is that you’re wrecking my utopia.”
And the latest grisly cases go beyond mere annoyance.
Neighbors and others, from Spokane to Sandpoint, helped bury Brenda Groene, two of her sons and her boyfriend, homicide victims from Kootenai County. They’ve come together to raise money for 8-year-old Shasta Groene, who was kidnapped and then found.
Now, they’re praying that a 12-year-old girl will recover from multiple stab wounds. The wounded girl from Athol was abandoned by her attacker in the woods of Shoshone County on Wednesday.
Joseph Duncan III, a registered sex offender from Fargo, N.D., is suspected in the Groene family killings, kidnappings and molestations, while another registered sex offender, John Rollins Tuggle, stands accused of Wednesday’s attack against his daughter and is wanted on a $10 million warrant.
North Idaho for years endured a national reputation as a haven for white supremacists. Tony Berns, executive director of the Lake City Development Corp., doesn’t think it will now gain a reputation as a haven for sex offenders.
“I don’t think that the people that are potentially looking to move, relocate or visit are seeing that on their radar screen as an issue for the area,” Berns said.
While waiting on a dock on Lake Coeur d’Alene for her husband and two children to return from a seaplane flight, Char Blanchard, of Seattle, looked at the sky and said she’s used to bad news. If anything, the Idaho crimes have made her keep a closer eye on her children.
“It didn’t deter me from coming here” for her family’s vacation, she said. “There are going to be weird people everywhere, and if you let them stop you from doing the things you want to do, you’re just giving in.”
Back at the bar in Athol, though, Shirley Hyke has more questions than answers.
“I don’t know anyone who will know exactly why these kinds of things happen,” Hyke said. “I can’t possibly comprehend what would go through (Duncan’s) mind, or why. The only person who has the answer to that is God.”