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Viewpoint: INKED! by Richard Montenegro Brown: Haunted in Holtville

January 28, 2006

Growing up in El Centro, there was the perception that Holtville was this picturesque, idyllic community out there in the eastern end of the Valley; an island oasis in the desert, where Southern California and Mexico were a million miles away and 1950s Midwest America was just around the corner and down the street from the malt shop.

Anybody in a car with a functioning odometer knows Holtville is no farther removed from the county seat than Brawley to the north and Calexico to the south, yet Holtville — at least to me — seemed otherworldy, and not in a bad way.

It was green, simple, old-fashioned and pretty in a way that small towns should be that are built around a well-manicured park, flanked by lush, tree-covered streets with old houses and older families.

Over the last week, though, Holtville’s got me thinking of Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” set in another small town that time forgot called Maycomb, Ala., and convicted murderer Adan Garcia has me thinking of Maycomb’s resident bogeyman, Boo Radley.

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The comparison between Boo Radley and Adan Garcia isn’t airtight. Boo was the definition of innocence lost, and in a way, so is Adan, who destroyed two childhoods and the peace of mind of a community when he stabbed and strangled 14-year-old Andrea Hines in 1994. But that’s where the comparisons end. Boo was the personification of misconstrued virtue, a tortured soul who was unduly despised. Adan was not.

Like the residents of Maycomb, who feared the enigmatic and rarely seen Boo, the people of Holtville have their own monster under the bed to worry about, and justifiably so.

I spoke with a good friend from Holtville on Thursday — a friend who knows just about everybody in the city — to find out whether Garcia had been seen back in town. When he turned age 25 a couple months ago he was released from a California Youth Authority facility after serving his full sentence for Andrea’s brutal slaying, and recently, the rumors have been spreading like wildfire that he’s in the city.

Official sources have said there is no evidence that Garcia was ever there, and unofficial sources — my friend — confirmed that.

Still, the friend said people in town are gripped with fear. Some children who live in the area where Garcia grew up, and where his mother still lives, aren’t playing outside anymore, not that their parents would let them; moms and dads around town are just as fearful as their babies.

What happens next is what matters. Even if Adan Garcia came to Holtville to see his mother and family, all accounts are he’s no longer there and doesn’t live there.

The unstable few — maybe even just one — perpetuating the Garcia myth might want to cool their jets. There’s no reason for a town to live in fear of things that go bump in the night. It’s that fear that eventually leads to something foolish, something hurtful.

And why in God’s name would a local preacher invite Garcia to come back to the scene of his crime, to an area so hurt, so damaged and still recovering from possibly one of the most senseless, brutal and monstrous killings this Valley has ever known? That’s not God’s work, it’s grandstanding.

I believe Adan Garcia has not returned to Holtville, nor will he for any extended period of time. As a parent, I’ve got to believe that (even if I don’t).

Why would you allow your son to even step foot in the Imperial Valley when he has caused so much pain? Memories fade the way everything else does, but they don’t disappear completely. It only took the thought of Adan being released from lockup to dredge those horrific memories to the surface.

Had my child done something so heinous, I wouldn’t allow her back here, not because of hate but out of love, and because of fear the loose cannons would come out firing for their revenge, something I would probably do too if my child were taken from me.

Had I committed the crime, I wouldn’t want to come back. To think that I’d be accepted, welcomed, even treated with indifference would mean I’d completely detached from reality. It would be akin to walking around with a bull’s eye on my back — one that I put there myself.

This is one wound that has never healed, and over the last week — really, the last couple years as Holtville prepared for Garcia’s release — the scab’s been ripped wide open. One can almost feel for the position the Garcia family has been put in, but then one only needs to remember Andrea to realize that’s impossible.

It’s clear that for Adan Garcia, there’s no going home again. That home became nothing more than a house made of wood and nails on the night of Sept. 17, 1994, the same night Holtville lost that Everytown, USA, innocence, whether real or imagined.

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