A Truth Beyond, Chapter VI: A Good Son

Work on Mylo Harvey’s case slowed as the controversy lurched toward the courts. My attention turned to investigating other questions in the community.

Accident data needed to be analyzed to determine the connection between cable barriers and deaths along I-5 near Marysville. I went to Guatemala to write about how drug trafficking here translated to murders there. I began an investigation into the safety of 80-year-old state ferries.

That first year I was finishing work on a series of stories about Damon Lowery’s death in Portland, Ore. The series chronicled how his father, Ralph Lowery, tried to make sense of it all. Ralph spent years trying to get justice for his son. He also cultivated a beautiful ornamental garden behind his Snohomish home, a living expression of his grief. As a young man, Ralph had spent years in prison, and the criminal conduct cast a long shadow. I met him at the moment when reflecting on his loss helped him discover just how much beauty remained in his life.

I also spent a lot of time covering the trials of a group of young men responsible for the brutal murder of Rachel Burkheimer. Blond and beautiful, Rachel had grown up on the Tulalip reservation and attended Marysville schools. She and Mylo were close friends. He grieved her death.

Only a few months later, he was gone, too.

Rachel’s mom, Denise Webber, was among the mourners at Mylo’s funeral. The sympathy card Webber sent talked about how much Rachel and Mylo cared for each other. During a break in court one day, Rachel’s dad, Bill Burkheimer, told me about Mylo. Growing up, the pair were on the phone with each other all the time. They were friends, but close, like brother and sister.

I often am amazed at the way lives intertwine in this community of more than 600,000 people. Sometimes the connections are longstanding, like the link between the Burkheimer and Harvey families. Other coincidences are difficult to explain: like the sister of a murder victim who wound up buying my childhood home, long after my folks had sold it and moved on.

Still, it was a surprise when the phone rang one day and Ralph Lowery asked me to guess who was in his Snohomish kitchen. Nilah Devaney, Diane Henry and Donna Cooper had sought him out, drawn by my articles. Mylo’s family asked to see the garden behind Ralph’s home. They mostly wanted to talk with somebody who had also lost a loved one in a struggle with police, another person they knew could understand.

That night, Nilah asked me to come to her mother’s home on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Ralph had arranged for Mylo’s family to meet with some lawyers. They needed some of Mylo’s medical records and other documents I had been reviewing.

I parked near a garage behind Donna’s house. There was a basketball hoop and backboard above an asphalt driveway. Mylo had played there and it had been one of his favorite places. I just knew. In the twilight, I could imagine him flashing that broad smile as he drove toward the hoop.

Nilah joined me at her mother’s kitchen table. She confirmed that the basketball court was a special place for Mylo. He’d spent countless hours there in pickup games, particularly with his brother James and his cousins Nick and Chris. The boys had grown up so tight they were known around the reservation as the Four Amigos.

Nilah talked about a trip Mylo had made to her home in Portland in 1999. He was 16 then, polite, fit, a careful dresser. She and her husband took him to restaurants, malls and movies. They also visited Fort Clatsop, the site near the Pacific Ocean where the Corps of Discovery, the exploratory party led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, spent the winter of 1805-06. Although most of the site was dedicated to remembering Lewis and Clark, Nilah said Mylo was fascinated by a dugout canoe that was on display. He sat alone in it a long time, connecting, she’s convinced, with echoes from the past.

The documents she gathered for the family’s lawyers contained more than just police reports and medical records. There also were letters an 11-year-old Mylo had written to Nilah’s husband, promising to make good choices.

September 1994 — “Dear Uncle John. I haven’t used drugs or smoked. I have had lots of fun at school. I went skating today. I did pretty good. …”

November 1994 — “Uncle how are you doing? Do you really like golf? Can you show us around more in Portland? Uncle, what do you say when you pray? My mom’s trying to teach me the Lord’s Prayer. It is very long …”

At Mylo’s funeral, uncle John Devaney had stood before the mourners and remembered a day when he and his nephews had gone hiking in the woods. “Let’s head up that way,” he suggested, “real quiet, like Indians.”

Mylo stopped, a half smile on his face.

“Uncle,” he said, “we are Indians.”

Donna Cooper was silent through much of my visit. In time, though, she joined the conversation.

She spoke about what Mylo had meant, not only to her family, but to others on the reservation. Many people there are related by blood and marriage, she said. This was deeper. The future was invested in Mylo. What happened to him was a loss to an entire community, she said.

At the same time, Mylo isn’t gone, his grandmother said. She spoke with care, politely acknowledging that an outsider may not fully appreciate how close the spirits of loved ones remain on Tulalip.

It is the nature of things, she said — sad, but also a source of comfort, a reminder of what once was, like the day Mylo’s basketball rolled out of a hall closet on its own, then bounced across the floor.

<< Chapter V Chapter VII >>

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