Sheriff’s deputy is a friendly source of support for Lakewood, Tulalip kids

LAKEWOOD — When Bud McCurry makes breakfast, there’s protein on the plate.

He usually fries up fresh eggs from the chicken coop before his three kids head to school.

Last year, he’d bring a dozen or so eggs to Cougar Creek Elementary on Fridays, for breakfast with the special needs students.

On a walk through campus in January, he stopped by the open door and gently knocked.

“Looks like everybody’s busy,” he said, greeting children by name.

“Good kids,” he said, turning down the hallway to continue his rounds.

McCurry, who turned 42 on Tuesday, is a deputy with the Snohomish County sheriff’s school services unit. He works in the Lakewood School District and four schools on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. He’s also the face of law enforcement in the county’s juvenile drug court.

Both assignments bring new challenges for the broad-shouldered, shaved-head veteran of the Marine Corps. He’s been the hammer of justice, busting drug dealers and gangs.

Now, part-policeman, part-social worker, he’s tasked with keeping kids on the right path. If they stray, he’s there, too, ready to help.

Life has taught him, there’s always a way back.

Marine tough

McCurry remembers watching TV news of an Iraq offensive in the Gulf War in 1991.

“I wanted to be a Marine before that, but that sealed the deal,” he said. “I was ready to go in and fight.”

His parents had reservations. The football player didn’t take well to direction. At 17, he was a “knucklehead kid,” acting out and getting in trouble.

He was struggling with new revelations about himself and his family. He had learned that when he was a toddler, his mother escaped with him from a dysfunctional home. Until high school, he’d been shielded from the stories of abuse and addiction.

“I had someone who loved me enough, my mother, to get me out of that situation and raise me the right way and love me,” he said.

As an adult, it took time to understand what that meant for him. Enlisting in the Marines taught him respect, that “it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from or what you’re destined to become, because you don’t have to be that person.”

The lesson began in boot camp. The drill instructor wanted to know why, in formation with hands at his sides, the young recruit didn’t have his thumb properly aligned with the seam of his trousers. The thumb was badly dislocated, dangling at the wrong angle, and McCurry hadn’t said a peep. You’re tough, he was told, and promoted to squad leader.

As a gunner with a Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, he served in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Africa, mostly in training with military from other countries.

After four years, he wanted a career and a family. He joined the Ephrata Police Department and in 2002 transferred to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

A decade later, the schools unit was created in response to the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut.

The assignment offered McCurry a new way to make a difference.

Drug court support

It wasn’t long after he started working in the schools that the deputy position in juvenile drug court came open. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss gave him clear instructions.

Weiss tells every deputy assigned to the court: It’s not about bad kids being punished, but good kids who need structure and support. That means second chances.

For so long, McCurry had been focused on criminals and punishment, and “in the drug court, the mentality is different,” he said.

His thinking changed: Young people who have dug themselves into a hole need help getting back out.

“We’re a resource. We’re not the enemy,” he said. “The last thing I want to do to a kid in that position is kick them down farther.”

Drug court isn’t the only place where kids dig holes.

Lakewood’s a close district: five schools within a mile, and four have touching boundaries. The schools are bordered to the west by woods and farmland and to the east by the growing Smokey Point retail district.

Each campus has its own sense of community. Security staff, the front desk, the nurse’s office — it all matters. “One school’s emergency is every school’s emergency,” McCurry said.

Beyond superficial

His responsibilities stretch past high fives and sticker badges. The possibility of a school shooting is never far from mind. The Oct. 24 killings of five teens at Marysville Pilchuck High School weigh on his thoughts as he passes hopscotch squares and construction-paper art.

Every day, he deals with young people’s problems: drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, bullying.

He’s gone to a house where a kid said he had a gun. He’s consulted nearby businesses and churches about where students might run in an emergency.

McCurry often is called to Lakewood High when someone’s broken a rule or law. Sometimes it provides him a window to show that the road ahead has options.

Teens find an unexpected advocate, Principal Mike Curl said.

“He’s very honest with them and real-world about his own experiences,” Curl said.

At the elementary schools, McCurry is more involved with families — stopping by the house of a first-grader whose parents struggle with getting him to class every day.

Lakewood Elementary Principal Amy Staudenraus sees McCurry spend extra time with the kids sent to her office.

She’s watched him use a dollar from his wallet or his wedding ring to explain why stealing causes hurt. He settles bus stop squabbles and keeps the peace in parental custody issues.

“He’s really trying to change the perception that kids see him and think the cops are here, something bad happened,” she said. “He’s a resource beyond.”

One morning, as he often does, McCurry stopped to chat with school district grounds keeper, Jim “Jim Bob” Nigro, who was building a fence with posts and cables. Nigro is a secret reservoir of information in his muddy waders and John Deere hat.

Nigro knows where to find water lines and power lines, how to get on the roofs, and along which trails the cross-country runners come across homeless camps.

Once during a similar chat, McCurry heard gunfire. He followed the sound and found neighbors shooting into a stump. It was a no-shooting zone, so he and the “super nice good old boys” had a firm but cordial talk.

Another dilemma of the day was wandering animals — a pit bull and a goat rolling around together.

Middle-schoolers, in their awkward phases between childhood and adulthood, become more wary of authority. They’re social but not as comfortable as high-schoolers approaching him with problems.

A kid who knows him by name is more likely to report something wrong, before a crisis erupts, he said.

“This is where you get the kids right here,” he said, looking around at Lakewood Middle.

He was cut off mid-sentence, circled by preteens full of questions. Can they hold his Taser? Why does he have the radio? What’s it like carrying a gun?

Respect goes both ways

On a Friday afternoon in February, a scrawny young man in juvenile drug court was asked to select someone in the room to start the singing of “Happy Birthday.” He was turning 18 the next day.

The young man looked around. With a sly grin, he pointed at McCurry.

The deputy started the song, a little red-faced, but without complaint.

He asked: “Is that the first time a cop has sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to you?”

“It sure is.”

The court serves dozens of young people at a time, mostly teens. They spend months in treatment, plus drug tests, job training and community service.

McCurry found parallels in schools and coaching, parenting and police work. He’d meet the kids from court for lunch, or stop by their work to visit. They’re often surprised that someone would take the time.

Many teens have more love and support in their lives than they realize, he said. Still, some come from nothing, they build walls, or they’re reluctant to trust.

McCurry learned to share his own upbringing and challenges, not the whole story, but bits and pieces, and to talk about his own kids. His message is simple: “You treat everybody with respect. They’ll treat you with respect.” And it’s what he believes.

He wants them to know they can have a good life — a home, a job and a car, even when that seems impossible. He found it. They can too.

In the courtroom, the teens shared how long they’d been sober. A woman cried at her son’s six months. There was applause with each milestone without a drink or drugs.

McCurry clapped the loudest, strong and sure.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

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