Bringing back the light
Thu, 08/31/2017 - 5:00am admin
Triple homicide galvanizes Lodge Grass community to Jump Start Healing
By Andrew Turck / Big Horn County News
It was April and Lodge Grass resident BethYana Pease was fighting to avoid a relapse.
She had freed herself from 15 years of methamphetamine addiction – and was about two years sober – but memories of the high provided by the drug were drawing her back. Scheduled later that day was the first meeting of the newly-revamped Lodge Grass Neighborhood Watch.
BethYana had given in to the temptation to use meth before; she would not today. She knelt, prayed to God and went to the meeting. After all, she said, she has a granddaughter to raise and a life to live. To take meth, she believes, would be to forfeit both.
“I’m not saying I know how to pray yet,” she said, “but I’m learning.”
On Aug. 4, the Lodge Grass community of about 440 was shook by a shooting connected to meth and gang activity that resulted in the deaths of three people on the intersection of Helen Street and 2nd Avenue. Those killed in the attack were Frank Nomee Jr., 27; his wife Denise Stewart Nomee, 26; and Nehemiah Brokenrope, 30. The FBI interviewed witnesses to the incident, but no suspects have been identified.
A candlelight vigil was held Aug. 11 as an expression of love and support for the shooting’s victims, where BethYana wrote online that people sent lanterns into the air while yelling “Jesus save Lodge Grass” three times.
“I looked around and saw grown men with tears,” she wrote in a midnight Facebook post on Aug. 12. “God is real and his light is taking over Lodge Grass.”
She wanted to continue these efforts toward positive feelings and community healing.
“The next day, I went to a Wailers concert,” she said, referring to the popular reggae band. “I woke up the next day with peace and love and harmony, and dance and music and art in my mind. This idea popped into my mind.”
She dubbed the idea in question “Jump Start Healing,” or “#JumpStartHealing” for those on Twitter. The initiative began Sunday with a program that featured speakers, a prayer parade through town, a potluck feed, a concert in the park, and an opportunity for the community to paint murals and pictures.
Among the places painted was the residence where the shooting occurred, which burned down due to unspecified circumstances in the early morning hours the day after the incident. Painted handprints dot signposts around the rubble, courtesy of area children, and one of the burned-down cars surrounding the building is now covered in a pastel blue, pink and green.
“I think that’s the healing process,” said Clement “Chip” Janis, a local tattoo artist who quit using meth eight years ago. “I think we give these streets back to the kids, now. They can play here and be safe.
“We’re trying to create a good memory instead of a bad memory.”
According to Janis, he began using meth around 1994, and during the 2000s was one of the first people to “flood” Lodge Grass with the drug. He “chased the fantasy for years,” Janis said, acquiring money and cars, “but as quick as [they] came, [they] left…and I ended up in jail again.”
Now, he wants to reverse the damage he once helped introduce. This drug eventually gives its users only two options, he continued: “Get used to jail or die.”
He walked away from meth in 2009, served the last of his jail time and returned to his passion: art. He utilized this talent during an interview – with the help of his children – as he painted the red and purple frame for what would eventually become an outdoor mural of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, a Crow tribal war chief and historian. Fellow artist Ben Pease, formerly of Hardin, arrived from his Bozeman studio and completed the piece Tuesday night.
Janis and BethYana now form the backbone of Lodge Grass Neighborhood Watch, with help from Cary Lance of Arrow Creek Neighborhood Watch in Pryor. Janis relocated to Lodge Grass from Pryor, Lance said, because he could rely on him to perform watch duties and spread the anti-drug message. Informants for drug dealers have attempted to spy on the neighborhood watch in the past, he added, so members of his group and inner Facebook site are carefully vetted.
Lance helped found Pryor’s neighborhood watch after a double homicide wracked his own town of 600-plus on July 29, 2015. When he acquires the donations necessary for gas money – often several times a week – he makes the one-and-a-half-hour trek from Pryor to monitor Lodge Grass and dissuade crime. As explained by Janis, if he had seen someone like Lance during his dealer days, he would have turned the other way and left.
“Now that we have this flow of information, I can sit in Pryor and I can run a neighborhood watch here from over there,” Lance said. “Right now, we’re trying to find people who will step up, start patrolling…and be visible in their community.”
With further support in Lodge Grass and other Crow Reservation communities, Lance said, he can help build a stronger network to deter future tragedies.