Killings of child, father are woven into a tapestry of drugs in this
town of loosely close-knit people
By Tim Steller
Arizona Daily Star
ARIVACA "Live and let live" the phrase arises often when Arivaca
residents talk about their little town.
Many people come here to live together in a vast, arid landscape, but
not so closely as to be in their neighbors' business.
After the May 30 home-invasion murders of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores
and her father, Raul Flores, some wonder whether they have been
intrusive enough. After his murder, authorities said Flores, known as
Junior, was a well-known marijuana trafficker.
Maggie Milinovitch, who co-owns the local bar, La Gitana, and runs a
monthly publication, Connection, said she and some other Arivaca
residents feel guilty over Brisenia's death.
"We're a community that shares parenthood we watch out for each
other's children whenever we can, and the loss of a child is a
failure in being aware of the danger," she wrote in an e-mail.
Local residents remained emotionally raw last week over the murders.
In the bar and at the taco stand, residents broke into tears when
asked about it.
Anthony Coulson, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Tucson
office, said he thinks the girl's death resulted from a community failure.
"Raul Flores was a drug trafficker," Coulson said, noting that his
agency was actively investigating Flores as a central player in the
area's smuggling. "I think the majority of the people there are
sympathetic and tolerant of the trafficking that goes on."
But others say the situation is not so clear-cut. Arivacans, they
say, have long worked to balance the anarchistic local tendencies
with community standards, if not always laws.
Sandy Rosenthal, commander of the Pima County Sheriff's Department's
Green Valley District, said Arivaca residents "do report to us and do
help us and are involved in their community."
What makes Arivaca tick
To understand Arivaca, you have to understand that most people who
live there chose it.
They came to escape the city. They came for the loose but friendly
community. They came for the oasis quality of this low, green spot in
the high desert.
When hippies began migrating to the area in the early 1970s, the
population could be counted in the low hundreds, and the hippies were
not welcomed. Today, the area's population may exceed 1,000, and the
aging hippies run many of the unincorporated town's institutions.
"They didn't want us here when we first got here, but we've outlived
them," said Michael Armour, who came to Arivaca with his brother,
Danny, in 1973.
Both sat on the patio at La Gitana last week, enjoying an afternoon
drink in this spot about 13 miles north of the Mexican border and 45
minutes' drive from the nearest Sheriff's Department office.
The area's relationship with contraband goes way back, as local
librarian and Arivaca native Mary N. Kasulaitis found while
researching the 1870s Arivaca mining boom. E.B. Gage, a mining
superintendent in the area, wrote in a letter:
"There is a great deal of smuggling between Sonora and Tucson, which
would naturally be done nearer the line if it could be. In this
respect it might not be profitable to have a military post too near us."
For the intervening decades, smuggling has remained a fact of life
around Arivaca, especially after the marijuana trade picked up in the
1970s. In that era, the new Arivacans learned to police themselves,
Danny Armour said.
When a sheriff's deputy began aggressively patrolling the area in
1997, some residents protested vociferously, saying he had crossed
the line from enforcement to harassment.
Smuggling remains economically significant, bringing new money into
an area with few other sources of income. But in the 21st century,
the "military post" Gage referred to has finally arrived in the form
of a constant Border Patrol presence, highway checkpoints and
"virtual fence" towers being built around town.
"Maybe six years ago, I would have told you that Arivaca is an island
of private land surrounded by state and federal land that you can get
out and enjoy," said Roger Beal, co-owner of the town's grocery
store, the Arivaca Mercantile. "Now it's changed. If you went out in
the desert, you'd probably be challenged as to why you're there."
On June 11, about 12 miles southeast of town, three employees of the
Arizona Game and Fish Department and Pima County were fired upon by
four men wearing camouflage.
Arivaca, Beal said, "is getting less remote."
Outsiders coming in
Smugglers and government agents aren't the only outsiders appearing
in the Arivaca area.
Humanitarian groups such as the Green Valley Samaritans, which patrol
area roads to help border crossers, appear regularly in town.
During lunch at the taco stand last week, Samaritan member Bethia
Daughenbaugh said the group has had an almost exclusively positive
response from local residents.
South of town about five miles and up a rutted, rocky drive, younger
members of No More Deaths camp on private land with the owner's
permission. They take desert hikes looking for endangered border
crossers, camping on and crossing private property they've been allowed to use.
"I've never had a bad encounter," said Jimmy Wells, a veteran of
several summers working for the group.
While many locals sympathize with these groups, relatively few seem
to support the more hard-line border-watch groups, such as those
bearing the Minuteman name.
Two of the people charged with the home-invasion murders, Shawna
Forde and Jason E. Bush, led a small group called Minutemen American
Defense based in Everett, Wash. Investigators say they carried out
the attack as the beginning of a violent campaign to steal money and
drugs from drug traffickers. The group planned to use its haul to
fund its activities, investigators said.
Such people occasionally show up in town on the way to camp-outs
closer to the border, several residents said. But they hang around
only rarely. Forde appeared a few times at La Gitana recently, customers said.
"Most people who live here can't stand the Minutemen," Robin Warren
said as she worked at the Gadsden Coffee Co.'s cafe.
Said Beal, of the Arivaca Mercantile: "There's not an Arivaca border
watch at all."
The "meth heads"
Another group of occasional interlopers is what locals with equal
measures of disdain and sympathy call "meth heads."
They first appeared in the mid-1990s and have sprung up occasionally
since, in cycles that usually end in self-destruction, Danny Armour said.
Tucsonan Jay Ramsey, 30, said he's had to deal with the meth heads
around Arivaca. Ramsey showed up at the Mercantile last week on an
ATV, wearing a pistol in a holster and flip-flops on his feet. He
spends about half his time in Arivaca, he said, where his parents have retired.
His parents love Arivaca, he said, but they had to shoo off
methamphetamine addicts who set up a trailer on their property. Meth
addicts also started living on a neighboring property that belongs to
Robert Devine, a longtime Arivaca resident in prison for killing his
girlfriend in 2001.
Ramsey's mother, Susan, struck up a correspondence with the prisoner
about the problem, she said. In the community spirit typical of
Arivaca residents, Devine gave Susan Ramsey power of attorney over
"He thought meth was a horrible drug, and he wanted to help get it
out of Arivaca," she said.
That sort of cooperation might seem unusual in some places, but it's
not so strange in a place where people are used to working things out
without getting the authorities involved.
"You're in charge of your own destiny out here," Beal said.
Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or at email@example.com.