Thursday, November 15, 2012

Colorado town fooled by story of dying boy

The New York Times reports today on a hoax in Gypsum, Colorado, a hoax that united the town in support of a supposedly dying boy.  The hoax is that the boy, Alexander Jordan, never existed.  He was created by a 22-year-old Gypsum woman, who pulled the photo that she used to represent him from a cancer foundation website.  She created a tale about him, told to her work colleague who was the mother of one of the players on the Eagle Valley Devils High School football team.  As the story went, Alex was dying from leukemia and had asked to spend his last months in the mountains.

This quote from Jack Healy's story illustrates the extent which the city of Gypsum, population 6,477, rallied around the boy.
Walk into any lunch counter, church or small-town gas station, and you are likely to find donation jars and fliers describing similar stories of sick children, families displaced by fire and neighbors in need. And to many in this middle-class town a half-hour west of Vail’s ski condos and private jets, a story of a child at the end of a losing fight for his life had deep resonance.
The high school quarterback, Jordan Hudspeth, is quoted:
It brought us together.  We know somebody's hurt, and we want to help out.
The story reminded me of the myth of small-town solidarity, but also of the lack of anonymity associated with such places.  Healy writes of the gnashing of teeth of townsfolk in the wake of the discovery that Alex never existed.
The team was distraught. The newspaper published a long, apologetic account of the deception and the role it had played. School officials said they were trying to put the episode behind them. 
The football parent who had helped bring ... the story to the team hurried off the phone quickly, as though embarrassed.
The football coach, Mr. Ramunno, said he'd like to have back the signed football the team had donated to the boy, "to remind me I need to be a little bit more careful."

I wondered if folks in a larger or wealthier place would have rallied around a sick boy in the way this town did--and if they would have felt so burned, would have taken it so personally, when they learned that he had never existed.  

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