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Navajo Nation Cracks Down on Meth After Murders

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Navajo Nation Cracks Down on Meth After Murders

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Navajo Nation Cracks Down on Meth After Murders

Navajo Nation Cracks Down on Meth After Murders

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Daniel Kraker of Arizona Public Radio reports on the Navajo Nation's efforts to get tough on methamphetamine, also called crystal meth, and crimes related to the sale and manufacture of the highly addictive drug. Last month, an execution-style triple homicide shocked the reservation's law enforcement officials into action.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Last month a triple murder termed `execution style' by the FBI shocked the small town of Hogback, New Mexico, in the northern reaches of the Navajo Nation. Authorities don't know the exact motive, but methamphetamine was at the heart of it. The drug has devastated rural communities and moved into urban areas. Now meth is spreading across the country's Indian reservations. As Arizona Public Radio's Daniel Kraker report, Navajos hope this most recent tragedy will serve as a wake-up call.

DANIEL KRAKER reporting:

While an execution-style murder might end up in the back pages of the local paper in New York or Los Angeles, it's huge news on the Navajo Nation. Sitting in her pickup in Hogback to keep warm from the chilly morning air, Anita Hayes(ph) says there hasn't been a murder here in 15 years.

Ms. ANITA HAYES: Something like this just doesn't happen around here in this quiet community that we live in. A lot of people were very stunned about it. We're afraid.

(Soundbite of door slamming)

KRAKER: Navajo criminal investigator Dale West slams the door of his SUV and approaches the crime site on a dirt road just off the main highway. He found the victims' car here riddled with bullet holes. One was shot 14 times. Another was slumped in the passenger seat still holding a meth pipe.

Mr. DALE WEST (Navajo Criminal Investigator): It was an ambush in nature. The victims totally were not prepared or expecting this attack.

KRAKER: West says one of the victims and at least one of the suspects were meth dealers. All that's here now, though, are three small vases of flowers and a reservationwide resolve that something needs to be done about meth.

Ms. LEANNE JONES(ph): Because that is just an ugly, ugly scene in our community right now, and it's just permeating everything.

KRAKER: Leanne Jones taught two of the victims at Rocinante High School in the nearby off-reservation town of Farmington. On the reservation, a recent survey shows 15 percent of high school kids use meth; that compares to about 6 percent nationally. Police say as much as 90 percent of violent crime there is now linked to the drug.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man: (Navajo spoken)

KRAKER: So tribal health professionals have taken to the local airwaves with this Navajo-language announcement to educate families about the dangers of meth.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man: Najavo Department of the Havio Health Service Toya Meth Task Force(ph). (Navajo spoken)

KRAKER: Lynette Willie with the Navajo Behavioral Health Department says the campaign is slowly having an impact, especially on parents who knew little about the drug. At the same time she admits meth is becoming more prevalent at schools.

Ms. LYNETTE WILLIE (Navajo Behavioral Health Department): We find crystal methamphetamine that's being used right at the school. Kids get it in the stairways or close to the buildings, just behind the bushes.

KRAKER: There are lots of theories as to why meth use has exploded here in the past five years. Police point out the drug wasn't even illegal until February. Until then, only the FBI could make meth arrests. Tribal police left small-time dealers and users alone. The drug is cheap, easy to get and easy to make. Willie says in a place where unemployment is 60 percent, it's hard to convince dealers to stop.

Ms. WILLIE: And they were coming back and you were getting them to that line where they saw all the reasons of why they should stop, but they say, `I just can't. We'll have no income for our family.' And how do you give hope to that individual to say, `This is something, you know, to save your life'? And they say, `Well, you know, what am I going to be left with?'

KRAKER: For Mickie Preston, she was left with a healthy daughter. The former addict quit cold turkey after becoming pregnant six years ago.

Ms. MICKIE PRESTON: For me, it was easy because I had my reason with my daughter, my baby, my unborn child.

KRAKER: Preston lives with her mom and daughter in a cluttered apartment in Chin Lee in the middle of the vast reservation. She's escaped meth, but her friends here and her daughter's father still use it, and she worries that someday her daughter might join them.

Ms. PRESTON: I put those in her genes. I put addiction in her, and I'm scared. I'm really scared because it happened for me. I ended up that way.

KRAKER: Preston believes the tribe needs more treatment centers, more jail space to deal with the meth epidemic. But in the long run health officials say their best weapon is parents like Preston, parents who grasp the drug's dangers and teach their kids about it. For NPR News, I'm Daniel Kraker.

CHIDEYA: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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