At quarry’s edge, they return for the thrill
A child dies while jumping into an abandoned quarry. And yet, the kids keep coming.
June 3, 2007
By Keith O’Brien
MILFORD — The boy stripped down to his boxer shorts and scrambled across the rocks to the lip of a 30-foot cliff. This was his moment. He was going to jump. But now as Josh Charro, 13, stood at the edge, eyeing the inky, green waters below, he wasn’t so sure.
“You gonna do it?” his friend, Mike Smith, asked.
Charro did not reply.
“Ready, Josh?” Smith said.
Again, Charro said nothing. He knew the stakes here. He knew that Brian Kerr, a Framingham teen ager, died at this quarry in Milford last Sunday, when he fell off the cliff where Charro was standing. And he knew his parents had no idea where he was on this warm afternoon after school let out.
Still, Charro was thinking about jumping. He just needed a moment.
“C’mon, Josh,” said Jessica Hazard, 14, finally breaking the silence. “Don’t be a talker.”
And with that, Charro jumped.
“This,” he said later, “is what people do.”
In fact, Charro is right. For as long as there have been quarries left behind by the state’s granite industry, there have been swimmers and jumpers and youths just hanging out on the rocks.
Historically, it has been both a pastime and a rite of passage in Milford and other towns where the granite runs deep and the abandoned quarries often run deeper.
But inevitably there are problems, none more infamous than those that plagued the Quincy quarries in the 1990s. People were not just drowning there, but the bodies of murder victims were turning up. And the city began to pursue a long, controversial path: City officials began draining and filling quarries.
In Milford, it has not come to that. But with the town suffering at least its third quarry-related death in the last 12 years, and with new housing developments inching ever closer to the old quarries, police in Milford are faced with a daunting task: They have to somehow keep the youths out of the quarries.
“One guy said it’s like the marching of the ants,” said Police Chief Thomas O’Loughlin. “He’ll be out there in his yard grilling, and he’ll say, ‘Good afternoon,’ to 15, 20, 30, 40 kids in an hour, going to and from the quarry.”
Milford residents have been swimming in these quarries for more than a century. Police officers, politicians, librarians, and senior citizens who now while away the hours on park benches — they all frequented the quarries in their youth. Joseph Moro, 92, said there was only one acceptable way to swim back then: Naked.
But swimming has never been the only attraction. The quarry culture also embraces vandals, beer drinkers, and people looking to dump old cars. The youths, though, they do not care. They are here, by and large, to do exactly what the adults tell them not to do.
They are here to jump.
&ldquoldquo;That’s the allure,” said Bill Buckley, chairman of the Board of Selectman who swam at the quarries in the 1970s. “The fact that this is a forbidden act, that this is a place where adults don’t want you to go, may be in part why they go there.”
Years ago, those visits might have gone unnoticed. But as Milford has grown, developers are building closer to the old swimming holes. Kerr, a sophomore at Framingham High School, died last weekend at a quarry located on town property, not far from a new paved bike trail.
Condominium complexes have sprouted up nearby, and a new subdivision is being built near Fletcher’s quarry, another large quarry in town.
In response to complaints before the latest death, town officials recently began posting “no parking” signs near the big quarries and towing violators. In 2005, the Police Department towed 74 vehicles at $110 a clip. O’Loughlin said he believes it has had an effect. Last year, he said, the town towed only 15 cars.
“Going back four years ago, we had cars parked all over the place,” he said. “I mean, you’d have cars lining the roadway. We don’t see that anymore.”
But just because the vehicles are gone does not mean the youths are. They ride their bikes to the quarries. Or just drive. It is not hard to beat the system. In fact, with the new bike trail open, youths wanting to go to the quarry where Kerr died last weekend can simply park in the parking lot.
Police could cite the youths for trespassing, but O’Loughlin called that “an effort in futility.” Violators scatter when the police show up. “You might get one or two kids,” O’Loughlin said. But the next day, they are back and the police understand why.
“You can’t tell me this isn’t a nice place to swim,” said Officer Al Bacchiocchi, standing last week at the quarry where Kerr died. “It’s quiet. It’s private. Who wouldn’t enjoy this?”
Kerr, for one, loved the quarries. He grew up in Milford and often returned there to hang out with friends. In good weather that meant going to the quarries, and last Sunday the weather was perfect.
Kerr was jumping with his friends, according to witnesses, and then apparently decided to leap from a tree at the quarry’s jagged edge.
At a rock wall where the heights vary, from just a few feet off the water to some 30 feet up in the air — this was a particularly risky place to jump. But plenty of youths have done it.
“I’ve jumped from that tree hundreds of times,” said Chris Larson, who was there that afternoon. “Never slipped. Never had a problem.”
Witnesses said Kerr spilled out of the tree as he was climbing it, smashed into the rocks below, and then hit the water. He never came back up, and police later found his body 40 feet beneath the surface.
“We did it all the time,” said Kerr’s sister, Shannon, 21. “You jump off the rocks. You go sit in the sun for a while, cool off in the summer heat. You climb back up and do it again. I mean, it’s an adrenaline rush.”
Even death does not deter them. Last week, in the days after Kerr died, youths returned to the quarry, somehow convinced they would be safer than he was, that this could not happen to them.
“You’d think that this incident would have scared them away,” said Elizabeth Hazard, the grandmother of Jessica, one of several teens jumping into the quarry one evening last week. “But it hasn’t. I think it’s drawn them up there more.”
Elizabeth Hazard, who is raising Jessica in a condominium a short hike from the quarry, said she found Jessica’s wet clothes stashed in the bushes outside their condo last week.
Jessica initially told her grandmother that she had gone swimming at a local pool.
“But I knew she didn’t,” Elizabeth Hazard said. “And after questioning her for a while, she admitted it.”
But parents, like the police, feel somewhat powerless to stop youths from going to the quarries. Mario Charro, the father of Josh who jumped again and again from the quarry wall last week, said he told his son all the right things after he learned that Josh had been there.
Charro, who has two other children, said he would call the police the next time he found out Josh was at the quarries.
“I will do that,” he said, “for the safety of my son.”
But whether this, or anything else, will keep youths away from the quarries is anyone’s guess, especially when they seem so willing to take the risk.
“There’s risk everywhere,” said Chris Weineck, 20, who drove to the quarry from Mansfield with four friends one evening last week. “There are sharks at the beach, and there are rocks here.”
Weineck said he prefers the rocks. He jumped from them again and again as the sun went down one evening last week.
The rocks were warm and slick, the water cool and refreshing.
It was almost summer in Milford and the only question at the moment was: What sort of jump would Weineck do?
“Spin it,” his friend Doug Purcell suggested.
“I’m not going to spin,” Weineck replied.
“I’m not doing front flips.”
Finally, Weineck made up his mind and dove, hands stretched above his head, tucking his knees to his chest just as he hit the water. He disappeared into a storm of bubbles.
And for one long moment, he was gone.