She drove him to see his grandmother each weekend at the nursing home in east Arkansas. When Catherine was well enough to leave the nursing home, Jonny moved back in with her. It didn't last long. She died about a year later. They buried her in Broken Bow, on a rise called Oak Hill, beneath the great tree that gave the hill its name. After most of the mourners had already cleared out, Jonny remained. He knelt beside the mound of rust-red, loamy clods, wearing his straw hat and clutching a bouquet of yellow flowers. She was the only mother he had ever known. Jonny would carry a picture of her for the rest of his life. "He just lost it when she passed," Ciravolo said.

After that, he went to live with his uncle, Steve Phairas, in Nacogdoches. Phairas couldn't help but notice the frequent presence of an older man in Jonny's life. His name was Bobby Setzer, an adult protective services worker with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. It seemed odd to Phairas that Setzer so often drove nearly four hours from his base in McCurtain County to East Texas. Their relationship, Jonny told Phairas, was not platonic. He said Setzer often spoke of running away together to far-flung African locales. Phairas wasn't sure whether or not Jonny's stories were merely the products of a rich imagination. But he began to wonder when Jonny, a troubled young man with no job and no money, came home drunk, stoned and well-supplied with cigarettes.

Phairas couldn't understand why Setzer visited Jonny almost every weekend. Jonny wasn't like other young men. "If he was hungry and walking past a hot dog stand at a carnival, he'd take a hot dog. He just knew he was hungry, and he'd take something," Phairas said. "He would go in people's yards, pick up a bicycle and play with it, and they didn't like that stuff. You keep having to tell people, 'Well, it's just Jonny.'"

Jonny Holden (far left, in overalls) with his grandmother Catherine Ciravolo in the nursing home.
Courtesy Jennifer Ciravolo
Jonny Holden (far left, in overalls) with his grandmother Catherine Ciravolo in the nursing home.
Jonny and his sister, Jennifer Ciravolo.
Courtesy Jennifer Ciravolo
Jonny and his sister, Jennifer Ciravolo.


The truth was, Jonny had been removed from the protective services worker's caseload the year before, when it was discovered Setzer spent the night with him. On January 12, 2002, Setzer arrived in Nacogdoches to pick Jonny up. He told Phairas he was going to take Jonny to a mental-health treatment facility in Howe, Oklahoma, where the young man had been a patient, to retrieve his belongings. Phairas was troubled, but he wasn't sure what he could do. Jonny was an adult.

Phairas paid a call to Jonny's aunt, Sharon Bristow, a nurse who worked nights in a Texarkana steakhouse. What he told her didn't add up. She drove nearly two hours to Setzer's home near Valliant, Oklahoma. She pounded on his door and yelled for Jonny, but no one answered. Bristow waited for an hour and left a note declaring her intent to return for her nephew. Not long after, she received a phone call from St. Michael's Hospital in Texarkana. They had Jonny. Somehow, the young man, who didn't know how to drive, had covered nearly 50 miles in Setzer's pickup. He'd rolled it near De Kalb, Texas, some 30 miles from Texarkana. The police had stopped Jonny on his way through Broken Bow and called Setzer, who told them he had permission to drive his truck. Jonny didn't have a license and the police believed he was impaired, so it was agreed that Setzer would retrieve the truck. While they waited at the station for Setzer, Jonny took off again. Setzer filed a second report with the McCurtain County Sheriff's Department, only this time he said Jonny had threatened him with a baseball bat and stolen the truck. Setzer was quick to point out that Jonny was not staying with him and declined to press charges.

Whatever the truth, there is an active warrant out of McCurtain County dating to 2002 for Setzer's arrest for alleged inappropriate contact with Jonny. The charge is "abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of a charge by a caretaker" and false reporting of a crime. According to an affidavit filed by an agent with the Oklahoma Office of Inspector General, Jonny said Setzer took him to his house and gave him a root beer to drink. He became drowsy, "like his body was falling asleep." Setzer took him into his bedroom and "pulled his pants down, laid on top of him and put his wiener in his rectum," even as Jonny asked him to stop.

Jonny said he did threaten Setzer with a baseball bat because the man had forced him to have sex. Setzer gave him the keys to his truck and an insurance card and told him he could go home.

McCurtain County District Attorney Mark Matloff says he has reason to believe Setzer fled to Morocco.

Jonny told Bristow he was ashamed of the things he did with Setzer. He never had a father, or any male role model, for that matter. And here was Setzer, an older man, a social worker, who had taken an active interest in him. Jonny was never the same after that. Bristow says Setzer introduced Jonny to methamphetamine, and he quickly became addicted.

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thank you. to the family for telling this story. to the writer for capturing it so well. and for the paper, for printing it.

truth is, i'm just like "those people" both the article and comments are related to. i'm a lot like jonny, from the opioids in utero to the methamphetamine abuse i now attribute to a mental health issue + circumstances i couldn't face without it. i am just one of the lucky ones, who got out of the cycle before ODing or jail got me first.

i'm MOST disturbed by the chain of events leading to jonny's death and how much the prison F&ck#D up...

HOW does this prison justify such colossal errors like putting a petty-criminal in a high-risk cell block?

HOW does this prison justify the fact that an inmate was not in solitary as a punishment (at the least) following repeated attacks using HUMAN WASTE?!

HOW were Jonny's repeated attempts to get his medication denied?

i really hope someone is held accountable. his voice should be heard. thank you for lending it.


Wow, this is a fantastic article about an event I don't think anyone knows about.  Kudos to the Observer.


A very well written story of a horrific subject.  


All the best to the family and I hope they receive donations to cover the interment. 


Awful story. The sister is a good person. I don't think a lot people fully understand the depths of hell mental illness and drug addiction drives a person to.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Jennifer Ciravolo is truly an angel of mercy.  Living downtown, I see so many Jonny Holdens every day and I get heartsick looking at the wreckage their bodies and minds have become.  I always remind myself that these are people who have mothers and fathers, sister and brothers.  I imagine them as the children they once were.  So very sad.