After the fall

Mark Andresen

The first thought Mike Perryman had as he climbed out of bed that Sunday morning nearly two years ago was that it was his son Colt's birthday. His quiet, brainy boy, his first-born son, his hunting buddy and best friend, was turning 15, and for the first time, he would not be celebrating it with his family. Colt was 600 miles away from his Balch Springs home, camping under the stars in the remote, rugged terrain of Big Bend National Park. Colt had slept away from home only once before, not counting visits to relatives, so initially his parents were reluctant to let him go. West Texas was so darn far away, so inaccessible, he might as well have been on the moon.

But Colt had insisted. This was the most popular field trip offered at the Talented and Gifted Magnet, Dallas Independent School District's elite high school, which had invited Colt to apply the year before. Most of Colt's new buddies were going on the trip, so his parents relented. After all, hadn't they needlessly worried when Colt joined the whole school on a mandatory three-day outing to an East Texas ranch early in the school year?

As his wife, Barbara, and younger son, Cain, slept, Perryman padded around the kitchen fixing coffee and breakfast. Not five minutes after he mentally wished his son a happy birthday, the phone rang. A ranger from the National Park Service was on the phone.

"Has anyone told you your son's missing?" the ranger asked Perryman. "He's been missing since yesterday afternoon."

Perryman suddenly felt as if he were underwater, submerged in a sea of questions -- Where? How? Why wasn't he called last night? But there was no time to ask. The former Marine shifted into rescue mode as the ranger told him that the quickest way to get there was to charter a plane to Lajitas, a tiny town 30 minutes from the national park where the rangers would meet him.

Minutes later, teacher Lee Bloomfield, one of the two sponsors on the trip, called. He told Perryman that two students had last seen Colt at 3 p.m. Saturday, sitting on the summit of Emory Peak -- the highest spot in the park -- looking scared.

Perryman was panic-stricken. He quickly located a charter plane and had the pilot pick him up at the private airfield in Mesquite. By 12:20 p.m., they were in the air. Perryman told the pilot of the twin-engine prop plane to "peg it out," but even traveling at top speeds of 160 mph, the flight would take three and a half hours. It felt like an eternity.

During the seemingly endless flight, Perryman finally had a chance to think, and all the questions came flooding back. "This was a school field trip, for heaven's sake. How can my son be missing if he was supervised? How can he be gone for 18 hours and no one have called me? How can no one know what happened? Was there no buddy system? How can this be?"

The questions haunt him to this day. Perryman believes what happened to his son that day was not simply an unforeseeable accident. He believes that what happened was utterly avoidable if only the Dallas school district had a field-trip policy with safety guidelines. But perhaps what's most troubling of all to Perryman is his belief that the district has done nothing to ensure that something like this doesn't happen to someone else's child.

Disneyland High School, a place too good to be true -- that's what the teachers who worked at the Talented and Gifted Magnet called it. It was an honor to be invited to attend the school and equally an honor to teach there.

Housed with five other magnet high schools inside the Townview Center, just south of downtown, the TAG students were known for being super achievers, independent thinkers, and blessedly trouble-free. "We don't have any kid that's not good," TAG art teacher Marsha Evans would tell an investigator after the Big Bend trip. "They're all incredible...It's everything you'd want a high school to be. You know, kids that are responsible, they don't fight..."

The only school in the district with a student body that is evenly ethnically diverse -- one-third Anglo, one-third black, and one-third Hispanic -- it is an uncommonly close-knit group. The kids stick together, which is what led to the problems that dominated the news when the TAG magnet joined five other magnet schools at Townview in 1995.

Created as a self-contained school within Pinkston High in 1982, TAG magnet fostered a unique identity. Students ate all their meals and took all their classes together. When TAG wanted to continue these practices at Townview, County Commissioner John Wiley Price and the new Black Panthers accused the school of being elitist and staged daily demonstrations at the school that lasted for months.  

But by the fall of 1997, though the protests continued, life had calmed down considerably within the confines of Townview and the TAG magnet. In the fall, the school reinstated the traditional trek -- a highlight of the TAG program that contributed to the previous year's controversy -- where the entire student body and faculty bond through academic and recreational activities during a three-day trip to an East Texas ranch.

TAG took learning to the field again after winter break with a weeklong alternative academic course of study called the TAG Interim Term -- or TAG-IT. Students could choose from a number of options, from designing theaters and stages to feminist film criticism. They could study courtroom procedures and the mathematics of architecture and construction.

The five-day camping trip labeled the Great TAG Big Bend Adventure always attracts the largest number of students, and this year was no exception.

An advanced-placement history teacher and among the most popular faculty members at TAG, Lee Bloomfield had been leading groups of students to Big Bend for 14 years, first when he taught at the Edison Environmental Science Academy and then in the eight years he had taught at TAG. He liked introducing adolescents, some of whom had never been out of the inner city before, to the stark, majestic beauty of the Big Bend wilderness. A vast and untamed area of contrasts, Big Bend boasts mountain ranges, desert, and forest. Its southern boundary is the Rio Grande, which cuts deep canyons through the desert along the Mexican border.

The trip is not by any measure easy. After a 12-hour car ride, students spend their days hiking the canyons and trails of the Chisos Mountains and their evenings soaking their feet and cooking out. Though rugged and fun, the trip is also supposed to be educational. On the last night of the trip, students are required to write and perform an original ballad chronicling their experiences in Big Bend. When they return, they are to create a myth, folktale, or legend incorporating their impressions of the area.

Colt Perryman was one of the first students to sign up for the Big Bend adventure. When he first learned about the trip, he came home and excitedly told his parents he wanted to go.

"What, another trip?" was his parents' first thought.

Colt's parents were also concerned when they heard their son would be hiking in the mountains. Colt was afraid of heights and, although he was an avid hunter and fisherman, he had never spent time in terrain such as this. Colt promised his parents he would stay on the established trails and go only where the adults said it was safe. His father even thought the trip might be a good way for Colt to overcome some of his fear of heights.

"We were skittish about the first trip," Perryman says. "We're not overly protective, but we don't take chances. But when he got back from the first trip and he told us all the activities were conducted in groups and it went well, we thought this trip would go the same way."

Preference was given to students whose parents were willing to supervise on the trip. A facilities manager at a semiconductor company, Perryman wanted to go, but he had started a new job 10 months earlier and the timing was not good. He promised Colt that if he liked Big Bend, he would accompany him next year.

The Perrymans paid $80 for the trip, plus another couple of hundred dollars for camping supplies. A week before the departure in January 1998, Perryman and Colt attended a meeting at the school to learn the details of the trip. Bloomfield presented a slide show put to music that featured some of the fun-filled highlights -- a hike to a waterfall, a visit to a Mexican village, and an arduous 14-mile hike that culminated with what Bloomfield described as an assault on Emory Peak. No pictures of the 7,825-foot peak were shown, and Bloomfield left the impression it was simply part of the trail that offered an astounding 360-degree view of the park.

Fifty-one students and nine adults were going, and they would be broken down into seven groups, with one adult for approximately six students. Among the rules: no running or horseplay; never be out of earshot or sight of the responsible adults; do not hike off established trails.

"This trip looked like it was going to be handled right too," Perryman says. "My assumption was that my son was going to be safe. It sounded perfectly safe."  

Just to make sure, he warned his son before he left to follow the rules and listen to his adult leader, Steven Jean, father of another freshman going on the trip. Then he slipped Colt an extra $50, in case some of the other students ran short of money.

Perryman had arranged for authorities to call him in the air if searchers found Colt. When he heard nothing, he figured no news was bad news. By the time he touched down in Lajitas around 4 p.m., his son had been missing for more than 24 hours. He had already spent one night in sub-freezing temperatures. If he was alive, his chances of surviving another night were slim.

The rangers took Perryman straight to park headquarters. They showed him a map of the area where Colt was last seen, and it reinforced his fears. He quickly gleaned that had his son gotten lost in the woods after wandering off the trail, he would have easily been able to find another trail -- and would have been smart enough to stay on it. He looked at the map markings indicating the drastic changes in elevation around the area Colt had been in -- the area of Emory Peak -- and he knew that his son was either severely injured or dead.

Perryman wanted to start looking for Colt immediately, but the rangers told him that it would be too dangerous. Night had fallen, and the search had been called off for the day. A team of rangers had spent the day rappelling down the gully on the mountain's south side -- where students thought they heard a rockslide around the time Colt was last seen -- but they found nothing. More than a dozen rangers and volunteers would again camp out along the trails that night in the hope that Colt would somehow find them. The park service also had called in a helicopter with an infrared device that was to arrive before midnight and could be used to search at night.

Bloomfield met Perryman at ranger headquarters. He told him several times how sorry he was. Then Bloomfield and the rangers took Perryman to his son's tent to retrieve some clothes to be used by dogs that were being brought in for the search in the morning.

As he sat alone in his room in a lodge at the base of the mountains, Perryman stared out at the mountains, watching clouds collect around the peaks. Around midnight the rangers called to say that the helicopter had been canceled because of mechanical difficulties and that no others were available. Perryman was frantic, because he thought the helicopter was his son's last best chance of being found before dying of exposure.

"It just dashed my heart, I was counting on it so much," he recalls.

At 1 a.m., Perryman dressed and headed out alone for the trailhead, but he turned back when he realized he had no idea which way to go. He went to the room and waited by the phone for the rest of the night.

Perryman and ranger Valerie Naylor, a public information officer for the park service, headed out at 7:30 the next morning. They took the Pinnacles Trail -- a direct but steep route -- up to Emory Peak, a 4.5-mile trek that took almost three hours.

The trail ended at the base of a looming rock wall at the summit -- 30 feet straight up and about 70 feet wide. Naylor asked Perryman whether he wanted to climb up to the peak, but he said no.

"I looked up, and a shudder went through me," Perryman recalls. "I told her I didn't want that nightmare." Naylor told him that she also was afraid to climb it.

Suddenly a voice crackled over Naylor's radio. "There he is, 50 feet below the ledge," the voice said. Naylor grabbed the radio, quickly turned the volume down, and put it up to her ear. Perryman saw a helicopter hovering over the north face of the peak. A park ranger hooked ropes to a tree on the right side of the rock face and began to climb down. A man in the helicopter was pointing.

Perryman worked his way to the right edge of the trail, grabbed a tree, and looked down. He saw a sheer drop of some 400 feet. Three helicopters were hovering nearby. Perryman asked Naylor what was going on, and she said they had declared radio silence.

"I'm not stupid, lady," he told her. "They know I'm here with you. That's why they declared radio silence. Please tell me what's going on."  

Naylor couldn't help him. Perryman asked whether they would bring his son up or down when they got to him. Naylor said down, so Perryman turned around and started walking furiously down the mountain, purposely getting far enough ahead of Naylor that she would feel comfortable to call in for information without his overhearing it. His plan apparently worked, because she yelled out for him to stop. Rangers had found his son, she said, but they wouldn't tell her whether he was dead or alive.

He raced down the mountain. He remembers being stunned by the overwhelming beauty of the place and by the sick sensation that his son was dead. It took three hours to get down the trail from the mountain. The leader of the group that had been searching for Colt met him.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Perryman," he said.

"Is my son dead?" Perryman asked.

"We don't know, but it doesn't look good."

Perryman walked another 50 feet, fell to his knees, and threw up. It took another 45 minutes to drive back to ranger headquarters, where they confirmed that Colt was dead. It appeared that he had slipped as he attempted to descend from the top of Emory Peak and fell 450 feet to his death. Experts felt certain he died almost instantly from the trauma. They told Perryman it was better not to see him. He asked whether he could hold his son's hand, but they advised against it. They identified Colt's body from a picture.

Perryman made the most difficult phone call of his life. "It's not good, babe," he said to his wife. "It's not good. Colt is dead." The trip home was longer and more excruciating than the trip down. No planes had room for the casket, so Perryman hired a hearse to drive his son back to Dallas. Perryman followed behind him with his cousin, who had flown into Midland to meet him.

When he got home, Perryman crawled into bed with his wife and younger son, whom he had told to look out for his mother. They held each other all night long.

The day after the Perrymans laid their oldest son to rest, Mike went to Townview. In honor of his son, the students had draped gray ribbon throughout the halls and decorated Colt's locker with purple hearts inscribed with the words joyful, peaceful, and happiness. Principal Frank Michael Satarino asked Perryman to stop by because he had something he wanted to give him. It was a form that Perryman needed to complete and sign. He wasn't ready to look at paperwork and put the form in an envelope.

Before he left, he asked Satarino if there was going to be an investigation into his son's death. The principal didn't think so. He told Perryman that he had talked to the teachers on the trip and that he was satisfied all proper procedures had been followed.

A week later, Perryman opened the envelope. Inside was an insurance claim form entitling the Perrymans to $10,000. Lee Bloomfield, the trip faculty sponsor, had signed the form certifying that Colt's accident was sustained while participating in official activities under adequate supervision.

Perryman refused to sign it. He was suspicious about exactly what happened on top of that mountain. He couldn't believe his son, with his fear of heights, climbed on his own volition. No one had told the parents that their children would be involved in anything remotely dangerous. No one mentioned anything about a 30-foot, almost vertical rock climb.

Newspapers were reporting about the accident. The district, relying on information provided by Bloomfield, claimed that the students had more than adequate supervision during all their activities. On their hikes, there were adults in front and in back of groups of five students, Bloomfield was quoted as saying. A spokesman also told The Dallas Morning News that all district policies and procedures had been followed.

Perryman asked for a copy of the district's field-trip policy and was shocked at what he found -- an anemic page and a half of guidelines that dealt with transportation requirements and the chain of command for approving field trips, but nothing about safety requirements.

Perryman was now more determined than ever to find out exactly what happened to his son. Before he left Big Bend, he had asked the rangers to conduct an accident investigation. A few weeks after Colt died, the rangers gave him sobering news.

About 25 students and only one adult hiked all the way up to Emory Peak. The kids had been encouraged to walk at their own speed, so they were spread out along the trail. Many of the students had climbed the peak on their own. Perhaps the most damning evidence of the lack of supervision on the trip: Three hours had passed since Colt was last seen before anyone realized he was missing.  

Perryman was anxious to get some answers of his own. He called some of the students on the trip. One girl told him that she was scared on the peak and needed help climbing down. She said that Colt had not wanted to make the final assault on Emory Peak but was encouraged to do so by Steve Jean, the parent in charge of his group and the only adult who climbed the peak. Perryman called Steve Jean, but he said he would talk only if Perryman promised not to sue him. He added that he did nothing wrong and had nothing to hide. Perryman asked a teacher to have Bloomfield call him, but he never did.

The ranger report was completed in March 1998. It contradicted the district's public assurances that the students had been adequately supervised. Perryman took a copy to acting Superintendent James Hughey and director of employee relations Robbie Collins and demanded that the district conduct its own investigation. Collins promised Perryman that the district's investigative team would get to the truth.

Above all, Perryman wanted to know why the district had no policies or procedures regarding the proper supervision of students on field trips. The investigation took the rest of the year and was not concluded until the summer. It pieced together a fairly detailed and alarming account of Colt's death.

Saturday, January 17, 1998, was to be the most grueling day of the Big Bend trip. Thirty-nine students and five adults opted to hike the Laguna Meadow Trail, a 14-mile loop that culminated with the assault on Emory Peak. The other 12 students and three parents chose to accompany teacher Marsha Evans on the Lost Mine Trail, a shorter and less rigorous hike.

The group headed to Emory Peak awoke early and reached the Chisos Basin by 7:30 a.m. to begin the hike. One of the students got sick and a parent accompanied her back to camp. Bloomfield encouraged them to walk at their own speed, and the group quickly spread out. Thin and long-legged, Colt was in one of the fastest groups and made it to South Rim, where the group was meeting for lunch, before the others. Bloomfield talked to Colt during lunch, and he seemed to be in good spirits.

About 10 students who had arrived at lunch early were eager to continue with the hike before everyone was done eating. So the group, with Colt and Steve Jean among them, headed down Boot Canyon toward the trail up to Emory Peak. Colt was one of the first students to reach the notch at the summit, where the trail ends at the rock wall leading up to the very top of the mountain. Several students who got there about the same time asked him whether he was going to climb it, but he refused. He put his pack down and waited for the rest of the group.

Bloomfield, who was walking with his adult son, was at the back of the pack. When he arrived at the intersection of Boot Canyon Trail and Emory Peak Trail, a mile below the peak, he found a student asleep on a food-storage-container bin. Bloomfield would later tell investigators that the girl was the unofficial counter, the person who would tell him who had gone up and who stayed behind. She told him that everyone she had been with had gone up to the peak. Bloomfield and his son decided they were too tired to climb the steep 1-mile peak trail and waited at the intersection with a dozen or so of the students who chose not to go up.

Bloomfield would tell investigators that a few things about this hike were different from the ones he had made in the past. In previous years, another teacher, an experienced climber, would be the first to make it to the summit notch. He would assist all the students up and down the perilous peak. The teacher had transferred school districts the year before. This was Bloomfield's second year leading the trip without him. Another difference: This year many more students were interested in climbing the peak than in the past.

To Colt and many of the other students, the summit of Emory Peak must have looked as daunting as Mt. Everest. The mountaintop is capped with a sheer, 30-foot rock wall with 600-foot falls on two sides. There are two ways to get to the top from the notch. One is to rock-climb straight up the middle, gingerly feeling your way for hand- and footholds. Although terrifying at first, it is actually the safest route. The second way is to follow a path that curves to the right and up the summit. Once the path disappears around the rock, it becomes a foot-wide precipice with a 600-foot rock chute below.  

Colt sat at the base of the peak while about 10 students climbed up. An upperclassman who had been on the trip before showed a few students how to ascend in the middle of the rock face.

Several of the students asked Colt to join them, but he shook his head. Soon Steve Jean arrived with his son, Eric, and several other members of Colt's group. Steve Jean wasn't sure how to climb up either and waited to see how some of the kids were doing it. Then he encouraged Colt to go with him. "You've come this far; you might as well go all the way to the top," several students recalled Jean telling Colt. "I hear it's beautiful up there."

Colt continued to sit there. So Jean was surprised that a few minutes later he felt someone climbing up behind him. He turned to see Colt. A girl turned around and said, "Colt, aren't you afraid of heights?"

"Let's not talk about it," Colt replied.

When they reached the top, Colt crouched down in the middle of the boulder-strewn summit and held his ashen face in his hands. Eric Jean walked over to talk to him. He asked him whether he was afraid of heights, and he said yes. Steve Jean went to Colt.

"You made it, Colt," he said. "Good job."

No one knows for certain what happened next. Steve Jean told the park rangers two stories. At first he said he turned around and Colt was gone. Another time, he told the rangers he saw Colt descend the peak. Steve Jean and several other students said that about 10 minutes after anyone remembers last seeing Colt, they heard what they thought was a rockslide far down the south side of the mountain. They didn't think anything of it. Steve Jean told DISD investigators that he saw a friend of Colt's go down the mountain and assumed Colt was with him. He also told the investigators that he went along to be with his son and wasn't there to supervise anyone.

Bloomfield waited about a mile below the summit for the last students to climb down from the peak. Two girls told him they were the last ones on the peak. No one noticed Colt's backpack left at the summit notch. Bloomfield and the rest of the group headed back to the Chisos Basin, where they had left the vans. It was almost 6 p.m. Not until the students had loaded into the vans did anyone notice that Colt was missing -- a full three hours after he was last seen crouched and petrified on Emory Peak.

Bloomfield checked the restrooms and a nearby store. When Colt failed to show up, Bloomfield sent the vans back to camp. He remained behind in hopes that Colt would appear. One of the vans was speeding on the way back and was pulled over by a park ranger. That's when the rangers learned that, in the parlance of the park service, "there was an overdue hiker."

The DISD investigators went to Big Bend and climbed Emory Peak. They discovered how easy it was to get disoriented on top of the peak and be uncertain of the correct way to get down. Based on where Colt was found and what the rangers told them, they surmised that Colt had attempted to descend the mountain on the seemingly easier route off the right side. Coming down this way, climbers reach a point where they're forced to feel for footholds with their feet near a sheer drop-off. This would be a surprise to anyone who hadn't gone up that way.

"It is believed that Colt, probably disoriented, dizzy, fatigued, and suffering from a fear of heights, attempted to locate the route down and went to the wrong side and accidentally fell to his death," according to the DISD report.

The report concluded that several factors contributed to Colt's death: There were no specific safety procedures for climbing Emory Peak and a lack of adult supervision. Parents weren't fully informed of the hazardous nature of the rock climb, and the trip's organizers did not understand the hazards of the climb. The procedures for keeping track of students on the trail were inadequate, and organizers did nothing to evaluate or accommodate physical or psychological impairments of the students.

The report chastised the teacher sponsors for misjudging the maturity level of the TAG students, which led them to believe they did not need safety supervision. It also found several policy violations, including failure to notify the board and superintendent of the overnight field trip.  

Mike Perryman found the investigators' report disturbing, especially the interview with teacher Marsha Evans, who seemed to blame Perryman for his son's demise. She told investigators that when she heard Perryman say during Colt's eulogy that he had a fear of heights, she was "appalled" that he let his son go on the trip.

In a way Perryman has always blamed himself. "I trusted the school district would keep my son safe," he says. "I trusted his teachers. They were supposed to be the best of the best. But I confused intelligence with common sense."

Perryman claims that Robbie Collins gave him a copy of the investigative report with the admonition that he should hire a lawyer. Collins, who is no longer with the district, did not return phone calls from the Dallas Observer. When Perryman said he was unsure of where to find a lawyer, Collins told him to contact the bar association. He did. The bar referred him to Dallas personal injury attorney Mike Polewski.

"I fucking hate lawyers" were Perryman's first words to Polewski. He wasn't sure why he was there. He didn't want to sue the district. He just wanted to make sure his rights were protected, and he wanted the district to make some changes.

DISD's own report, in fact, made several recommendations to improve the district field-trip policy. These included implementing a defined student/staff ratio sufficient to meet reasonable safety requirements with added help from parent volunteers. The report also called for a plan for medical emergencies; an explanation of any activity that may be hazardous and what safety procedures and precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of students; and any special training necessary for staff members and verification that staff who supervise students have such training.

Perryman hoped the district would adopt these safety guidelines, but in the fall of 1998, as the report was being finished, the only action the district took was to fire Bloomfield and suspend Evans, which caused a ruckus at Townview. Teachers at the school voted to cancel all field trips and extracurricular activities until Bloomfield and Evans were reinstated and the district revised its trip policy to give teachers more direction. Then 300 students staged a walkout and protested the teachers' decision at the administration building.

Evans eventually was allowed to return to work. Bloomfield challenged his firing on the grounds that he couldn't violate school policies that don't exist. They rescinded the firing, allowed him to resign, paid him for the full year, and promised to give him good recommendations. He now lives in East Texas and could not be reached for comment.

"I didn't ask for Mr. Bloomfield to be fired," Perryman says. "They did it to try and appease me instead of looking at what's wrong with the system and fix it. I have a personal problem with Mr. Bloomfield and Mr. Jean. They owe me and my family an explanation, but we're not going to get it."

Perryman believes that Steve Jean left his son on top of the mountain and that Colt fell trying to find an easier way down. He says the district investigators told him that if Colt had come down first, they would have seen and heard him fall off the edge of the mountain. The investigators threw a 50-pound rock down the chute that Colt fell in, and it made considerable noise. "There's no way he could have fallen without someone hearing or seeing something," Perryman says.

Steve Jean would not talk about the trip to the Observer on the advice of counsel. "We keep thinking there will be some finality, but I don't think so," Jean says.

The Perrymans live with finality every day. It never gets any easier. In late October, almost two years after their son died, the Perrymans sued the school district and Lee Bloomfield for $12 million in damages for failing to protect their son from the dangers of the mountain hike. Texas law prohibits school districts from being sued for negligence, so the Perrymans are pursuing the case as a federal civil rights issue. The suit claims that the district and Bloomfield violated Colt's civil rights by "knowingly placing him in a dangerous environment."

TAG has not resumed the Big Bend trip since Colt's death.

"This is not the way I wanted to solve the problem," Perryman says. "But sometimes you have to slap someone to pay attention. I had no idea school districts had such blanket immunity. There are laws to protect the school district from me, but there is nothing to protect me or my child from the district. There are no safety rules, but they damn sure got a law that makes sure I can't sue them.  

"I am trying to honor my son's memory with my actions. They just tried to appease me and forget about it as soon as possible. Nothing happened. Nothing changed."

DISD policy prevents school officials from talking about pending litigation, according to DISD spokesman Loretta Simon. But the fact is that the DISD's field-trip policy is much less stringent than other districts. Both Fort Worth and Houston independent school districts have elaborate guidelines governing the safety and welfare of students on field trips. Houston's policy, for example, is eight pages long and, among other things, sets a minimum requirement of chaperones (a 1-to-10 ratio in high school). It also stipulates that sponsors should "accompany the group to, from, and during the function" and that chaperones are to be on duty and supervising at location of students at all times during the trip.

Fort Worth's guidelines are equally lengthy and detailed. They set a ratio of chaperones to students; stipulate that students will stay in a group with the assigned chaperone; and state that the principal may not approve special activities considered to be high-risk.

Other than the firing of Bloomfield, the DISD board never even considered adopting any of the policy recommendations, according to former board secretary Bob Johnston, who still oversees policy for the district. "There was never anything presented to the board as far as changes to my knowledge," Johnston says. "What should have happened was that Robert Payton, head of school operations, would have made a recommendation to change the policy. If the board approved it, it would have gone back to Payton for a rewrite of policy. It may never have gotten to Payton in the first place. Two years ago, we were in the middle of the [former Superintendent Yvonne] Gonzalez mess, and communications were rather screwed up."

On the anniversary of Colt's death, Perryman returned to Big Bend with his son Cain, who is the same age Colt was when he died. They passed a Boy Scout troop that had all managed to stay together on the trail. About 400 feet before the end of the trail, Emory Peak emerges from the trees. Cain fell to the ground, sobbing and exhausted.

"I washed his face with water and comforted him," Perryman says. "When I told my wife, she said it was just like Colt. If I had been there with him, if someone had been there for him, things would have been different."

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