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The Wolf Boy of Forest Lawn

Published: December 17, 2012

The Wolf Boy disappeared from Forest Lawn Cemetery on the day I moved into my new apartment. The radio in the kitchen was playing, so I learned the news from a muffled voice coming from a distant room as I unpacked. Jason Wolf and his sixth grade class from City Academy were visiting the cemetery as the conclusion to their year-long study of local history. Somewhere between Chief Red Jacket’s monument and President Millard Fillmore’s grave, the teachers noticed that Jason was missing. They assumed the boy had wandered off but would soon be found.

They were wrong.

The police were notified and squad cars crept up and down the cemetery’s curved and intertwined roadways, the cops calling his name through loudspeakers. By the time I ate my dinner that night in front of the television and surrounded by empty moving cartons, all the local channels were broadcasting live from the cemetery about Jason’s disappearance. His class picture was shown along with a phone number to call if anyone had seen a ginger-haired boy wearing khaki shorts and a white golf shirt in the vicinity of Forest Lawn.

By morning, volunteers from Jason’s school crisscrossed the grounds on foot, moving in a grid, finding nothing.

Searching the cemetery was no easy task.

Forest Lawn was inspired by the designers of Paris’ Père Lachais, who thought a cemetery should be a celebration of not only lives already lived but the life that continues after us and represented by a lush, natural, rugged setting. The cemetery consisted of 269 acres of rolling hills and valleys, spring-fed lakes, twisting creeks, and ten thousand trees. It also backed up to Delaware Park with its additional 350 acres of meadow, forest, and lake.

The Wolf Boy’s story interested me because Jason was a middle schooler, and I had just been hired to teach English at PS 64, the public middle school in the same neighborhood as Jason’s private one; I was to begin that September, and it would be my first teaching job out of college. Jason could’ve been my student, lost on my watch during a class field trip. Some of my incoming students in the fall may have known him from the neighborhood, or gone to elementary school with him, or at least seen him around.

Over those next few days after his disappearance, however, we all got to know The Wolf Boy from the news reports: how he was an average student, an only child, and had visited the emergency room several times over the years for suspicious bumps, bruises and, once, a broken wrist. We learned how the police had been summoned to his home twice this past year on domestic disturbance calls. Another picture emerged as well: how he was a Scout and loved to hike, fish, and camp. Interviewed neighbors told how his tent was always set up in the backyard and how he would sleep in it even in foul weather. It made me wonder how bad life inside his home must have been if he always wanted to stay outside in a leaky tent. As the days passed and he was still not found, we were told how family and friends clung to the hope that his outdoor skills would help him survive until rescuers found him. But he wasn’t found, and no ransom note was received, and each day The Wolf Boy was in the news less and less.

By September, I had nearly forgotten about him. I had my own problems to worry about. Because of a maternity leave, a nervous breakdown, and an unfortunate late-summer lawn mowing accident, PS 64’s Science Department was down three teachers and I was told that I, an English teacher, would not only be teaching seventh grade science for the first semester, I’d also be in charge of The Seventh Grade Fall Expedition, a semester-long study of a topic explored in depth from the perspective of as many classes as possible—history, art, geography, science, math and music. In past years students explored the development of the city, the impact of immigration, and our natural waterways. The year the Wolf Boy disappeared, our expedition focused on Forest Lawn Cemetery and Delaware Park.

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