Swat stand-off Alarms Mountain

“No one knows these mountains better than Matt,“ Matthew K. Barr’s father said proudly. We talked during his son’s 14-hour stand-off with a Kern County Sheriff’s SWAT team on Thursday, March 23-24.

Matt Barr grew up hiking and climbing in the hills and mountains of the Los Padres National Forest surrounding the Pine Mountain community. His zeal for physical fitness is, in part, an attempt to balance a health challenge he has wrestled with since he was a young boy.

Recently it has gotten him into trouble, big trouble.


By Patric Hedlund, TME

2:56 p.m. • March 23, 2017

I responded to a location in the 2000 block of lower Linden Drive in the Pine Mountain community. As I drive, a string of cars heading in the opposite direction passes me. One is a large RV. A woman with a very grim expression is at the wheel. This type of traffic is rarely seen on these streets. Clearly these people are departing the area I am driving into.

Shortly after I arrive at the scene, my office tells me that law enforcement began evacuating houses in the area about 20 minutes earlier. We’d been told that a man with a warrant for his arrest is in his home, refusing to come out.


The day before, March 22, sheriff’s deputies were searching for Matthew Barr, 36. He is known to be a mountaineer, often camping in the woods. But nights are cold. Two inches of snow has fallen. Islands of snow still glow beneath the trees.

On Lower Linden Drive

I park at the bottom of lower Linden Drive, well away from first responders lining up their vehicles. Kern County Fire Department’s Engine 58 and the Station 58 paramedic truck are idling at the side of the road. In front of them is a Hall Ambulance Service truck, also running its engine and standing by. Two California Highway Patrol cars, one a K-9 unit, are staged behind two Kern County Sheriff’s patrol units. All this is just east of a home with a U-Haul truck in the driveway.

I’m His Dad; They Will Kill Him

A compact man about 5’6” is standing in the street. He wears blue jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt jacket, a baseball cap and dark sunglasses. His short hair and close-cropped beard are white.

As I approach, he speaks to me as if in a daze: “I’m his dad. They are going to kill him. He’s in there. He has no phone. He’s bipolar. He’s scared. I’m scared.”

I am there as a reporter. I’m wearing my ID. But I have worked in this region as editor of The Mountain Enterprise for 13 years. This is a community newspaper. I’m also a neighbor. Kevin Barr throws his arms around me for a moment, collects himself and then starts walking back toward the paramedic truck. I turn to walk with him.

“How can I help you?” I ask reflexively. “You can’t,” he says, then: “Stay with me, I’m scared. There are too many cops here. I’m scared they are going to kill him.” I walk with him, listening, taking notes. Then, suddenly, with no warning, Kevin Barr takes off toward a snowy patch with trees behind the houses.

“I’m going to go talk to him. I’ll get him to come out,” he calls back.

Stop! We Will Arrest You

A CHP officer calls to him to come back. A sheriff’s deputy appears with a black automatic rifle. Another deputy begins unspooling yellow crime scene tape across Linden Drive, attached to a clump of bushes at one end and a tree at the other side, closing off the street and the intersection of Live Oak Way.

“Get behind the tape,” the officer growls. “Get behind the tape!” Then CHP and KCSO officers appear, walking Kevin Barr back down the road to the other side of the taped off area, where the medical personnel are waiting.

“They said they were going to arrest me,” Kevin Barr says bitterly. “I love that boy….I wanted to get into the back of the house and talk with him.”

Off His Meds

Lieutenant Damon McMinn steps out of a cruiser. “We will try to talk him out,” he says to Barr. “I will walk in and talk with him and get him to come out.”  Kevin Barr repeats.

“We cannot jeopardize your safety,” McMinn replies.

Kevin’s son has been living with a bipolar diagnosis for half his life, since age 18.

“He’s not taking his meds,” his father tells me. “He gets fat when he’s on his meds. He hated having that weight.

“Three years ago he was up to 230 pounds. Matt said, ‘Dad, I can’t stand the weight. I need to be fit.’ So he stopped taking his meds. He was doing okay. He was doing a lot of climbing and hiking in the mountains, working at the ice cream shop in the village. But when he’s not on his meds he has conspiracy thoughts. Lots of people do. Look at Donald Trump. We’re melting down in America.”

As he speaks, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump are seeking to woo more votes for their health care plan from the conservative House Freedom Caucus by removing mental health care from medical coverage. I don’t mention it to Barr. I just quietly take notes.

He is talking again: “They are waiting for a hostage negotiator. They think Matt is a major criminal like the Westminster Bridge driver…. Do you have a cigarette? I don’t smoke. Haven’t smoked for two years. But I have to have something.”

He goes to speak with the Hall Ambulance Service driver. I call The Mountain Enterprise office to check in.

Eagle Scout at 14

Kevin Barr comes back with a cigarette, still distressed.

“I’m going to be the one to go in to talk with him. He’ll come out for me,” he says once again.

“Deb, my wife, says this is a chance for him to get help and get better. He’s a good son. He became an Eagle Scout when he was just 14. Matt painted a picture of America with all the states on the asphalt at El Tejon School, including Alaska and Hawaii. He was very proud of it.”

As Barr talks, a small white car is allowed through the tape. It parks 30 feet away from us. A muscular man gets out and walks to the trunk. He flips it open and takes out weapons and camouflage clothing.

Kevin Barr’s back is turned to this. I listen to him, nodding my head to keep his attention. I am hoping the father will not turn to see the man behind him assembling weapons and changing into camouflage, transforming into what appears to be a military sniper.

4:51 p.m. • March 23, 2017

We hear sirens. From Frazier Park my staff says the Fraz Mtn Bulletin Board on Facebook is lighting up with people asking why so many sheriff’s vehicles are speeding up Frazier Mountain Park Road with lights and sirens. One says they had to pull over five times to let the sirens go by. Some say they have counted 25 to 35 sheriff, CHP and SWAT vehicles roaring through Lebec and Cuddy Valley.

Later I will ask sheriff’s spokesperson Ray Pruitt how many vehicles and personnel were deployed for this event. He replies by saying that my questions “deal directly with operational tactics as it relates to these types of operations, and we do not discuss operational tactics.”

Back in the usually quiet Pine Mountain community, Kevin Barr is thinking out loud again. “All this police presence makes me uneasy…. [Matt’s former girlfriend] was using him,” Barr says, whipping out a pair of silver scissors with four-inch blades to snip the filter from the tip of his cigarette.

“These are my film editor’s scissors. I’ve edited over 900 films. I’ve worked in every studio in Hollywood. I started as an apprentice on The Sting with Robert Redford. My trainer was William Thomas. He played Buckwheat in The Little Rascals when he was a kid. But you could never even say the name ‘Buckwheat’ around him. It would make him mad. His parents took all the money he earned and spent it. He didn’t get any of it. He was still mad 30 years later.”

Kevin stops talking to take a deep drag on the cigarette and exhale a big puff of smoke. He may be talking about The Little Rascals and film editing, but his mind and heart have not lost their focus: “My hope is that I can walk him out, arm in arm…” he says softly.

It is not hard to follow his train of thought.

“I’m a law-abiding citizen. I’ve never been arrested. I believe. My faith is being tried because of this huge police presence for a guy who has never been violent in his life. I hope I can convince the negotiator that I can talk to him. When I see these guys out here with long guns it scares the hell out of me.

“Matt told me that he didn’t want to go to jail. On the IQ scale he is over 138-140. He is a genius. He went to Fresno State. He took ROTC. But he bailed out. He could have been in the military. He could have been a colonel. But he’s bipolar….

“He’s never spoken about being suicidal….”

Kevin Barr has finished the cigarette. We are standing looking at the police tape, watching law enforcement vehicles assemble on the other side of Linden Drive. The gears are still turning fast in the father’s head. He’s still trying to figure out what happened.

“His girlfriend called the police. Her family was here to help her move out. Matt was paying the rent. He only gets $850 a month from SSI. They weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend anymore, for over a year. But she was sick with a tumor or something on her spine and had trouble walking. She couldn’t work. Matt was helping her anyway, as much as he could.

Taking care of her…but they had the electricity and the propane shut off. They couldn’t pay it.

“He has no knowledge that I am out here. He is frightened. God only knows what he’ll do to himself because of this police presence. Dear Lord, please help me be the messenger of hope for him…. He’ll be locked up in Lerdo if they get him out alive.”

Kevin goes to talk with Hall Ambulance drivers again. This time he comes back like he’s found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He holds up three cigarettes.

“I haven’t smoked in three years,” he says this time. “I got three!” He whips out his silver scissors again and flips off all three filters with a single snip. I look around uneasily, wondering if the deputies have seen his scissors.

5:12 p.m. • March 23, 2017

The Mountain Enterprise publisher arrives and Kevin introduces himself as he tries to light a cigarette.

“That’s my son. He is scared to death,” he tells the publisher. As he gets the cigarette lit, he says, “I’ll never smoke again in all my life, but I need something right now….”

Then he continues: “Matt was almost the youngest Eagle Scout in history…He missed being the youngest by just one month. I live close. We brought him here 25 years ago. He hikes. He knows this mountain better than anyone else. He is a good kid. He’s just scared to death right now. Something triggered this. I’m not sure what. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. I was shooting with a pellet gun at a metal pan target once, just sort of plinking. Matt said, ‘Don’t shoot anything. Don’t hurt any birds, Dad.’ I edited 900 movies in 40 years. I worked with Technicolor, DeLuxe, Paramount. I was union. I’m retired two years now.”

Then he told the publisher about William Thomas and The Little Rascals. But the distraction does not last for long.

“I’m no dummy. I see what is going on in this world. It is not a fair world. He’s bipolar and off his meds. I want nothing more than to go up there and put my arms around him. I’m just afraid he’ll do something to himself with all this police presence. He’s scared and he’s trapped like a rat. I’m the primary here. Why aren’t they calling me if the negotiator is here? Why aren’t they calling me? I can make him feel safe.”

Kevin Barr takes the second cigarette from his new stash.

“He doesn’t trust the medical people. He thinks he knows better about the medication.



By March this year two warrants had been issued for Matt Barr. One was a misdemeanor (trespassing) and the other was for allegedly “making terrorist threats,” a felony.

A Pine Mountain resident told me he had a verbal dispute with Barr, who allegedly threatened him while holding a climbing and camping tool, which the man called an “ax.” He said he had called deputies “to protect myself and my property.”

He is a retired law enforcement officer. He knows that using the  phrase “terrorist threats” (Penal Code 422) in an accusation can be a magic ticket to major legal problems for Barr.


“He asked me a few weeks ago to borrow my gun. He said he wanted to go hunting. He’s never had a gun. I talked with him. I said, ‘Go back on your meds and when you’re feeling better, we’ll go hunting together.’”

Barr pulls out yet another cigarette. “I think I stole the Hall Ambulance driver’s lighter. Look! here it is,” he says. It is a red-orange Bic disposable, the same color as Hall Ambulances.

Barr inhales again and lets out another huge cloud of smoke, this time into my face. I don’t think he notices. Barr is in thought again, saying, “He’s probably got knives….”

Another Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy approaches. His name tag says “Piusser.” He notices my gaze on his name tag.
“How do you pronounce that?” I ask. He laughs.

“P•I•zer,” he says in a relaxed way, laughing, “I don’t know why they put that ‘u’ in there.”


Kevin Barr is telling Deputy Piusser that he needs to go into the house to talk Matt into coming out. Piusser replies with a surprising statement.

“We can’t put you in danger. If there is shooting, we don’t want you to get caught in the crossfire.”

We all look at the friendly young face of the man who has just offered the least reassuring statement to a worried father that I could imagine.

But he has spoken plain truth. We all take it in stride. Everyone knows what is at stake here.

Gary Meyer breaks the silence. “Bob Anderson called from Lebec. He said he wants to know what all the lights and sirens passing his house are about.”

The CHP K-9 unit has pulled out. Piusser holds up the police tape to clear the cruiser’s antennae. The car appears to head to upper Linden.

I ask Piusser if Lt. McMinn is still on shift and in charge of the operation. I ask if Mental Health has been called from Bakersfield to help. He said he doesn’t know. He adds that Frazier Park substation Sergeant Kessler is on scene, at the staging site near the house.

A tall man holding a reporter’s pad appears. It is the negotiator, the man Kevin Barr has been waiting two hours to meet. They speak beside me. Barr tells the negotiator that his son does not take any recreational drugs. He also does not take his prescribed drugs. “Let me go in there. I’m not afraid of him. Let me bring him out,” he pleads.

“We can’t do that. We can’t take the liability,” the negotiator replies.

He walks Barr down the hill a short distance, continuing to interview him, then asks the father to record a message to his son on a cell phone.

The negotiator disappears back up Woodland, to a staging area not far from the house where Matt Barr has been paying the rent for a year, the house which he now says he will not leave.

Kevin Barr walks back up the hill. His light blue eyes are visible now behind the sunglasses. His voice is frozen.

“They won’t let me talk to him. I am the alpha negotiator. He said he is going to take my recorded message and throw it over to Matt with the phone, so they can talk with him….”

He stops again., looking into the distance. “My father passed away two weeks ago…He was 93. He had a hard time moving around. He…was ready to go.”

A Message To My Son

I asked Barr what he said in his message to his son.

“I told him I love him. I said, ‘Hello, this is your dad. I love you. Come out of the house, put your hands up. We’ll get you the help you need.’ That is not what he wants though. He doesn’t want anyone’s help.”

Kevin’s face is beginning to crack again. It looks like he wants to weep.

“This negotiator guy says to me, ‘Are you going to stick around?’ That’s what he said! I don’t think they get it. He is my son. He is my life. I gave [the negotiator] my phone number. He said they might call me.”

It is starting to get very cold very quickly as the sun slides behind the mountain.

Kevin Barr is starting to shiver as dusk falls and the hour hand lurches to 7 p.m. His cell phone has only a 20% charge left. He is worried that the battery might run down before the negotiator calls. He doesn’t have his car and charger with him. Over four hours ago he was dropped off here by a friend.

I walk to the bottom of the hill to see if I have a charger and if I can bring my car closer to get Barr warmed up. The temperature is heading downward quickly. Barr doesn’t have a jacket. It looks like this may be a very long vigil.

The volunteer guards at the foot of the hill allow me to bring the car part way up. Barr gets inside to warm up, shivering fiercely as we keep watch for activity up the street. Both of us are carefully monitoring any action by the Hall Ambulance Service crew. Hall Driver Curt Gibson is friendly. He knows we are hoping nothing will occur that will require the ambulance to respond rapidly.

Barr and I keep jumping out of the car to see if there has been any change. After another 45 minutes I agree to drive Barr to his home near the ‘S’ curves so he can get his own car and warmer clothes. From the street, his house is a tidy structure, part of it is two stories high, with what looks like a fresh paint job.

“Matt and I painted it,” Barr said proudly. “Matt did the high stuff. That doesn’t bother him at all. He isn’t afraid of heights.”

Kevin Barr’s wife isn’t home yet. She has been in Los Angeles most of the day, to pick up their daughter from LAX. Their daughter has flown in from Texas. The two stopped to shop on the way home.

“I do not think they understand the gravity of the situation,” Kevin Barr says dryly.

7:55 p.m. • March 23, 2017

I have been called to another vantage point at 6,000 feet, where another reporter and I can see an overview of the SWAT staging scene on Ashwood Court.

It is fully dark now. From our elevation we hear multiple explosions and a loudspeaker outside Matt Barr’s house.
The words are difficult to make out. A large vehicle with bright lights moves closer to the house.

Looking at the neighborhood below, the flashing orange lights of the idling ambulance on Linden pulse through the night sky, illuminating everything in orange, then black, then orange again, like a Morse code distress call. Combined with law enforcement’s spotlights on Matt Barr’s home, Linden resembles the Las Vegas strip—or a war zone. From our overlook, we hear two more explosions.

10 p.m. • March 23, 2017

At 10 p.m. I talk with Kevin Barr again. “They’ve told me nothing,” he says. “At 8:30 I drove up to the top of Linden, to see what is happening up there,” he said. “When I got there, they yelled at me to stop. I did and they told me to get out of the car. I obliged them. They said, ‘What’s the matter with you, have you been drinking?’ ‘Absolutely not,’ I told them. They basically said, ‘You have to get in your car and go away.’

“When I got behind the tape again [at lower Linden] I saw a flash and a crash of glass. You could see the smoke. I think it is tear gas. I’m worried it will deafen him.

“How can they communicate with him through loudspeakers or a cell phone if he is deaf from the explosions?” he asks.

The long night

When I return it is past 10:30 p.m. We ask Deputy Gonzalez how negotiation takes place after flashbang grenades. I realize I sound naive. It seems unlikely they are doing much negotiating.

“I’m out of the loop,” Gonzalez says diplomatically. “We’re up here on the outskirts. The special team [SWAT] doesn’t tell us what they are doing.”

The temperature is firmly nailed at 29 degrees now. It is cold. Despite the circumstances, the moonless mountain night is beautiful. There are no clouds. The stars are sharp and bright. For a moment I think about Matt Barr’s affection for camping, sleeping under the stars. Right now, I envision him hunkering down, perhaps with a gas mask, inside a house with repeated gas and flashbang grenade attacks.

His worried father is alternating between trips to the police tape and trips to his car to warm up. For another half hour I watch him, the deputies, the firefighter/paramedic and then a vehicle that drives down Live Oak Way and comes to a stop behind the tape. Deputy Gabriel Gonzalez gets out of his patrol car and cautiously approaches the vehicle.

At that point in the evening, any unexpected vehicle or light leads us to think something has changed at the house.
Maybe Matt has come out peacefully, with his hands up, as his father asked in his message. But we don’t know if he even got his dad’s message.

Inside the car, a woman flips on her dome light, then pulls out tall styrofoam cups and an insulated coffee pot. From her car, she begins offering coffee to the deputy and the ambulance crew.

Hall’s Curt Gibson says his shift is almost over and he doesn’t drink coffee, but he explains to us what is going on.
Kevin watches the kind gesture of the neighbor toward the officer and paramedics.

“I went back over to the house to give my daughter a hug. I haven’t seen her in six months,” he says.

“This was supposed to be a happy family reunion. My wife and daughter said they would stay at the house and pray for Matt.”

10:49 p.m. • Love Stories

On my car radio, turned very low, the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky has reached the playful “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” It doesn’t seem to fit with the situation of the moment. At 10:52 p.m. I’m out of the car again, at the tape, straining to see up the street. Three more explosives are deployed. Kevin Barr shudders.

“When Matthew was being born, it was a long labor. It took 28 hours,” he recalls out loud. “I was on my feet the whole time. We did the Lamaze method. I was there, coaching her the whole time.

“When we met, I was 15 and she was 13. I knew I was in love. I didn’t think twice about it. I just knew this was it. Love doesn’t have an age.”

Barr is talking to sort through his thoughts, to keep his panic at a distance.

“Matt was 18 years old before he had a diagnosis. When he was smaller, we didn’t know. We thought maybe it was hyperactivity. He would be filled with energy one moment, then not wanting to be with anybody the next.”

11:17 p.m. • March 23, 2017

I am back to the car, chilled, flipping on the heated seat of my Subaru. I think over what Kevin Barr has said and go over my notes. As the seat warmer kicks in and the cold recedes, I recall his worried voice: “I wonder what he is feeling. Is he scared? He will feel like this is the end,” he said.

Later I will learn that Matt Barr was messaging with a friend when the first concussive flashbang grenade exploded in his house. There was no communication after that. He also said he released bear spray into the room where the SWAT team was breaking through a back door, before there was a search warrant, the friend said.

11:37 p.m. • March 23, 2017

The throbbing of the Hall Ambulance diesel engine rumbles through the stillness. The stench of diesel is everywhere. I drive up the hill to upper Linden to the first road block, leaving only my fog lights on as I glide to a space at the side of the road, about 50 feet behind a sheriff’s vehicle. I make a few notes in the dark, then look up to see a flashlight heading my way. I turn on my dome light so the officer can see my press badge and the “Media” sign on my dashboard, then I roll down the window.

“It’s alright,” he says, “I saw your badge.”

I ask how things are going. He is friendly, perhaps glad to talk for a moment. I tell him the father is still waiting at lower Linden, hoping to be able to talk to his son, hoping to help him come out peacefully.

The deputy looks at me for a moment, making a decision. Perhaps my statement is coming from a distant planet, a solar system that is light years away from the mindset of warfare that is now guiding this operation.

The deputy speaks in a steady, informative and professional way: “We have a whole matrix of things we do before it gets to this,” the deputy says.

“We tried to talk to him. We talked to his girlfriend. We asked him to come out. He refused. I think they will just wait until daybreak. My advice to you? Kick back. Relax. It is too dangerous for them to go in now. They will wait until it starts to get light.”

11:59 p.m. • March 23, 2017

At 11:59 p.m. I’m back at lower Linden. Kevin Barr is in his car. “I’m here for the duration,” he tells me.

12:14 a.m. • March 24, 2017

At 12:14 a.m. I say good-bye. I have a report to put together for a meeting in the morning.

5 a.m. • March 24, 2017

At 5 a.m Kevin Barr calls my cell phone. Matt has come out voluntarily, he says, then was taken to the Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield. He is grateful his son is alive. No shots were fired.

The police report issued at 4:32 a.m. (mobile news blast) and 4:37 a.m. (email press release) doesn’t tell quite the same story. Matt Barr did not just come out “voluntarily.”

According to a document left on the door of the residence on March 24, 2017, the Honorable Susan Gill, Judge of the Superior Court of Kern County, issued a search warrant at 2 a.m. that morning to enter the residence.

Matthew Barr told his father and a friend (who both visited him in jail on Saturday, March 25) that he had dug a hole in the bathroom floor of his house to get down to the dirt basement and crawl space under the floor.

Shortly after 3 a.m. the SWAT team entered the house. Items in the house were broken, including two trail cameras that had been set up inside. The trail cams were smashed and the sim cards were taken, the family reported this week.

A K-9 unit police dog was sent into the basement and ordered to attack. Barr incurred injuries to his arm that later required 10 stitches. Members of the SWAT team dragged him out, shackled and handcuffed him outside and cut off his clothes. The clothes are listed as evidence among the items seized under the warrant.


Matthew Barr has now had two hearings, Monday and Tuesday, March 27 and 28. The bail was set first at $145,000.

He was initially charged with exhibiting and threatening with a firearm and placing a booby trap. That was shown to be actually a mousetrap device (known as a “mousetrap shotgun”) that makes a loud noise to scare bears from campsites and from the outside of homes in bear country. Barr’s bail has been lowered from $145,000 to $130,000 by Wednesday, March 29. A public defender has been assigned to his case.

The sim cards from the cameras inside the house are not listed as confiscated on the inventory of seized items left on the door. The family would like them to be returned.

Barr is being held at the Lerdo jail. His father said he was told his son is in solitary confinement and he cannot visit. Kevin Barr said the attorney is trying to help secure medical attention. He said the attorney photographed a possible infection of the dog bite on his arm and injuries to his back and face, including a possible broken nose and fracture to the left occipital bone. Kevin Barr said his son has not yet seen a medical doctor, only a technician.

We asked the attorney to independently confirm these statements. The Frazier Park substation sergeant who was on scene is off duty until next week. Calls to Lt. McMinn have not yet been returned.

The next hearing for Matt Barr is Monday, April 3, 2017 in Lamont. The list of charges have changed several times. The current list, as we go to press on Wednesday, includes: Assault with a deadly weapon, battery against a peace officer, use of tear gas on a peace officer, possess boobytrap device with intent to use, brandishing firearm or deadly weapon to avoid arrest, resist executive officer, threaten with intent to terrorize, exhibit deadly weapon other than firearm, vandalism and trespassing.

Photo captions:

Linden Drive, March 23, 2017, about 3:20 p.m

Kevin Barr takes off down a hill to try to reach his son. A deputy with a rifle and a CHP officer brought him back.

Across the sheriff’s tape, Kevin Barr asks Deputy Nelson if a negotiator has arrived yet. Later he asks if a mental health unit has been called.

SWAT team suits up

Kevin Barr (below), father of Matt Barr, asks the SWAT team negotiator to allow him to go inside the house to bring his son out safely. “We can’t take the liability,” the negotiator said.

On March 20, 2017 for the Spring Equinox, Matt Barr and a friend hiked to a favorite overlook

Matthew Barr, Eagle Scout at 14, loves being in the mountains,
friends and family say, but last week he was the target of a SWAT action for a felony warrant.

A sheriff’s deputy and CHP officers await the next move on Linden Drive in PMC, Thursday March 23.

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This is part of the March 31, 2017 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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