Driven to Drink

Barrington has become a hotbed of underage drinking—and driving. Kids are dying, parents are turning on one another, and the experts are baffled. Is it too late to save this bucolic little town from itself?

“Please trust me,” fifteen-year-old Mike Neubauer begs his mother, Leslie, on April 30 of 2005.

“Please, Mom, you’ve got to let me go, I haven’t been able to do anything for eight weeks.”

It’s true, Leslie thinks—since surgeons screwed metal pins into metal plates in Mike’s hockey-injured shoulder, her son, sitting on the sidelines, had spiraled into a deep, deep depression. He was finally cleared yesterday, given the go-ahead to get on with his life, and now, after “promising this and promising that,” Leslie gives Mike permission to sleep at his friend Tyler’s house, along with his best friend Brenden McGonagle. 

But they never go to Tyler’s house.

Instead, Mike and Brenden knock between two high school house parties where the parents are, of course, out of town for the night—a blow-out kegger at one, a more intimate bash at the other. They pile into an Acura Integra at around 1:45 a.m. It belongs to the mother of their sixteen-year-old buddy Zach Stiness, but he had swiped the keys earlier, while she slept. He only has a provisional license, but the teenaged boys don’t give that a second thought. 

Nayatt Road is slick with rain, but Zach smashes his foot down on the accelerator anyway, crashing through thick puddles. The speedometer quivers up to seventy-five on the twenty-five-mile-per-hour road. Near Bluff Road, past the approach to the public beach, Zach loses control of the car. His foot never touches the brake as the car screams into the woods, hits a fallen tree and goes airborne before smashing into another tree, crumpling to rest at a forty-five-degree angle. The force of the crash causes the doors to pop open, and the engine is dangling by just a few hoses. Zach and Mike are both partially ejected from the wreck. A neighbor hears Brenden’s raspy, shuddery breaths squeaking out of his collapsed lung and calls 911.

Leslie Neubauer and her husband are sleeping soundly in their modest Old River Road house when the phone rings at 2 a.m. “Leslie, there was a bad accident and we are on the way to the hospital with Brenden,” Marianne McGonagle says. “We don’t think he’s going to make it.”

Leslie bolts awake. If Brenden was in the accident, then Mike probably was, too. She immediately punches Mike’s cell phone number into her phone. When he doesn’t answer, she calls information to get Tyler’s number. It’s unlisted. She and her husband jump into their car and race over to Tyler’s house, pounding on the door in the pouring rain. Tyler is home, but Mike is not.

He tells her about the parties. She calls one of the houses. Mike left with Zach, the kid says.

Zach’s dad, John Stiness, answers Leslie’s call to their house. Is Mike there, she asks frantically. “Zach is dead,” John says. “He’s just been in an accident.”

“Oh my god, you poor thing, oh my god,” Leslie sputters. Was Mike with him? 

“I don’t know,” John says.

“Please, John,” Leslie begs.

“All I know is that there was somebody else in the car and they couldn’t get him out.”

Leslie is not ready to give up on her only son. She calls his cell phone. Calls it over and over and over. She waits.

Back on Nayatt Road, rescue workers finally remove Mike’s dead body from the front seat of the Integra. Police Chief John LaCross slides the ringing cell phone out of Mike’s pocket. He looks down at the caller ID. MOMMY, it glows in the blackness.

As Leslie sits, zoned out, listening to the hollow ringing, finally a voice.

“This is Chief LaCross.” 

Leslie Neubauer knew, from the day her son, Mike, was born, that she would hear those four words someday. And not for the first time. Ever since her teenaged brother was killed by a drunk driver while growing up in Barrington, she had this vision that her own children would meet that same fate. Her husband would try to comfort her. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, he’d say.  

But in Barrington, it does.

There have been probably eight such fatalities since 1966, Leslie says, “and I’ve known every single one of them.” And since her own son was killed nearly three years ago, there have been two more: seventeen-year-old Patrick Murphy while wakeboarding on the Barrington River last July (the driver of the boat has been charged with second-degree murder and underage possession of alcohol), and sixteen-year-old Jonathan Converse, a nearby neighbor of the Neubauers, in exactly the same stupid car-meets-tree accident as her Mike. Nobody in this town of roughly 17,000 was really all that surprised. It’s what kids do here—they drink and they drive and they die on these picturesque streets. Always have.

I am just angry, I am angry. How many other kids have died since then and they still don’t get it?  —Leslie Neubauer

Which is why Leslie Neubauer is exasperated. Pissed, really, and ready to get the hell out of Dodge. She and her husband had struggled to stay rooted here, barely managing the ungodly taxes on educators’ salaries, so that their kids could have that Blue Ribbon education. As she smashes spices with a mortar for the Food & Wine apricot-glazed ribs she’s making for her daughter’s family, she lets loose. “I am just angry, I am angry,” she says of the small-town politics that squashed her family’s plans to build a teen center in Barrington—a place where you can’t even rent a Friday-night DVD—in Mike’s memory. “How many other kids have died since then and they still don’t get it?” she asks with another forceful grind of the wrist. And, sure, having a booze-free place to hang might not stop kids from smashing through car windows on rain-slicked streets—when has it ever?—but it would be something. 

Because ever since she was the sister, instead of the mother, of the latest dead boy, nothing has changed. “I don’t think it’s going to change until the mindset of the parents changes,” she says. Today’s adults are yesterday’s teens, and they hold tight to the belief that kids are going to experiment—are going to throw-up pastel-colored wine coolers on imported Oriental rugs—just as they did. And even now, even when the very real consequences of their kids’ brand of partying—the heightened binge drinking and increased access to fast cars and empty homes—can be seen daily in roadside shrines, parents still live in denial.

Years of open-casket funerals and front-page photos of far-too-young pallbearers prematurely called to duty have yet to usher in an attitude adjustment. Parents continue to look the other way or, in some extreme cases, sanction the beer-pong-charged fetes. Kids continue to get drunk off mixed messages. In fact, there’s a subset of parents in town who call themselves the Group of Twenty, Leslie and other Barrington residents say, who let their kids and their friends drink alcohol and smoke pot in the house, buoyed by the notion that they’re going to do it anyway. It’s well-known around town that the underground group exists, but to date none of its members have publicly surfaced to defend their position. Leslie, for one, is baffled by their legally questionable logic. “It’s still considered a teenage rite of passage, ‘well, kids will drink and so how do we deal with that?’ Not, ‘they should not drink,’ ” she says.

And yet she knows exactly how hard it is to stop kids from drinking. The night before her son died, he had a party at their house when she and her husbandZach Stiness Funeral were actually home. “We ran around like idiots; it was a nightmare,” Leslie says, as Mike’s friends tried to sneak sips of the alcohol they had squirreled in. After spending the evening confiscating contraband beers out of kids’ hands, the Neubauers were planning a big sit-down with Mike. “But we didn’t have another decision to make because our son was dead twenty-four hours later,” she says.

Despite Barrington’s rising death toll, kids simply fail to grasp the severity of the situation. The very night of Patrick Murphy’s funeral, a group of teens chose to drown their sorrows at a house party eventually crashed by Barrington police. Surprisingly casual sympathy notes posted on the website Facebook suggest the teens are in denial. “hey buddy, i am going to miss you. RIP bro,” wrote one friend to Jon Converse. “…i love you buddy you just chill with [Patrick] murphy till im up there too,” wrote another. Jon’s parents, Terry and Dan, have witnessed it first-hand. Kids still stop by to visit with the family, but the Converses know Jon’s friends don’t fully understand the heartbreaking finality of death. “These kids come over, and I swear they think he’s on vacation or something,” says Terry. 

Of course, teens drink and drive and die everywhere. Always have. But, for whatever reason, it seems to happen more often in Barrington. And grab more headlines. Maybe that’s because this sort of ugliness isn’t supposed to happen in such a bucolic town, a peaceful haven with a quintessential New England white clapboard church, miles of scenic coastline and an active garden club. Maybe it’s because an 02806 zip code carries cachet—after all, it’s one of the state’s most affluent suburbs (though it also comes complete with underlying pressures: When gossip travels faster than a late-model Volvo down County Road, it’s important to share the stands with the right parents at a high school lacrosse game, and equally important that your kid gets some playing time). Maybe it’s because Barrington has always been known as a dry town. It’s a sick irony that underage drinking runs rampant in a suburb that boasts only four liquor licenses and not a single package store. Maybe it’s because this is a place to which families flock in order to send their kids to stellar schools. Not to an early grave.

“This is a new year and we have to change,” says Kathy Sullivan, the head of Barrington’s substance abuse task force, on the first Monday in January. She sounds tired. Like she’s uttered this exact phrase many times before. “Remind me in a few more weeks when I’m feeling more cynical that this is the year that we need to make change.”

You can be the most protective, caring parent in the world and one wrong decision,
that’s what it boils down to.   —Terry Converse

She passes around little strips of paper to the two-dozen or so people seated in the stark-white conference room of the new Public Safety Building eating packaged gorp and tootsie rolls and mini chocolate bars. The papers say, simply: Hope: Hope is a belief…that a positive outcome is possible even when there is some evidence to the contrary.

This past year has certainly provided plenty of hope-crushing evidence to the contrary. Evidence that the media’s klieg lights have focused on like some “Entertainment Tonight” looping of Brit-Brit heading to rehab or Anna Nicole’s last days; evidence that has given a free pass for other towns to pig-pile on the richy-riches next door in some giddy explosion of schadenfreude. (“There’s an AA chapter in Barrington isn’t there? The AA standing for Affluence and Arrogance,” read just one post on the ProJo website. “The result of having zero fear of one’s parents,” read another.)

Lost in the headlines is the fact that Barrington does not own the problem, a fact the chief of police, John LaCross, who took the reins in 2002, is eager to point out. Why, then, have the media’s lights shone a little brighter on Barrington? LaCross’s answer is two-fold. He acknowledges that the town has had an unfortunate number of deaths (“too many”) in the past three years, but he also considers the bad press a byproduct of trying to amp up awareness among parents and teens. “Instead of burying it and putting underage drinking underground, I’ve personally brought it above ground,” he says. 

While, ridiculously, no one seems to be keeping thorough statistics on teen drunk driving fatalities (in a state that has one of the highest numbers of overall drunk driving fatalities in the country), hunting through recent news clips does, in fact, tell a more democratic story. In 2006, for instance, three teens in Lincoln died in two separate alcohol-related crashes, more than any one-year tally for Barrington. Last year, there were thirteen such teenage fatalities in Rhode Island—including two boys who were burned alive in a Chevy Blazer after driving it into a tree in Glocester just nine days before Patrick Murphy’s body was pummeled to death in Barrington by a boat propeller.

Still, Sullivan and Chief LaCross are frustrated as they face their equally frustrated audience today, and the meeting rambles aimlessly. For hours. The problem is that while every single person in the room really, really wants Barrington teens to stop mangling themselves in two tons of steel, no one quite knows how to accomplish that.

While the police have stepped up efforts, says LaCross, there’s no way to tell if the initiatives—a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking, an anonymous tip line, and “you-should-know” letters mailed to the parents of anyone associated with underage drinking (even if they’re not charged)—have been successful. “One thing we can never do,” says LaCross, “is quantify our efforts. Did we save a life? That’s frustrating….We keep moving forward. We’re optimistic.”

Other people aren’t feeling as positive about the future. Hence the back-and-forth sniping at today’s meeting between an adult MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) representative (“Why would you even go to a party where there’s alcohol?” she asks snippily) and a teenaged SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) representative, who admits she hangs with the party crowd and sometimes drinks but usually doesn’t, preferring to drive instead. “They are going to drink anyway,” seventeen-year-old Becca Miller, the SADD member explains later. “Would you rather have them drink and get into accidents, or drink and have a safe ride home?” The irony seems to be lost on Miller that SADD backs a staunch no-use policy when it comes
to teens and booze. After all, it is illegal.


It’s an ideological stand-off—just like the safe sex versus abstinence-only dead-lock—that divides folks who should sit on the same side of the aisle. Some are fed up with it and ready to take matters into their own hands. Jeff Cohen, a father of teen boys who thinks it’s time for parents to take some responsibility for the problem instead of leaving it to administrators and cops to keep their kids alive, formed a group called the B-Dads in the wake of Jon Converse’s death to try to at least stanch the bleeding. “We’re focusing on drinking and driving,” he says. “To stop kids from drinking at all, that’s going to take a long, long time, that’s huge. Some kids are going to drink,” he says. His group is exploring a program called Safe Rides, which provides the caller with a lift home for whatever reason, no questions asked. “If it can save some kid from getting into a car then I guess it’s the right thing to do.”

But Joanne Royley, the high school’s student assistance counselor, who deals with student substance abuse as part of her job, and who was hired in 1999 after a student died in an alcohol-fueled, ninety-mile-an-hour crash into a stone fence, disagrees. “There’s this sort of acceptance, ‘Oh, kids drink, what are you going to do? We just want to keep them from driving, keep them safe.’ I’m not in favor of the Safe Rides. We would never support that as a school because for me there’s a little bit of giving up your parenting in that,” she says. “To me, it’s a desperate move, like we’re just going to keep it as safe as we can because we know we can’t control it.”

Problem is, even she admits that she does not know how to control it. “The ‘just say no’ and cramming it down kids’ throats, none of that works. Kathy Sullivan and I have a lot of expertise in this field and we are the first ones to tell you we don’t know what works,” she says. “If we knew what worked, we’d be on “Oprah” tomorrow. For people to say ‘I know what will work,’ they’re not telling the truth. They have an opinion.”

“It’s almost like you have to get divided and let the kids who aren’t drinking get mad at the ones who are.”—Meg Jones

It’s true, everyone does have an opinion, and they can be overheard above the whir of the frother at the local Starbucks or between laps at the YMCA pool. What the town is short on is solutions. And accountability. When thirty-one LaSalle students were caught drinking at a house party in Bristol last November, officials at the Providence school got wind of it. Their response was swift: All were suspended for at least a day, and since most were jocks (a surprisingly common thread among many of these incidents), the students were barred from sports for five days and benched for a game.

LaSalle’s principal, Donald Kavanagh (who lives in Barrington and coincidentally was first on the scene the night of the Stiness crash), took some heat from parents for the decision, which is why some in Barrington believe their school would never send such a strong message. Providence restaurateur Bob Burke, who has two daughters at the high school, says, “Barrington has never suspended thirty kids and never will.” His reasoning? Parental pressure. On the police. On school officials. “The whole town is so focused on getting the kids through high school and into college, they really pull out all the stops to keep their kid from getting a record,” he says. In fact, according to Barrington High Principal John Gray, his hands are tied when it comes to punishing students for things that happen off school premises. “Being a private school, [LaSalle] has a little more latitude,” he says. The chief of police points a finger in a different direction all together. “A lot of parents send mixed messages,” LaCross says. “Parents want to be friends with their kids. They want to be cool.”  

Armed with vastly divergent opinions of what’s to blame—parents willing to go to bat for their kids at any cost; schools and police that don’t dole out harsh enough punishments; overindulged kids who have no respect for authority; a culture glorifying the boozy lifestyle—and no working solution to throw the weight of their sadness and fear and anger at, Barrington is turning on itself. Fighting each other instead of fixing the problem. And it’s ripping this sad little town apart. 

 “It’s almost like you have to get divided and let the kids who aren’t drinking get mad at the ones who are,” Meg Jones, a parent who is best described as Barrington’s anti-drinking crusader, says at the end of the meeting. “Let them be angry, let them tell each other off. More kids are coming out and being loud about it and pressing hard. Let the nondrinkers speak up.” In-fighting. Division. Rancor. It’s just the natural progression of things, she says.
She’s right about that.
Girls with beer. Boys with beer. Beer, beer, and more beer. The pictures posted by a student  on Facebook last summer, on a page called Intoxicate Oh-Eight in homage to the graduating class, were pretty typical high school stuff—for any other high school, that is. For Barrington High School, which had just lost yet another young boy, Pat Murphy, to an alcohol-infused incident, it set off a firestorm.

That’s because, in a related site on Facebook, Meg Jones’s daughter, Bianca Jones-Pearson, who’s a junior, and her friends wrote about how stupid it is to drink. To hear Meg Jones—who printed and distributed the drinking pictures around town— tell it, that’s all they did. Junior Kate Licciardello—another Barrington SADD rep who doesn’t seem to buy into the group’s no-use policy—says it was much worse than that. Licciardello, who was pictured holding a can of beer with Mike Silveira, the boy who was driving in the accident that killed Jon Converse, says that Meg Jones “is the most hated person in town among the teenaged population.” Becca Miller has similar feelings. “My main thing is just stay away from the Jones family. They accuse people of stuff…And it became this witch hunt in Barrington and it was just awful.”

But Meg Jones says she and her family are the ones being harassed, with kids egging and beer bombing her house, swearing at her in CVS, beeping and screaming “narc!” in drive-bys, and they are now putting their house on the market, just like the Neubauers are considering. “I’m out of here, it’s driving me crazy,” she says. “I just can’t keep putting up with this all the time.”

And yet she continues to make incendiary statements. “They say you can’t label them bad kids, well they are,” she says one evening as she sits in her pottery store, Weird Girl Creations. “These same kids have been drinking since seventh grade and now they’re dying, so in my mind, they’re bad. It’s not bad decision making anymore.” And, anyway, she says that she “embraces narc, it’s better than murderer.”

That’s what the kids who don’t drink, like Bianca and her friends, call the ones who do: Murderers, Inc. “They are making people who drink out to be criminals,” says Kate Licciardello. “I feel like we’re just getting so much more divided. The drinkers versus the nondrinkers. There’s a lot more tension. You walk in the hallways, and people have said stuff or you know what people think about you, and there’s so much judgment. It’s a huge problem not just in the school but in the town. Everyone’s being so judgmental.”

Zach Stiness’s mom, Kelley, knows all about being judged, and just like Meg Jones, she feels like she’s been run out of town. “Because of the continued lies and cruelty and hate directed towards me, we had to uproot our family,” she says of her New Year’s Day move to Florida. “I guess you can tell I am a little bitter. God, the more I think about it, I’m so glad I got out of town. We left some good friends there who were nice, but a lot of people were pretty nasty. People suck [there]. Judgmental. Nasty people.”

“I used to tell him, don’t sit in the passenger seat with your friends, it’s the death seat, remember Mike Neubauer.”—Terry Converse

After her son Zach died, Kelley says, she was targeted and blamed—someone had to be blamed, after all—the subject of mean-spirited letters to the editor that condemned her parenting, and the recipient of a few hate letters, “saying you suck, you deserve to rot in hell, you’re a terrible mother.”

On top of losing her son, the Neubauers and McGonagles are suing the Stinesses in civil court. Among other things, Zach has been charged with negligence and Kelley for knowingly allowing her son to use the car the night of the accident. “I was friends with Marianne [McGonagle], but since the accident, we’re not friends anymore; she won’t talk to me,” Kelley says. “I didn’t really know [the Neubauers], but they’ve been weird, too; they’ve been bizarre. If we’re out and [Leslie] sees me she quickly turns around and runs away.”

But life in Barrington got unbearable for the grieving mother when the cops showed up on her doorstep at 12:35 a.m. on July 7 of last year. There were fifteen kids and three different brands of beer in the backyard. It was a birthday party for her seventeen-year-old daughter, but also a get-together hosted by her of-age son, to whom a small keg was registered. The cops ended up charging three of the underage girls with possession but could not touch Kelley and John Stiness with a recent law that the death of their son, Zach, helped create—the Social Host Law, which penalizes adults who allow underage drinking parties in their homes. This party was held in the backyard, a loophole that legislators say they aim to fix this year. Roadside Memorial

Once the party made headlines, trashing the Stinesses came back into vogue. “People were talking about me on the radio, and that’s pretty much when we decided to move,” Kelley says. Her version of the story is different from the one that hit papers. The Providence Journal reported that she was upstairs asleep during the party, but Kelley contends that she and her husband hosted a cook-out for her daughter and then walked down the street to Chiazza with their older son and a few of his friends. When they got home, there were more kids at the house than expected, and they asked them to leave. She says that she and her husband were not aware that the kids had been drinking or that there was beer in the backyard. Then the cops showed up. “I feel like we were run out of town,” says Kelley. “I am so spiteful and I can’t wait for something terrible to happen to the chief of police and I will gladly be there saying, ‘Oh, how do you like it?’ I am. I’m so spiteful to those people. He’s an evil man. The whole thing about blaming the parents. I was just a terrible mother. There are certain parents that people single out and say they’re bad parents. I don’t know why. It’s stupid.” 

Those people would say to Kelley, simply, What the hell were you thinking? But not everyone would. “I don’t think the Stinesses were some crazy party family; they are just one of the families that doesn’t try to shy away from reality,” says Kate Licciardello. “This town should have been giving them nothing but support and understanding and love. You would think, you would hope, something like this would bring the caring out in people, the compassion, but people who don’t drink, I’ve just heard the most disgustingly offensive things. Like Jon Converse was an alcoholic, he deserved to die, he was drinking underage.”

Sixteen-year-old Jonathan Converse, along with sixteen-year-old Mike Silveira, two other buddies, and a female friend, pick up their thirty-pack of Busch Light from some hockey buddies in the parking lot of the American Legion Hall on Middle Highway. It’s a Monday, November 5—not usually a party day. But since there’s no school tomorrow, the girlfriend  shuttles the boys around the streets of Barrington while they drink their cheap domestic brew. They stop by a friend’s house around 7:30, where about a dozen kids have already congregated, but are kicked out once the parents discover the boozing. 

Around 8:30, Jon calls his parents, Dan and Terry. Relaxing in the comfy living room after a root canal, Terry answers the phone. “Can I sleep at Pat’s house?” Jon asks his mom. She passes the phone to Dan.

“No, no, no,” Dan says. “I know there’s no school tomorrow, you can have your weekend curfew of 11, but you’re not sleeping over Pat’s.”
“Okay, Pa,” Jon says, sounding just like his normal self.

The boys continue to drink their beer around a fire pit in the backyard of Mike Silveira’s house until about 10. Then the girl shuttles them to Taco Bell in Seekonk and drops them back at Mike’s car so that she can go home. They’ve all drunk about a six-pack each.  

Ten minutes before Jon’s curfew, at 10:50, Mike races his car over the bridge at Massasoit Avenue. After pausing at the stop sign, he smashes his foot down on the accelerator, burning rubber as he bangs a hard right onto New Meadow Road. As he pushes the speedometer needle up to 63 in a 20-mile-per-hour zone, Mike loses control, crosses over into the northbound lane and straight into a tree, leaving a 135-foot skid mark. Jon Converse has no seatbelt to restrain him and flies part-way out the window. He’s killed instantly.

Five minutes before Jon’s curfew, the phone rings in the Converse home. It’s Jon, says the caller ID. “Jon, where are you?” Terry asks, still sitting in the living room. But it isn’t Jon. She doesn’t know who it is. “You have to come here, Jon’s neck looks funny,” says the voice. The voice is not frantic. The voice is very matter-of-fact. “I think he’s passed out, you’ve got to come, just come.”  Great, Terry thinks. What did he do?

Dan and Terry drive out to New Meadow Road, to the home of one of Jon’s friends. But he’s not there. That’s when they notice the wreckage in the woods. They run over to it. An officer puts his hand out to stop them. “Are you the Converses?” he asks. Yes, they say. Jon’s not here, says the officer. “What do you mean? He’s on his way to the hospital?” Dan asks. “No,” the officer says. “He didn’t make it, he didn’t survive.”

Meg Jones’s daughter, Bianca, who had been driving a friend home until she was stopped by the accident, sees Terry crumpled into a ball, sobbing on the ground next to the road. It is the saddest thing she has ever seen.

Dan and Terry Converse do not get to see their son for two days. They see him at the funeral home. And then never again.

Sitting in that same room where they last spoke with Jon, Dan and Terry are wrapped thick in grief two months later. There are days, Terry says, where she literally thinks she might go insane. 

“I used to tell him, don’t sit in the passenger seat with your friends, it’s the death seat, remember Mike Neubauer,” Terry says through her tears. “We never left the driveway until seatbelts were on. That night he didn’t have a seatbelt on and he sat in the passenger seat. He was with his good friend, and he just thought, It’s not going to happen to me.”

That’s what all teenage boys think. Even with the ultimate example of Mike Neu-bauer haunting him from just two houses away, Jon Converse still thought he was invincible. Throw a fistful of beers into a brew of testosterone and that lethal cocktail ensures that boys will continue to say, Dude, it’s not going to happen to me.

It’s all hypothetical to parents, too— even in a town that should know otherwise. Dan Converse says he’ll never forget walking down the street after Mike Neu-bauer died and seeing Mike senior in the front yard. “I mean beet-red, crying, pulling his hair out, screaming,” Dan says. “I remember standing there and just being so sorrowful and just feeling so bad for him. And since this happened to us, looking back to how I felt then, I had no idea what he was going through. No idea the pain he was feeling as he was pacing back and forth in his front yard.”

And now, just like their neighbors Mike and Leslie Neubauer, Dan and Terry Converse wear rubber bracelets to remember their son. We love you Jon. Keep smiling. Katie McGonagle, the younger sister of Brenden McGonagle—who will never be able to move his left arm or hand again after the accident that took Mike’s and Zach’s lives—made them. The Converses are left as the latest tragic family, trying to piece together why this happened to them, why this keeps happening to this town.

“[The media] made it appear somehow Barrington parents are more negligent than other parents, which is so far from the truth,” Terry says. She and Dan—who does not drink—were always home, never leaving the house unattended or vacationing without their kids. “You can be the most protective, caring parent in the world and one wrong decision, that’s what it boils down to. You can educate them about binge drinking and drinking and driving, but you tell kids not to drink? I’d like to know when that has ever worked. The teenage brain goes, You say no, I’m going to do it.”

Maybe that explains how, less than two months after Jon was killed, another Barrington boy got behind the wheel, drunk and stoned, and led authorities on an off-road high-speed chase through Colt State Park in Bristol before finally crashing into a stone retaining wall, pinning a pedestrian under the vehicle and nearly killing him. “We were so disappointed,” Terry says of that incident. They really thought that Jon’s death would finally hit home with the town. “And when something else happens, you’re like damn,” she says. “What does it take? What does it take?”

That indeed seems to be the unanswerable question in Barrington. On New Year’s Eve, as 2007 bled into 2008—as friends of Jon Converse filled Dan and Terry’s home in an attempt to bring some measure of comfort to the grieving parents, as the Stinesses packed their bags to flee a town that ran them down—another Barrington couple hosted a boozy bash for their kids. At the party, captured again on Facebook, the parents smiled at the camera while in the background, their underage daughters and their friends welcomed the new year by playing beer pong.