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08/18/2006

Ramsey stays quiet in Charlevoix

Associated Press Writer

photo
Francis Flanders, a family friend of the Ramseys, talks to the media outside the Ramsey residence in Charlevoix on Thursday.

CHARLEVOIX — John Ramsey backed his silver Audi out of his driveway early Thursday morning, shook his head at an approaching journalist and drove away.

He stayed out of sight thereafter, choosing not to elaborate on his brief statement of gratitude the previous day after a suspect was arrested in the slaying of his 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet, a decade ago.

But residents of this Lake Michigan resort town who watched the Ramseys endure the agony of grief and suspicion for so long breathed sighs of relief, saying they deserved peace.

"I hope this is the end," next-door neighbor Vic Stilson said, pausing after a five-mile jog with Latte, his yellow Labrador retriever. "What it's done to the family, the stress that it's created ... they've been through too much."

Jacqueline Merta, president of the Charlevoix Area Chamber of Commerce and a friend of Ramsey's late wife, Patsy, said she received a flurry of phone calls after news broke that John Mark Karr had been arrested in Thailand and confessed to killing JonBenet.

"It's just too bad he didn't come forward 10 years ago and save that family a lot of misery," Merta said. "But I guess better now than not at all."

Interviewed Wednesday night on the ABC program "Nightline," John Ramsey said: "It's certainly a day we have been waiting for for 10 years. I hope this is a first major step in really drawing this to a conclusion, but it also opens up old wounds, and that's painful."

Both sides of the usually quiet street in front of Ramsey's house were lined with television trucks and reporters' cars Thursday. Curious residents and tourists walked, drove and bicycled past, a few offering well wishes for the Ramseys.

A man and a woman finally entered the house, stayed a couple of hours and emerged around 4 p.m. carrying a desktop computer.

"None of the family is here and there will not be a statement made by them ... so there's no reason to stay here," said the man, who identified himself as Francis Flanders, a friend of the Ramseys. He wouldn't say why they took the computer or whether John Ramsey was still in town.

John and Patsy Ramsey and their son, Burke, settled permanently in Charlevoix in 2003 but had spent summers here for many previous years. JonBenet was named Little Miss Charlevoix shortly before her death in Boulder, Colo., and Patsy Ramsey chaired the decorated bicycle parade in the annual Charlevoix Venetian Festival.

The Ramseys' brick-and-stone house adjoins a golf course to the rear; in front are sprawling pines and flower beds.

Friends said Charlevoix was a place where the Ramseys could blend in — away from the media circus and crime buffs' suspicions.

"You didn't get a lot of gawkers" in the neighborhood, said Stilson, 66. "Not 'til now," he added.

Stilson said he never discussed the slaying with the Ramseys. If the killer has been caught, "praise the Lord for that," he said. "It's a shame that people who are so good, something like this had to happen to them."

The family voluntarily re-entered the spotlight in 2004 when John Ramsey ran for the state House of Representatives from the northern Michigan district including Charlevoix. He finished second among six candidates for the Republican nomination.

At the time, Ramsey said he knew some people would never stop believing he or another family member killed JonBenet.

"We cannot let that intimidate us," he said. "I cannot let evil win. Our family will go on with its life."

John Yob, who served as Ramsey's campaign manager, said Thursday he didn't think lingering suspicions about JonBenet caused his defeat.

"The majority of voters understood he was not responsible for his daughter's death," Yob said. The biggest problem was a media-fed perception that Ramsey was an outsider even though he'd spent more time in Michigan than Colorado, he said.

Margaret Wolohan, another neighbor, said Charlevoix residents strongly believed in the Ramseys' innocence.

"It may be that people knew the Ramseys better here than they did in other communities and they knew it couldn't be a situation where you had a family member committing a crime like that," she said.

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