‘Those Who Wander’ begins with a grisly murder, but expands into the lives of America’s street kids

On Oct. 14, 2015, three “drifters” accused of shooting dead 23-year-old Audrey Carey in Golden Gate Park and later 63-year-old Steve Carter in Marin marched their way into a Marin County courtroom. Morrison Haze Lampley, Sean Michael Angold, and Lila Scott Alligood — all homeless and under the age of 25 — faced a judge with their heads shaven and their waists shackled. 

The killings, for which these three young people were eventually convicted, sent chills through the Bay Area. 

“Lampley, whose shaved head made visible his Roman numeral ‘13’ tattoo … glanced briefly at Alligood, whom he revealed on Facebook he was in love with, but otherwise sat slumped for the majority of the short proceeding, and at one point yawned,” Vivian Ho, then a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in an article that day.

This was likely the first time Ho had seen these three in the flesh. And, at that moment, little did she know she would leave her crime reporter post at the Chronicle three years later to write a book about them — or that she’d spend hours face-to-face with Lampley, the purported “ringleader” of the crimes, looking for “remorse” — and not finding any at all. 

That book, Those Who Wander: America’s Lost Street Kids, was released earlier this month, and Ho, now a reporter for the Guardian‘s Oakland bureau, made an appearance at Manny’s at 16th and Valencia Tuesday night to talk about it — and, at times, how the difficult subject matter affected her.

“I was a bummer for a while,” she said. 

While the book spends many pages exploring the convicted murderers’ painful backgrounds and searching for answers to what drove the three to kill, it more importantly explores an oft-overlooked homeless population: San Francisco’s, and America’s, so-called “street kids.” 

Author Vivian Ho. Photo by Gabrielle Canon.

You’ve seen them: They crowd the sidewalk in the Upper Haight, begging for money, pot and beer. They sometimes emerge from the bushes at Golden Gate Park, dirty and disheveled, with big backpacks and sometimes dogs in tow. And, as Ho writes, following the 2015 slayings, the street kids “became scapegoats for law-abiding citizens to fear the most.” 

“There’s no excuse for murder,” Ho said Tuesday night at Manny’s. “But we’re looking at these murders, at the lives of these kids, as a way to hopefully make sure this never happens again.” 

Through numerous interviews with street kids from San Diego’s Ocean Beach to Tonto National Forest in Arizona, Ho discovered that, while housed citizens may dismiss the youths as voluntarily homeless, more often than not they have fled extremely traumatic home situations, only to find more trauma on the road. 

There was Momo, a street kid in Santa Rosa, who told Ho that a group of unknown perpetrators held her prisoner for “three to six months,” continually drugging and raping her. There was 16-year-old Shay in San Diego, who hit the road with his 41-year-old mother, Edie, who first experienced homelessness at 19. And there was Christian Garmisa-Calinsky, who escaped an abusive mother as a child, lived as a street dweller for decades, but went on to found a nonprofit that helps street kids find a better path. 

And, of course, there was Lampley — who reportedly first consumed LSD as a young child, claimed he was molested by his father, and lived a life of drugs, sex and violence until he committed the murders. 

Although Those Who Wander provides an intimate look at the oft-misunderstood culture of street kids, their trauma, and the compassion they sometimes have to forfeit for survival, a tension persists throughout: What drove three specific street kids — Lampley, Angold, and Alligood — to murder? What separates them from the rest? 

“Stick with me here — this is kind of a doozy,” Ho told her audience. She said the real question is not how different Lampley et al. are from other street kids. Rather, the question is: “How different is he from us?”  

Said Ho: “Because the fact is, if any of us experienced a high level of trauma, have been thrown out on the streets, forced to survive by our wits and sleep very little, and then numb the pain with a haze of drugs and alcohol and pot — if that was our life, what would we be pushed to do?”