Talib Mustafa Shakir was the boy next door--good grades at Lake Placid High, popular, even dated a local girl--but with a difference.
"Next door," in this case, was the Camelot psychiatric center, which treats troubled youths from around the Northeast. Everybody knew Shakir and the other "Camelot boys" came from troubled backgrounds, but most assumed their problems were limited to childhood traumas or petty thievery.
Then, one day in October, Shakir fled Camelot and returned to his old Washington, D.C., neighborhood. There, police said, he tried to rob a convenience store; a 23-year-old clerk, Tae Shik Yoon, was mortally wounded.
Shakir, 17, was charged with murder--and not for the first time, authorities revealed.
Lake Placid--an idyllic, low-crime resort, twice host of the Winter Olympics--was stunned. Resident Nancy Beattie recalled hearing the news on television with her 16-year-old daughter, Sarah.
"I said, 'My God, Sarah! You know a murderer.' "
As it turned out, Shakir was not the only Camelot boy with death on his record. The Washington Post reported that three other boys from that city who were sent to Camelot were involved in homicides. And then a 14-year-old Camelot boy was charged with sodomy and sexual abuse.
The reports sent a chill through Lake Placid, a remote, picture-postcard town nestled in the highest peaks of the Adirondacks where talk this time of year usually revolves around ski conditions.
Camelot and school officials rushed to call a public meeting to assuage fears. Hundreds of residents packed the Lake Placid High School auditorium for what turned out to be a raucous, marathon debate on Camelot's policies.
"How in God's name . . . did you take a murderer into your facility?" Susan Holzer asked as hundreds of people around her applauded. "It's not a psychiatric problem, it's not a behavior problem, it's a murder."
The Rev. Carlos Caguiat, executive director of Camelot, has promised to review Camelot's procedures, but he has made no other commitments.
And citing rules of confidentiality, he has refused to reveal any criminal backgrounds of Camelot boys, including possible records of the half-dozen youths attending Lake Placid High School this semester.
"This incident, I think, is an aberration. We have never had anything like this before," he said.
Camelot--the full name is the Camelot Campus of St. Francis Academy--sits on a wooded hillside just outside Lake Placid. Established in 1965, the privately run center affiliated with the Episcopal Church has 26 beds, no fences and no guards.
Boys like Shakir who show progress are allowed to take classes at Lake Placid High. By and large, they fit in; they play sports, appear in plays, take local girls to the prom.
Shakir did well; he made the honor roll once, took up skiing, and made acquaintances who stick up for him to this day.
"The kid wasn't bad. I guess he just did one thing wrong," said 16-year-old Mike Blair, who visited Shakir at the Essex County jail before he was sent back to Washington.
Blair said that Shakir was upset that he ever set foot in the convenience store.
Shakir walked out of Camelot on Oct. 16. The robbery and shooting occurred 10 days later; Yoon died three days after that.
By that time, Shakir was on his way back to Lake Placid. Once back, he got into a fight with another Camelot resident that proved to be his undoing.
Officers arriving at the scene were told by residents that Shakir had bragged about his role in the killing.
Under questioning, state police said, Shakir confessed. And officials told the Post that Shakir also had been charged in a 1991 murder in Washington, although they would not say how that case was resolved.
The charges have left some scratching their heads. How could a boy do so well in this bucolic town and then act so differently on the gritty streets of the nation's capital 300 miles away?
"Maybe it's like the saying, 'You can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy,' " said school Supt. Gerry Blair, who is Mike's father. "Maybe it's the street. I don't know."
Regardless, some Lake Placid residents are fearful. "It's scary. You know here in Lake Placid it's protected. We don't have that," said Nancy Beattie.
Camelot officials say they are required to allow residents who are deemed psychologically fit for "mainstreaming" to attend the high school. School officials say they cannot legally refuse to accept violent criminals from Camelot and cannot check into their criminal backgrounds.
Camelot's many defenders point to the treatment facility's success rate, which hovers around 70%.
Camelot psychiatrist John M. W. Nicholson stressed that delinquent boys who come to Camelot have already served their criminal sentence and that Camelot is a place to heal youths with troubled pasts.
"All of us believe absolutely that beneath the defensive emotional scar tissue, there is good in each boy," he said.
That's also a widely held view at Lake Placid High School, where students almost universally support their troubled classmates.
"The sweetest guys I know are from Camelot," said student Kate Fish.