STEPHENTOWN — The house had been the site of many parties when its owner was there. Supervised parties. That’s what some of the young people — many of them high school age — say they believed when they broke into an unoccupied house off Route 43 the night of Aug. 31. But unlike those former parties, this one involved considerable alcohol.
Then, apparently, they found it acceptable to trash the house — listed for sale — and steal some of its contents. They broke windows, spray painted and made holes in the walls, urinated on the carpets, scarred the wood floors by dragging kegs across them. They left their party garbage behind.
Then, as young people do these days, they posted their escapades on Twitter and Instagram. The Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office broke the party up at 10:40 p.m. They estimated that 300 people were in attendance.
Damage to the house reportedly exceeded $20,000. The owner of the house, former New England Patriots offensive tackle Brian Holloway, lives in Florida now; the climate is kinder to his injuries, he said. His occupation now is a motivational speaker and it is in that role that he has responded to the incident.
He set up a website, helpmesave300.com, to reach the young people involved — not to punish, but to try to educate them in choosing a better course for their lives. From the accounts the young people used, he said, it appears that they were students from several area schools, New Lebanon among them.
Holloway said he is “haunted” by the deaths of two young Stephentown men in the past two years — Michael Demick, killed in a car accident in which police theorized speed was involved; and Chris Baker, a passenger in a car driven by a young man who had allegedly been drinking.
Over the years, he said the two “were at my house, with my kids. What didn’t I say? What could I have done to save these kids’ lives?”
Holloway “fell in love with Stephentown for a specific reason,” he told the Courier. He saw the house in 1981 in a real estate listing. He loved the setting and felt that future children could “go outside and play” safely there.
He stopped for food at Dave’s Market — a town stalwart then, but now for sale — and found that he didn’t have his wallet with him. He told the proprietor he didn’t have any money with him — and was presented with an IOU.
“What’s this,” Holloway recalled asking.
“You can stop in and pay me next time,” he was told.
“I’d never been treated like that,” Holloway said.
Outside, cars were left running with the keys in them. “Someone could steal those cars,” he told the proprietor.
“People don’t steal in this town,” he was told.
That’s when Holloway knew that was where he wanted his children to grow up.
This has been, as Holloway says on his website, “quite a gut shot dealing with all of this.” What he found worse, he continued, “was reading the tweets and hearing them celebrate their destruction and documenting their crimes.”
Many people have responded to the story on the website. Many have offered to help. He is setting up a place on the website for volunteers to help with the cleanup; they will be contacted by a coordinator to arrange work parties. He believes the cleanup will take “a couple of days.”
The website also contains a list of more than 100 names of young people whose posts indicated that may have attended the party or know of people who did. The names were gleaned from social media. Some young people have responded that they weren’t involved; some provided names of people who were.
Holloway said he posted the list “for the sole purpose of helping to identify the people who were not there,” so that their names can be removed from the list being built through evidence.
Police agencies are using the accounts to search for the people involved and are reported to be talking with officials at 15 area schools and three colleges.
Public Affairs Officer Yvonne Keefe with the Sheriff’s Office told the Courier that it “is a very large case and it will take our investigators time to conduct all the interviews.”
One stolen item, an eagle sculpture memorializing his stillborn grandchild, was mailed to Holloway at his home in Florida. That was the most cherished of the missing items, he said.
One response he received indicated that some parents are angry that “their little angels’ names” are on the list.
Now, Holloway said, it’s “up to the community” to reach the young people involved. He has come to town and has offered to spend two days speaking to the schools whose students were involved.
Ideally, he would also “reach [out to] the parents. We need to have a conversation” he said. “How should you [parents] respond? If we don’t respond as a community, it tells these kids they can do it anywhere. Trust me, they’re coming to your house next.”
As one of the tweets on the website reads: “On to the next one.”
“The repairs can be fixed, the things that were stolen can be replaced,” Holloway said. “But it’s 300 kids. If we don’t do something, 30 will be dead in a decade, drinking and driving.”
Anyone who has information can reach him at BrianHolloway@yahoo.com.
To reach correspondent Gail Heinsohn, email email@example.com.