BOISE — By the end of 2000, three murders in as many years had cast doubt on the Boise River Greenbelt's safe image.
The path was still popular, but people couldn't help feeling uneasy from seeing "missing" posters for Lynn Henneman, whose body was later found in the river, or crossing under the Americana Boulevard Bridge, where Kay Lynn Jackson's body had been found in April 1998.
Samantha Maher was killed after being kidnapped near the linear park in July 2000. Darrell Payne was accused of murdering Maher within days of her death, but police didn't find a suspect in the Henneman killing for more than two years.
"The crown jewel of Boise was the Greenbelt and everybody had always felt so safe," said Don Pierce, who served as Boise police chief in the early 2000s. "All of a sudden, that was taken away. It was a big deal."
If Jackson's murder was a shock, the death of Henneman, a flight attendant from New York who wanted to experience the Greenbelt during a brief stay in Boise, forced the city to re-evaluate itself, said Judy Peavey-Derr, a longtime supporter of enhancing and expanding the Greenbelt.
"To have a visitor that assumes that our Greenbelt was safe ... to have her get murdered was also a terrible shock, and it caused a lot of people to think maybe our community isn't as safe and wonderful as we thought," Peavey-Derr said.
The murders put pressure on the city to address Greenbelt safety. "Although Boise still remained very safe, it really was a huge blow to the perception of safety. And perception of safety is all about quality of life," Pierce said. "It's those sorts of things that have a significant adverse impact on quality of life and go way beyond the significance of the actual homicide."
Police increased the number of bike-patrol officers on the Greenbelt from two to seven and placed location markers in the path's pavement to help pinpoint emergencies.
The Parks and Recreation Department added lights in several places, especially at bridge crossings, and cut back brush along the path.
Private citizens also signed up to patrol the Greenbelt. Today, those volunteers number almost 50, police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said.
Gradually, Boise's "great sense of fear" dissipated as the murders receded from memory, Peavey-Derr said.
Ada County Commissioner Jim Tibbs, who was a police officer and spokesman at the time of the murders, said the new population of "highly visible" officers was effective for four reasons. First, they deterred would-be criminals. Second, they reassured users that the Greenbelt was a safe place to recreate. Third, they responded to all kinds of safety concerns, from cuts and scrapes to water emergencies. Finally, they educated people about safe use of the Greenbelt, such as warning people to keep their dogs on leashes.
Today, the Greenbelt is more popular than ever. It's longer too, stretching from the Lucky Peak Reservoir to Eagle Road. There have been no murders since 2001 and few serious crimes.
Sven Berg: 377-6275