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Missoula, Page 2

Jon Krakauer

  When the latter incident was brought to light by the local newspaper, UM president Royce Engstrom appointed the Honorable Diane Barz, who in 1989 became the first woman to serve on the Montana Supreme Court, to launch an investigation. In a preliminary report, released to the public on December 31, 2011, Barz wrote,

  This investigation has revealed…evidence of non-consensual sex that is not being reported in the University system….The University is required to take immediate and appropriate action.

  In Barz’s final report, completed on January 31, 2012, she identified nine sexual assaults by UM students (not all of whom were football players) from September 2010 through December 2011. At the top of the list was the rape of Allison Huguet by Beau Donaldson. Barz warned,

  The reports of sexual assaults on the UM campus now require immediate action and swift compliance with Title IX mandates….A rape-tolerant campus with ineffective programming, inadequate support service for victim survivors, and inequitable grievance procedures threatens every student….Acts of sexual violence are vastly under-reported on college campuses and a victim of sexual assault is likely to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and academic problems.

  Diane Barz’s report rattled Missoula. Then, just three months later, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that it, too, was investigating the apparent epidemic of sexual assaults in western Montana. The feds announced that at least eighty alleged rapes had been reported in Missoula over the preceding three years and that the DOJ would be scrutinizing “assaults against all women in Missoula, not just university students.”

  United States attorney general Eric Holder noted, “The allegations that the University of Montana, the local police department and the County Attorney’s Office failed to adequately address sexual assault are very disturbing.”

  The spate of rapes in Grizzlyville led to disquieting articles from such national publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But it was a 3,800-word dispatch posted on the website Jezebel nine days after the DOJ announcement that perhaps did the most damage to Missoula’s good name. Written by Katie J. M. Baker, it was titled “My Weekend in America’s So-Called ‘Rape Capital,’ ” and the derogatory moniker went viral, prompting an outcry from Missoulians who believed it was unfair.

  Baker’s tart, insightful piece indicated that she wasn’t sure the description was deserved, however. Her headline was drawn from the article’s second paragraph, in which she quoted a twenty-year-old Missoula drug dealer who lamented, “People think we’re the ‘rape capital’ of America now,” before immediately noting, “but we’re not. Missoula is just like any other college town.”

  In fact, 80 rapes over the course of three years appears to be “on par with national averages for college towns of Missoula’s size,” as Baker mentioned in her piece. According to the FBI’s latest statistics, there were an average of 26.8 “forcible rapes” reported in American cities the size of Missoula in 2012—which works out to be 80.4 rapes over three years. In other words, the number of sexual assaults in Missoula might sound alarming, but if the FBI figures are accurate, it’s actually commonplace. Rape, it turns out, occurs with appalling frequency throughout the United States.


  When Allison Huguet was five years old, her family moved from Kalispell, up near Glacier National Park, to Missoula, where they bought a home in a quiet neighborhood called Target Range, at the western edge of the city, near the confluence of the Bitterroot River and the Clark Fork. Huguet enrolled in the first grade at Target Range School and soon befriended Beau Donaldson. They remained close buddies for the next twelve years.

  Huguet and Donaldson graduated together in June 2008 from Big Sky High School, where both of them were good students and outstanding athletes. Huguet, who competed on the track team, was the Montana pole-vault champion their senior year. Donaldson set ten school records on the football field and was honored as the team’s most valuable player. When Donaldson accepted a scholarship to play football at UM, it was deemed sufficiently important to merit an article in the Missoulian, the local newspaper. “I’ve always wanted to play for the Griz,” Donaldson told the paper. He had been recruited by a number of other schools, including Montana State University, in Bozeman, the archrival of the University of Montana. It was a big deal in Missoula when he decided to attend UM.

  Huguet was proud of Donaldson. “I always thought he was intelligent,” she told me. “I was very happy for him when he got a scholarship. He came from a family where none of them had gone to college; most didn’t even graduate high school.” For her part, Huguet left Montana after high school to attend Eastern Oregon University, where she was offered an athletic scholarship. She saw Donaldson only once or twice after she departed for college.

  On September 24, 2010, Huguet was living in Missoula at her mother’s house and was getting ready to return to La Grande, Oregon, to begin her junior year at EOU. That evening, she received a call from her friend Keely Williams, who suggested they go to a party at a house Beau Donaldson was renting in Missoula’s university district. Williams had also grown up in the Target Range neighborhood and had known Huguet since Allison arrived in Missoula. After graduating from Big Sky High School in the same class as Huguet and Donaldson, Williams had left town to attend Portland State University and happened to be back for a week to visit her parents. When Williams told Huguet that most of the posse they’d hung out with since they were six years old would be at Donaldson’s party, Huguet enthusiastically agreed that they should attend.

  Williams drove. Upon arriving at Donaldson’s house, at around 10:00 in the evening, they were happy to see many of their childhood soul mates. “When we walked downstairs I immediately ran into Beau and hugged him,” Huguet remembered. “It was a nice evening. Everyone was relaxed and having a good time.” People played beer pong in the basement and held “tea races” to determine who could chug bottles of Twisted Tea (a brand of syrupy malt liquor favored by UM students) the fastest.

  It was a Friday night, and the Griz football team would be playing Sacramento State University on Saturday afternoon, but Donaldson had suffered a serious ankle injury the previous summer and wouldn’t be suiting up for the game. He was pounding down alcoholic beverages with gusto. Enjoying the company of seldom-seen friends, Huguet and Williams found themselves drinking more than they customarily did, too.

  By 1:30 in the morning, the party was running out of steam, and the handful of people still there moved upstairs to the living room. Donaldson and Huguet sat down together on a couch. Huguet, growing sleepy, lay across the couch, put a pillow on Donaldson’s thigh, and placed her head on the pillow. But there was nothing remotely sexual about it, said Huguet and Williams. “Allison never had any interest in that type of relationship with Beau,” Williams insisted. “Absolutely none.”

  Another classmate from their Target Range days, Sam Erschler,* who lived in the house with Beau Donaldson, urged Keely Williams and Allison Huguet not to drive home, because they’d been drinking. “Which was nice of him,” Huguet acknowledged. “That’s how Sam is. Kind of caring like that. He said, ‘Why don’t you guys just stay here and sleep on the couch.’ So we all agreed we would.”

  Not long thereafter, Donaldson got up from the couch he was sharing with Huguet, went downstairs, and Huguet fell asleep on the couch alone, fully dressed. Huguet enjoyed sleeping on couches; even when she was home, she often preferred to sleep on the couch instead of in her own bed. Williams, meanwhile, went in search of an empty bed and soon found one. “It was even made!” she said. “I thought, ‘If we have to stay here, this is where I am going to sleep.’ ”

  After discovering the vacant bedroom, Williams went back to the living room to invite Huguet to join her. She shook Huguet awake and said, “Ali, do you want to come to bed? I’m sleeping in this room, and there is a bed.”

  “No, I’m fine,” Huguet groggily replied. “I’ll just stay here.” William
s got a blanket and placed it over her friend, then returned to the bedroom. When she left, Huguet was the only person remaining in the living room. Everyone else in the house seemed to be asleep.


  HUGUET WAS AWAKENED about two hours later. It was still dark. She was lying facedown on the couch, and her jeans and underwear had been pulled down. “I remember waking up to Beau moaning, and a lot of pressure and pain,” she later testified. Donaldson was on top of her, penetrating her vagina from behind with his penis. “I opened my eyes, just partly,” she remembered. “Just from his moaning, I could tell it was him.”

  Although she was terrified, she forced herself to keep her eyes shut and wait for him to finish. Huguet is an elite athlete, and she’d taken self-defense classes. She was just five feet, five inches tall, however, and weighed 130 pounds. Donaldson weighed 230 pounds and played both fullback and linebacker for an NCAA Division I football team. She assumed that if he was willing to rape her while she was sleeping, he wouldn’t hesitate to harm her severely in order to keep her from resisting or calling for help. “He could have snapped my neck like a twig,” Huguet told me, “so I just lay there and pretended to be asleep.” Donaldson continued to rape Huguet for another five minutes before ejaculating inside her. He was not wearing a condom.

  When he’d finished, he tugged her jeans partly up, threw the blanket over her, and walked away without saying a word. Stunned, Huguet remained motionless until she was sure he was out of the room. Then, quietly, she gathered her shoes and her phone, tiptoed barefoot through the kitchen, exited the house via the back door, and started sprinting down a gravel alley to find help. When Donaldson had yanked Huguet’s pants to her knees, he had torn off the button and mangled the zipper, so with one hand she simultaneously cradled her shoes and tried to hold her jeans up, while with her other she speed-dialed her boyfriend, running as fast as she could at the same time.

  “I don’t know why I was calling him,” Allison said. “He had moved to Colorado. It’s not like he was going to be able to help. I guess I wasn’t thinking too clearly. I called him twice, but he never answered.”

  Still running, Allison dialed her mother next. “When the phone rang,” Beth Huguet told me, “I looked at my clock, and it was four-eleven in the morning. There was this throaty sound on the other end of the line. Panicked sounds, with nothing coming out. I knew it was Allison, even without any words. I’ll never forget it. I’ll have that with me the rest of my life.”

  “Mom!” Allison eventually managed to blurt as she ran. “He’s chasing me! Help me! Save me! Mom!” Donaldson had somehow seen or heard Allison fleeing from the house and was pursuing her.

  “I’d only been on the phone with my mom for a few seconds when all of a sudden I heard someone behind me, and I realized Beau was chasing me,” Allison said. A few seconds later his hand brushed her back as he grasped at her from behind. “I was literally screaming into the phone, ‘He raped me!’ right when I felt him grabbing at me. My mom was telling me, ‘Run! Keep running!’ ” Allison knew that Donaldson owned several guns. As she tried to accelerate away from him, she said, “I thought he was going to kill me. I thought for sure I was dead.”

  Running even harder down the alley, and frantically pushing Donaldson’s hands away as he pulled at her, Allison ignored the pain as the gravel cut her bare feet. “I was hitting him as I ran,” she said. “I don’t know if I was actually speaking to him. I was just talking to my mom. And I was worried because the battery in my phone was low and I knew it was about to die.”

  Through her own phone, over the sound of Allison sobbing and gasping to catch her breath, Beth could hear Donaldson say, “No, Allison! Stop! Come back! I’m sorry. Don’t say anything. I’ll make it all right. Come back to the house with me!”

  “His voice was so calm,” said Beth, a high school teacher. “That’s the most chilling part of the whole thing: how calm he was. How hysterical she was, and how calm he was. It made my skin crawl.” As she spoke with Allison, Beth Huguet threw on some clothes, got in her van, and started down South Avenue toward the university district at sixty miles an hour, all the while imploring, “Run, Allison! Run!”

  And then Beth heard Allison say, “He’s not behind me anymore! Oh my God, he’s not behind me!” For some reason, Donaldson had stopped chasing her and turned around. “I was shocked that Beau actually let me go,” Allison remembered. “I honestly assumed he had a gun and I was going to be shot.” Even though he was no longer trying to catch her, Allison didn’t stop running.

  Beth recalled that Donaldson lived somewhere near the university, but the university district is huge, and Allison didn’t know the address of the house, or even what street it was on. Eventually, however, Allison was able to communicate that she was near the soccer fields, which are located on South Avenue at Higgins, so Beth kept driving in that direction as fast as she dared.

  “I was running barefoot, still trying to hold my pants up,” said Allison, “when I turned out of the alley and got onto South Avenue. And there was my mom.” By this point Allison’s phone battery was dead, so she ran into the middle of the road and flagged Beth down.

  “As soon as I saw her, I knew something bad had happened,” Beth said. “As she came toward me she was hobbling and kind of falling. When she got in the van she started rocking back and forth, crying hysterically. I flipped a U-turn and headed straight to Community Hospital. I knew she had been assaulted, I just didn’t know to what extent.”

  A couple of minutes after they’d turned around and were driving toward the hospital, Allison realized that Keely Williams was still back inside Donaldson’s house, sleeping, unaware of the danger she was in. “Keely!” Allison screamed at her mother. “We need to go back and get Keely!” As Beth reversed course and steered the van toward the house, Allison dialed Williams’s number. “Beau just raped me!” she shouted into the phone when Williams answered. “You have to get out! You have to get out right now! My mom and I are outside waiting for you.”

  Williams grabbed her purse, put on her shoes, and fled. She was in such a hurry that she slammed her head into the edge of the back door in the dark, giving herself a black eye. “I ran out of the garage and there they were,” she told me. “I jumped in the back of the van. Allison was sitting in the front, hunched over, crying. She wouldn’t turn around. Seeing her like that, I started crying, too, and saying how sorry I was.”

  As Williams recounted these events more than two years after the fact, she began to sob. “I felt guilty because I was the one who wanted to go to the party and see our friends,” she continued, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I chose to drive, and then I drank too much to drive us home. And I left her on the couch alone, because I wanted to sleep in a bed. If we had just left, or I had made her sleep with me, or I had slept with her on the couch, then it wouldn’t have happened. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do. How could I have left her out there?”

  “You left me out there,” Allison answered, “because neither of us had any reason to think we would be in danger in that house, with those friends. We trusted them completely.”

  * * *

  * pseudonym


  After Beth Huguet picked up Allison and Keely Williams, she drove Allison to Missoula’s Community Medical Center emergency room to receive treatment for her injuries. Because this hospital doesn’t perform forensic examinations of rape victims, however, the staff at Community Medical sent Allison across town to the First Step Resource Center, the sexual-assault response unit at St. Patrick Hospital, to have a rape kit collected.

  The United States Violence Against Women Act of 2005 requires that all victims of sexual assault be given free access to an evidence collection kit, better known as a rape kit. It consists of sterile swabs, small containers, plastic bags, microscope slides, and other implements for collecting and storing semen, blood, saliva, hairs, and clothing fibers that might be used as evidence in a criminal trial. For most v
ictims, submitting to the procedures that allow such evidence to be gathered is an exceedingly humiliating experience.

  This was certainly true in Allison’s case. After arriving at First Step, she says, “for the next four hours I was essentially raped all over again. I had to stand completely naked on a white sheet and let a nurse brush my entire body to collect evidence that might contain Beau’s DNA.” Allison’s most private recesses were probed, combed, swabbed, photographed, and intensely scrutinized by strangers. A nurse made a video of the inside of her vagina, documenting the flesh that had been torn when Donaldson violated her. “The whole process—while absolutely necessary—was incredibly traumatic,” Allison says, “even though the nurse and counselor tried to be comforting.”

  It wasn’t until 10:00 Saturday morning that Allison and Beth Huguet returned to Beth’s home in Target Range. It had been a long night, but Allison didn’t have the luxury of crawling into bed to sleep. Instead, she took a hot shower, dressed, and tried to pull herself together enough to meet her father, who was expecting her to attend the Griz football game with him that afternoon.


  AT THE EASTERN edge of Missoula, Mount Sentinel towers two thousand feet above the University of Montana campus. A third of a way up the mountainside, a white concrete M adorns the slope. Ten stories high, it’s the city’s most famous landmark. Directly below the M is Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

  Allison’s parents separated when she was fifteen and eventually divorced. Although she had been living at her mother’s house that summer, she remained close to her father, Kevin. He was a huge Griz fan, and whenever Allison was in town on game day, they went to the stadium together to watch the team play. “I was born and raised in Missoula,” Kevin Huguet told me. “Griz football is a big deal here.”