ON THE MORNING of June 20, 2001, Officer David Knapp responded to a 911 dispatch call in the Houston suburbs. A thin woman with long dark hair, fully dressed but inexplicably wet, answered the door. She was breathing heavily. The cop’s first glance into the house revealed no obvious crisis.
Knapp asked the woman why she had called the police. Her reply was the opening Une in a long public drama that continued until the summer of 2006, when the woman, Andrea Yates, was acquitted by reason of insanity for the deed she announced to Knapp: “I just killed my kids.”
The corpses of four of Yates’ five children ages 5, 3, 2, and 6 months-were hi the master bedroom, scrupulously covered in burgundy cotton sheets.The corpse of her oldest child, 7-yearold Noah, was still in the bathroom, floating face down hi the bathtub. The tub was filled almost to the top with water, plus the vomit and excrement that had left the children’s bodies as their mother grabbed them, choked them, beat them, and shoved their heads under the water until their lungs burst and they died.
It’s the week before Labor Day, and you’re on your way to a party held in the widest expanse of pure nothing in the Lower United States-150 square miles of dry, cracked clay in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert near the tumbleweed town of Gerlach. Since the event is taking place on Land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), your hosts have had to pay for an official environmental assessment that objectiveLy describes your destination: “The environment for the proposed action contains no true soils; surface or ground water; vegetation; wildlife; threatened or endangered species; wild horses; paleontology; solid or hazardous waste material; wilderness; or cultural resources.” The most prominent words on your admission ticket read, “You voluntarily assume the risk of serious injury or death by attending.”
So why are you-and some 24,000 other people-not simply resigned to attending this get-together but positively ecstatic at the prospect of spending the last week of summer in a hot, god-forsaken dry lake bed beset by unpredictable windstorms, flash floods, and bone-chilling drops in temperature after sunset?