BOLINAS, Calif. – Ricky Green wandered into this town some months ago, a stranger just a bit stranger than most. He had shed his middle-class respectability — a job as a graphic artist in the 'burbs — strapped a guitar over his shoulder and landed here on what he told people was "a spiritual journey."
Bolinas seemed like a good fit. The unincorporated town of 1,600 on the Pacific coast is Marin County's most blatant throwback to the Summer of Love, a hippie haven that is bent on stopping tourists from spoiling its laid-back groove.
The 33-year-old Green, prone to age of Aquarius-speak about the moon and the stars, already looked sort of like a local.
As one resident, Bill Boman, put it, "He had this Jimi Hendrix vibe."
But Green never quite meshed with the Bolinas social fabric. The night of June 23 proved how much he remained an outsider, in a liberal enclave stubbornly averse to strangers.
Six young people — including two juveniles — allegedly attacked and stabbed Green with a viciousness that is forcing Bolinas to search its soul for meaning.
The attack also underscores what advocates for homeless people say is a growing problem across the country: attacks on society's most vulnerable members, almost as sport, especially by young people.
"I'm not surprised that an incident like this happened in Bolinas," said Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "We have found that these kinds of incidences happen everywhere. There was an incident just last month in Cleveland. It's no longer a big city thing."
The typical attack involves a mob of youths that beats a homeless person with blunt objects, sometimes setting the person on fire, Stoops said.
In the first six months of this year, 13 homeless people have been killed across the country, he said, a pace on par with last year's, in which 28 homeless people were killed, up from 20 in 2006. Nonfatal attacks also are rising, Stoops said, up from 142 in 2006 to 160 in 2007.
"Why are these attacks happening?" Stoops said. "The main reason is that you can't go anywhere in society without coming across homeless folks. And there is this antipathy or scorn towards them." Add the boredom young people face in the summer, drugs or alcohol and a group mentality, Stoops said, and the mix becomes dangerous, if not lethal.
Detectives are still investigating the Bolinas attack. But by all accounts, Green confronted a group of young people that had been drinking. He was angry about an altercation another homeless man had the day before with some youths.
The attack happened on the beach. Green was stabbed multiple times and pummeled with a skateboard, flashlight and bottles. While he was down, the mob kicked and jumped on him.
Sheriff's investigators said up to 20 witnesses watched the beating, but no one stopped it.
Green, found semiconscious and bleeding profusely, was airlifted to a hospital in Santa Rosa, 50 miles away. He spent nearly two weeks there recovering from lacerations to the head and body.
Five people have been charged with attempted murder.
In Bolinas, where everyone knows, or knows of, the victim and the suspects, the attack is raising hard questions. Bolinas wears its xenophobia proudly. For decades, a group known as the Bolinas Border Patrol has torn down all signs pointing the way to the enclave from Highway One. But now, some wonder whether Bolinas' inbred hostility to outsiders exploded the night of Green's attack.
Others are pondering whether the attack means that Bolinas, despite its barefoot youth, loose-roaming dogs and ponytailed, tie-dyed 60-year-olds, is more like the rest of society than it wanted to admit.
That thought is especially jarring. Bolinas fancies itself special. The town keeps a "free box" outside the natural foods store for anyone to donate or pick up clothes or household items. A few years ago, it passed a ballot measure officially declaring itself "a socially acknowledged, nature-loving town" that likes blueberries, bears and skunks. The town saloon has the word "peace" outside, written in seashells.
"I knew of Bolinas as a peaceful place," said Boman, a musician who moved to Bolinas several weeks ago. "What has happened to the children of the revolution?"
Almost no one else approached for this story wanted to talk, be quoted or have their name used.
Still in shock, Bolinas is trying to understand what happened and make amends. Anguished town meetings are taking place, with discussions focused on finding solutions to disaffected youth.
But there are some hard feelings for Green here, too.
Derek James, a bartender at Smiley's saloon, approached a reporter to say Green had been causing trouble in town for months. He had been barred from Smiley's for harassing people, James said.
"He was getting into people's business," he said. "I really felt like something was going to happen."
The other day, fresh out of the hospital, Green was spotted back in town. (He proved elusive, always a step ahead of visitors trying to find him. The Associated Press was unable to reach him.)
Many were relieved to see him back on his beat. But James could not believe the news.
"I know a lot of people in this community," he said, "are not really happy to see him back."