By Jim Healey
When connecting the dots of a person’s life, one discovers that there is not just one story line, but many. Some dots intersect, and some dots just wander. The outline is never complete, the person never totally takes shape. At best one can capture glimpses into the person’s life.
Such is the case with Adam Keith Ferris, the young man who was killed by a train north of Sandpoint in the late afternoon on Monday, Aug. 29.
The dots in Adam’s life for this article have been provided through interviews with his adoptive father and adoptive stepmother (Bill and Terry Ferris) who live north of Sandpoint; people with whom he worked and volunteered; emails with his friends; Facebook postings by his family members and friends; and mainly through Adam’s Facebook profile and postings.
On Aug. 28, just two days before he died, Adam posted on Facebook a flashing photo from Media.Tumblr. A person is sitting in a chair, and his/her face is blank. In each outstretched hand is a mask, and the wall behind the person is filled with masks. The floor is covered with faces. One can only guess as to why Adam found this picture interesting enough to post, possibly because it spoke to the many masks he wore in his young life.
Born in 1993 and one of seven siblings of a drug dependent mother, Adam was raised in southern California. Along with an older sister, in 1995 he was placed in the foster home of Bill Ferris and his first wife. They adopted Adam and his sister in 1998, the same year that Bill filed for a divorce. Bill married his second wife Terry, and they received custody of Adam and his sister in 2004. Adam went to high school from 2007 to 2011. During Adam’s high school years, Bill and Terry moved to Sandpoint in 2010, leaving Adam and his sister in California with their adoptive mother. Adam finished high school and began college. After problems with his adoptive mother who eventually had Adam arrested, Adam moved up to Sandpoint in 2014. Part of the difficulties between Adam and his adoptive mother stemmed from her fundamental Christian beliefs that homosexuality was an abomination and a sin. This is just a brief sketch of Adam’s journey to Sandpoint.
Adam used Facebook for a variety of reasons. His personal postings with their highs and lows are all over the place. Like many young adults, he struggled to find his identity—particularly his gender identification—and place in the world.
His relationship with Facebook shows that he had mixed feelings about this social media tool. On June 11 he posts that “Facebook is f***ing dumb” while on Aug. 26 he writes that Facebook “is a way to keep in contact with all of your friends throughout your lifetime.”
Adam had over 3,200 Facebook friends. Some of his posts were like tweets or short texts, postings without a context or to a specific person: “I should feel upset but yet I don’t” (Aug. 20), “I’m not as cute as people think I am” (Aug. 25), and “I am sorry for your loss” (Aug. 28). Other times Adam would use Facebook to post videos, cartoons and drawings that he found interesting on the internet. Woven throughout are Adam’s personal postings that provide those dots, brief glimpses into his life, feelings and struggles.
Two unwavering constants in Adam’s life, things to which he could turn to for comfort and peace, were animals and music. In the month of August alone he posted over 10 videos that dealt with animals: people playing with their pets; baby turtles being released to find their way to the sea; two sister cats in a cage hugging each other; a chubby puppy that can’t roll over; and the biggest cat in New York City.
On Aug. 28 Adam posted a cartoon of an abandoned, sad-looking dog near the gutter with the caption, “A pet isn’t a toy, or a item. A pet is a member of a family, not a thing you can throw away.” When Adam posted on Aug. 18 that he is good at driving and should get a car before winter, a friend replied: “Remember when U thought I was gonna hit some guy and his dog. And I was like ‘don’t worry I saw the man’ and u were like ‘f*** the man!! What bout the dog?!’” On July 6 Adam posted, “I swear I love animals more then people.”
It is not surprising that Adam found his way to Panhandle Animal Shelter (PAS) and became a volunteer. Devin Laundrie, shelter manager, remembers that, besides being a hard worker, Adam “was a very soothing person to fearful dogs, cats and under-socialized kittens. I look back on how easy it was for them to trust him and now understand that he could exude empathy and understanding to these animals who felt scared, trying to adjust in an environment that wasn’t natural to be in.”
Mandy Evans, executive director at PAS, spoke with shelter staff who told her that Adam particularly loved the cats. He would go into one of the cat rooms and spend time with them. Even an insect could bring him joy: “Funny moment of the day playing tag with a sweat bee” (Aug. 28).
Music was always with Adam. It was portable, and he would take it with him wherever he went: “I love just walking around listing to music” (July 1). One Facebook photo has him with earbuds and the comment “Sometimes I just wanna be alone and chill in the grass you know. It’s peaceful and life is stressful” (Aug. 26). He always seemed to be updating his Facebook profile photo, and more times than not the photo would have him with earbuds in his ears. The last photo that Adam posted on Facebook on Monday afternoon, a little after 1 p.m., Aug. 29, shows him sitting on a bed, wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt, and listening to his music. Earlier that day he posted, “Classic rock and chilling this what I’m feeling I love this music it’s the stuff I grew up with since a baby” (Aug. 29). Laundrie remembers Adam at PAS: “He loved music and was always listening to something or humming/singing something.” In fact, the day before he died Adam was looking forward to seeing Pretty Lights at the Hive, a downtown Sandpoint entertainment venue: “Huh 4 more days tell pretty lights hella excited” (Aug. 28).
When Adam would have his earbuds in and listening to music, the larger world would be blocked out. Evans tells of a staff member at PAS who saw Adam in downtown Sandpoint: “A staff member ran into him in town and his earbuds were on so loud that she had to physically touch him to get his attention.” A friend commented on Facebook (Aug. 28) under an updated profile photo of Adam: “Saw you by orileys today. Tired [sic] waving u down.” Adam replied, “Where huh sorry have my headphones in.”
Like most young adults Adam struggled with sexuality: “Hey guess what world I’m not gay bi or straight I’m pans yup yup hate if you want don’t care cause guess what I’m me and the only one who can make me happy is me yup yups” (July 26).
Adam received encouragement to be himself from Terry and Bill. Both felt that Adam was exactly who he should be and remember him saying that he “wouldn’t mind being a woman.” His Facebook pages include talk about how to darken eyeliner with tips from friends on how to make eyeliner come out evenly (Aug. 22-23); on wanting to “shave the side of my head soon then dread the rest of my hair yup yups” (Aug. 12); on “let’s get our eyebrows and nails done on Monday when I’m off,” even though money is a problem (Aug. 12); on dyeing his hair — “gotta re dye my hair but all my hair this time but I’m having struggles on what I should do what do you all think I should do and what will look good?” (Aug. 4); and on the joy of getting his lips pierced — “I’m so happy I finally got my lips pierced huh totally happy” (May 18). Adam captions a selfie on April 13 with “my nails look so lame I need them black ugh.”
Yet people would be “talking trash on me for being me” (July 28), and this would get to Adam. His final posting, just 26 minutes before he was hit by the train, describes his struggle with his gender identify: “I don’t know what’s wrong with me I’m sick of being TG [transgender] and I’m sick of being different I just wanna be normal” (August 29).
This is where the alcohol sometimes came into the picture. According to Terry, Adam drank because he struggled with trying to be normal. Venise Richardson, a friend of Adam’s for nine years, said that Adam “struggled with identity and trying to feel comfortable with himself. He never really talked about being TG (transgender). I think most of us knew he was bi, but TG? I honestly think that this was his main struggle— trying to identify with who he was.”
Sexual identity concerns seemed to confuse Adam, as evidenced by his posting on June 28: “You know what’s funny is bi is in most girls vocabulary and most girls are bi now a days and of [sic] a straight girl thinks a gay or bi girl is cute she will try but when it comes to guys it’s like no straight guys are straight if they are attracted to another guy they ignore it they think it’s gross but yet they like bi girls hmm and even gay guys are stuck up and down right nasty as f***.” He concludes, “The world is f***ed and confusing.”
Adam worked as a dishwasher in late spring at Loaf & Ladle in Sandpoint. Owner Michael Williams, who describes Adam as fun-loving and young at heart, comments that it was fairly apparent that Adam was trying to figure out his orientation.
Though Adam found joy in friends, he often would retreat into himself to find peace. On the afternoon of his death he posted, “Dude the most fun I have in life is when I’m alone haha having way to much fun right now lol” (Aug. 29). Of course, he is wearing his earbuds. In late July Adam wrote about running into friends, but choosing to “hang pretty much alone now adays and I like it that way yup yups trying hella hard to make it in life I love my friends that I’ve made here just I like to stay alone yup yup” (July 28).
Even in his solitude, Adam would still hear the voices of those who disapproved of who he was: “Who says you’re not worthy who says you’re not perfect who ways [sic] you’re not amazing who says you’re not beautiful… cause you all are don’t let anyone tell you, you aren’t” (April 3). Alone and listening to his music—this would be a way for Adam to find inner peace as he captions a photo of himself with cigarette in hand, earbuds in place, and flowing lavender and blonde locks of hair framing his smiling face: “Chillin in nature alone like I like it.”
Adam was without a car, but it was something that he wanted to get before winter—“yeah should probably start looking for a car before winter” (Aug. 18). Williams at Loaf & Ladle notes that Adam struggled with transportation. It would not be uncommon for Adam to walk the railroad tracks to and from home. If he weren’t walking the tracks, then Adam would be hitchhiking.
On Aug. 2 he posts, “I love hitch hiking I’ve met so many awesome people out there and I love learning about people it’s all vary [sic] interesting to me.” Adam also loved walking, earbuds in place, as can be seen in the photo on April 14. The photo is a selfie taken along a highway, possibly Highway 95 north of Sandpoint, and is captioned “I love walking Lol when it’s not raining.”
Terry and Bill live near the tracks where the accident happened. Terry said that it would not be uncommon for Adam to be walking along the tracks with his earbuds on and listening to music.
Life and the Past
Adam felt that he had a hard life, especially with his adoptive mother in California: “My mom who was supposed to love me for who I am” (May 26). Adam saw much change in his life and tried to feel comfortable with himself: “I thank god my mom kicked me out and hated me cause if she didn’t I would still be the same person I was and I would hope I would hate that yup yup” (June 28).
Adam at times would miss the days when he would go on adventures with his sister and brother. He longed for the past days of “friends but siblings at the same time I want the closeness back you know I foreals want thoe [those] days back take me back to the passed” (May 24). At times he felt that he was lost and adrift: “I’m just so lost in translation and the world idk [I don’t know] what I am or where I’m going yup yups” (Aug. 9)
People who knew Adam saw him differently. Venise describes Adam as “a very charismatic person, always smiling, very kind and down right hilarious.” At PAS Laundrie said that Adam was “very bright, picking up things quickly. He was a kind soul and always seemed happy.” At Loaf & Ladle, Williams remembers a dishwasher who was “full of life.” Williams’ seven-year-old son, Oscar, would don a white apron and wash dishes together with Adam. One could hear peals of laughter coming from the dishwashing area of the kitchen. Oscar and Adam would be telling jokes back and forth, laughing heartily, as the “scrubbing brush would become a space slug.” Terry and Bill remember a son who was a “sweet man, bright, a very gentle soul.”
According to the Bonner County Daily Bee, Adam was hit by the train “at 5:16 p.m. at the Samuels Road crossing along U.S. Highway 95.” Twenty-six minutes earlier, at 4:50 p.m., Adam posted the following on Facebook: “I understand everything’s my fault and I don’t know what’s wrong with me I’m sick of being TG and I’m sick of being different I just wanna be normal and I’ve snapped I can’t handle anymore. I don’t need anyone to feel bad either.”
Both Terry and Bill feel that Adam was not suicidal. A friend of Adam’s commented that this post is “kind of misleading,” and another friend, Venise Richardson, commented that he “never seemed suicidal to any of us.”
On that Monday Bill went to work, and Terry went to town to do some shopping. She left in late morning, and Adam was left home alone. When Terry returned home around 3 p.m., she noticed that the television screen had been broken. Adam had been drinking in his room, and, according to Terry, he was a binge drinker.
When she asked him about what happened to the television screen, he became “frantic.” Initially he denied having any knowledge of what happened, but he eventually admitted breaking it, blaming himself and the alcohol. He even said that he would pay for the broken screen. Upset with himself and his situation, Adam headed outdoors without his glasses and with earbuds in place. Having been impaired by the alcohol, upset with himself for having broken the television set, and with his earbuds on and music playing, Adam just wanted to be by himself. According to Terry, the train conductor thought that the train had missed her son. She feels that Adam, in fact, had been walking at an angle along the tracks, possibly attempting to cross, but he was definitely not walking down the middle of the tracks.
Both Terry and Bill believe that Adam is in a better place because they knew that he was hurting and struggling. Bill cherishes one of his last memories of Adam, stacking wood on the Sunday before he was hit by the train. He wants Adam to know that “I love you, I miss you, and I want a sign that you’re hearing me.”
Terry has her faith to fall back upon, but both are feeling complex emotions of anger, hurt, and feeling cheated of a future with Adam in it. And they are not alone. Adam’s friends are shocked, heartbroken, saddened, and devastated—finding comfort imagining that he is walking somewhere, alone, lavender locks framing his smiling face, pierced lips, with his earbuds in place and his music playing . . . yup yups.
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