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There's a hidden crisis among California's rural kids. Would this teen make it?

Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The flip side of seclusion is isolation, which begets boredom, depression and addiction.

Now, when social workers or other county officials learn that a child has experienced a major trauma, they email Norby, who then emails the child's school district.

She provides no details about the incident. Just a name and the words: "Handle with care."

One day in early March, Plumlee left campus on a lunch break. Her belongings — clothes, succulent plants, boxes of Cheez-Its — rattled around the back of her 1999 Infinity SUV, which topped out at 65 mph on the highway and was nicknamed the Mom-Mobile by classmates. She was driving to her newest home to check on her dog, a 14-year-old long-haired chihuahua named Boo who has cataracts and seizures.

Plumlee and Boo were sharing a Disney-themed room with a 5-year-old girl. A quote from "Lilo & Stitch" was painted on the wall: "'Ohana' means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten."

Growing up, Plumlee didn't have much of one herself.


She was born in Tulsa, Okla., and her father died when she was young. Her mother, she said, won't discuss his death. She doesn't know any details.

When she was 5, Plumlee and her mother moved to Alturas — she doesn't know what drew them to the town. They stayed in hotels and with friends and her mother's boyfriends, she said. For a few years, they lived with an older couple, whom Plumlee called her grandparents.

In eighth grade, Plumlee said, she was pulled out of class and home-schooled. But, she added, she was mostly helping take care of her "grandpa," who was dying of prostate cancer, and doing work around the house.

After his death, mother and daughter took off.


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