After years of change, teen embraces new direction

In just 13 years, Walker McCracken has been through more than some experience in a lifetime. Born in Chillicothe, Walker spent the first part of his life in the Joplin, Mo. area.
At the age of five, after abandonment by his mother, Walker began living with his father in Braymer, Mo. The two lived with Walker’s paternal grandparents for about two years. At the age of 7, Walker was sent to Pueblo, Colo., to live with his uncle, Lloyd, after his father was sent to prison. Two years later, Walker returned to Missouri. Lloyd had also been sent to prison, and the 9-year-old was now living with his grandparents. In January 2012, Walker’s grandfather died. Until last month, Walker was under the sole custody of his grandmother.
On Nov. 9, Chillicothe Police officers responded to a call from the grandmother of an “out-of-control” teenager. That teenager was Walker McCracken.
“It had been a whole weekend of arguing,” Walker explained. “Finally she just called the police and told them to come get me. She said that she couldn’t handle me. She wasn’t capable. She was basically giving me up. I heard her say ‘Take him. I’m done.’”
Officer Jodi Huber was one of three CPD personnel, along with Sgt. John Valbracht and Lt. Scott Chubick, who responded to the call.
“We tried talking to (the grandmother), and it just wasn’t going anywhere,” Huber said. “We called our lieutenant, along with juvenile services, and we decided that the best option was to remove Walker from the home.”
With assistance from Huber, Walker packed his bags and headed to the Chillicothe Police Department until new guardians could be found. Those guardians came in the form of Walker’s paternal aunt, Crystal Coughran, and her husband, Eddie.
“She asked me if I wanted to live with my aunt, and I said ‘Sure, but I don’t think she’s going to want anything to do with me since she has a real close relationship with my grandma,’” Walker said. “To my surprise, my aunt said she wanted me.”
Crystal said the decision to bring Walker into her and Eddie’s home was a no-brainer.
“I love Walker,” Crystal said. “He’s the kid of my favorite brother. There was no choice in the matter. I wasn’t going to let him go to a foster home.”
Walker has been living with the Coughrans for almost six weeks. He said he’s loving it so far. He has his own bedroom and television, his own space to write stories and study Greek mythology. He also enjoys playing with the home’s feline inhabitant. Walker said he has always loved animals, especially horses.
“I always dreamed of having my own horse,” Walker said. “I keep in touch with my dad. We kind of having this thing going. When he gets out, we want to have a horse farm. We have a few dreams.”
Walker said he and Huber bonded quickly over their mutual love for horses. Every Saturday, Walker helps Huber with the general care of her three horses.
“I help her clean the stalls,” Walker said. “Last week, Jodi taught me how to brush down the horses. She showed me how to put him on a lead rope and take him around an obstacle course. I love all of them. They’re not my horses, but I love them.”
Huber pays Walker $20 for the work he completes each week, in addition to a meal at the restaurant of his choice, usually McDonald’s. Huber said she rarely sees him spend that money on himself.
“The first Saturday he came out there, I gave him his money and he asked if we could go to Wal-Mart,” Huber said. “He spent $15 of his $20 that day on a pink purse and some roses for his aunt, and some bags of catnip for his aunt’s cat. He said ‘I just want to help out.’”
Walker said the actions of the Chillicothe Police officers the night he was removed from his grandmother’s custody has positively impacted his life. The officers’ generosity didn’t end there, though. On Dec. 8, Walker was invited to the department’s Christmas Party.
“They had a Santa there,” Walker said. “I was so nervous. My face was at least pepper red. Officer Jodi stood up and she said ‘Walker, come here.’ I had to go sit on Santa’s lap. Officer Jodi said ‘You’ve touched all our hearts.’ All the police officers and their families bought me a really nice mountain bike.”
In addition to the bicycle, Walker received a new winter coat, heavy gloves, work boots and a stocking cap. Walker said he is thankful for the relationship he has built with the CPD over the past six weeks.
“I really want to thank everybody at the Police Department and their families for being so nice and understanding to me,” Walker said. “They’ve done a lot for me. My aunt was a real good cop in Las Vegas. She and Officer Jodi have inspired me to want to become a police officer myself.”