Brother’s murder haunts hiker, whose long-distance trek will honor sibling

Dennis Quinn takes a break to reflect as he hikes the Wildcat Trail in Unaweep Canyon, a comparatively few steps toward his goal of hiking the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail in hopes of raising money for a scholarship that memorializes his murdered brother Kyle. Quinn, a Pennsylvania native, has been spending the summer on the Western Slope working as a crew leader for Partner’s Western Colorado Conservation Corps.

“I have a little song bird and a new hope for better days. He sings me tunes until the forest comes to a clearing. I bid him farewell with a smile and a wave. I have found the path home and now I am safe.”
— Kyle Quinn, 19

Dennis Quinn fled to Grand Junction to escape life’s unfairness but found himself back where he started.

The 23-year-old recent college graduate from Pennsylvania sought only peace in the wide open West. He needed distance from what may well be the most unfortunate circumstance of his life, when three young men last year randomly targeted and beat to death his best friend, his 19-year-old brother, Kyle.

Dennis, an environmental geography major from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, signed on for an internship with Western Colorado Youth Conservation Corps. What he didn’t expect was that some of the youths he would go on to mentor show some of the same characteristics of the three young men who killed his brother.

“I wasn’t really told I would be working with troubled youth,” he said. “I don’t think these kids were of the same caliber, but they would talk about getting drunk and getting into fights.”

Western Colorado Conservation Corps is a group that provides education and employment opportunities for youth ages 14 to 25, often completing field work such as removing tamarisk and trail maintenance, in an effort to earn scholarships. Some youths, but not all, enrolled in the program are considered at-risk youths. None has felony convictions.

While sitting around campfires with his crew this summer, Quinn said he tried to impress upon the youths the reality of violence. When conversations turned to the glorification of mischief, Quinn explained the significance of his treasured leather wristband carved with his brother’s initials.

Kyle Quinn was walking back to his dorm room from Dennis’ home the night of Sept. 7, 2007, when he was jumped by three men, ages 21 to 23. The suspects, two of whom were brothers, reportedly traveled 20 miles from a nearby town, their sole intent to “(expletive) someone up,” Dennis Quinn said. Two others had been attacked by the trio before they encountered Kyle, cracking him across the back of the head with a chair. Kyle Quinn was found lying in a pool of blood when a police officer happened upon the scene as the three men were starting to flee.

One of the suspects was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison for the slaying, and two others are slated for trial next month, Dennis Quinn said.

Just four days before he was killed, Kyle Quinn had decided to hike the Appalachian Trail with Dennis that next spring. Kyle had started to gather camping supplies such as a backpack and a sleeping bag for the more than 2,700-mile hike from Georgia to Maine.

Now that Kyle is gone, Dennis plans to hike the trail in his memory. He’s seeking by-the-mile sponsors to contribute to a nonprofit group in Kyle’s name in an effort to raise money for high school students in Pennsylvania to attend college.

The journey should be both painful and cathartic, Quinn said. Family and friends plan to meet and walk with him during portions of the trip. Quinn also coordinated meetings along way with local Boy Scout troops.

“I haven’t had the time to bring this all in,” Dennis Quinn said recently on a hike near Gateway.

Quinn said his brother was a peaceful person, who loved to play guitar and write poetry. Kyle Quinn was a sophomore studying history at Kutztown University when he died.

Dennis said he’ll start the hike next spring in mid-March, and he hopes to finish on Sept. 7, 2009, two years to the day of Kyle’s death. Kyle would have wanted him to carry out their hike, he said.

“My brother and I, we were like twins,” he said. “We finished each other’s jokes. That part of me is gone.
I’m kind of like a chicken with my head cut off without him.”


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