They run wild through the streets at night, bearing their blood slathered fangs, tails fluttering behind them as they howl at the moon. No we’re not talking about your typical rogue wolf pack here; these are a gang of high school students who claim to be werewolves. So move over Michael Landon and back off Michael J. Fox, because there’s a new pack of teenage werewolves in town… and they’re proving to be a much more bloodthirsty bunch than their cinematic alter egos.
In a era when “Twilight” books are flying off shelves and teenyboppers across the globe are arguing the relative merits of dating a vampire over a werewolf, it should come as no surprise that a strange sort of paranormal vogue has swept through youth culture like a cyclone, leaving in its wake a plethora of world-weary teens attempting to live vicariously through these supernatural fantasy characters.
As a general rule fads like these come and go with a great deal of fanfare, little cultural significance and a surplus of paranoid adult backlash -- anybody remember the Dungeons & Dragons psychosis scare of the 80’s? But in suburban San Antonio, Texas, there is a group of high school kids who are taking this craze to an altogether darker and more dangerous place.
These teenagers claim that they are bona fide werewolves who are members of the C.B.W.P. (Crimson Blood Wolf Pack.) While these juvenile lycanthropes are apparently immune to the moon’s persuasive transformative influence, they’ve nevertheless taken to wearing forged fangs, yellow, slit-iris contacts, leashes, animal tails attached to their jackets and chains which link the collars of two “pack mates.”
Northside High school officials officially banned both the chains and tails, due to the fact that they felt them to be a disruptive violation of the school dress code, but the young wildlings were not to be deterred. In fact, school officials confirm that these “wolf packs” are thriving in at least six additional schools, with up to twenty werewolves in each. A Pack member who calls herself “Katze Lupus Burn” claimed that their pack, although tightly knit and wary of outsiders, should not be mistaken for a gang:
"We're not a gang at all. Gangs are like posers. They just want attention, that's why they go along tagging stuff. The pack? We're a family. We go to each other for our problems."
While members of the pack claim that they serve as a support group for one another, many San Antonio parents and school officials feel the appearance of these teenage werewolves represents an alarming trend. These parental and administrative anxieties are fueled, in part, by distressing claims made by these “rebels without a pelt” that they like to loiter about the forest and consume raw deer flesh.
Beyond their evident enjoyment of venison tartare, these post-adolescent “wolfies” -- as they’re known by some in their community -- seem to be slipping down a perilous slope that includes typical teenage travails like substance abuse and minor crimes and adds to them even more insidious elements such as alleged animal cruelty, carcass mutilation, sado-masochism and, tragically, teen suicides.
With her post-punk attire, androgynous, angular frame and wild shock of hair -- not unlike her rock ‘n roll namesake -- the “alpha dog” of this primarily female pack is a compelling enigmatic teenager and amateur taxidermist named Sara Rodriguez, who is better known to her fellow lycanthropes as “Wolfie Blackheart.”
Not unlike the renowned Don Corleone of the Godfather, Blackheart is in charge of her own pack and also oversees at least two sub-packs -- including the Okina Kiba Pack and the Blue Moon Wolf Pack -- who have their own minor alpha dogs, or “caporegimes,” who are submissive to her. According to Blackheart, this unique social arrangement includes overt elements of bondage such as the aforementioned collars:
“I’m a wolf, and I have a group of other friends who are canines… The collar means I belong to someone. It’s not a fashion statement.”
Blackheart is a 9th Grade dropout from John Marshal High School with a criminal history that includes bringing a skinning knife onto school property -- which according to the affidavit was a “large curved blade” that “looks like it’s used to cut someone’s head off” -- as well as burglary and, even more disturbingly, animal mutilation charges.
Blackheart also suffers from a rare form of Tourette’s syndrome, which causes her to yip in a dog-like fashion. According to her mother, Lisa Rodriguez, the strange syndrome was the result of head injury suffered in a car crash at the turn of the millennia.
Perhaps it was the head trauma or maybe it was an unnatural affinity for wolves, but when she was just 11 years-old, Blackheart claimed that she joined the C.B.W.P., after the fledgling group -- which, at the time, consisted of a mere half dozen members -- had been founded her cousin.
Blackheart, who was often accompanied by a half-wolf husky, also explained the code by which she and her pack have pledged to live: “[We] follow the ways of the wolf. [We] work as a unit [with] loyalty, honor and respect."
But as noble as the C.B.W.P. claim their intentions are, there are many who suggest that Blackheart and her crew have a much more nefarious agenda and considering the controversy surrounding the young leader of the C.B.W.P. this should come as no surprise.
Referred to by detractors as a “dog killer and satanic priestess,” Blackheart skyrocketed to the public eye on January 20, 2010, when a series of grisly photos surfaced on the web showing her with the head of a dead dog named “Rigsby,” which had gone missing on January 5, 2010.
When images of the decapitated dog -- which was allegedly owned by Blackheart’s next door neighbor Kathy Silva -- surfaced on the web, Animal Care Services and amateur hackers began to investigate and the trail led them directly to Blackheart.
The most damning of these images included Blackheart holding aloft the disembodied head of the dog, which reports claim she beheaded in her kitchen with a pocket knife. [This distressing photo can be easily found online, but I decided not to include it in this article -- RM.]
This photograph quickly went viral, leading San Antonio Police to a website where someone had posted the alarming image along with the statement that: “it would be fun to desecrate the corpse.” Following their online discovery, local authorities and news agencies publicly accused Blackheart of killing and beheading the animal. Blackheart, for her part, denied having killed the chow mix dog, claiming that an unnamed friend of hers told her that the dog was hers and had been hit by a car. This friend then gave her permission to harvest the dog’s head.
While she asserted that the animal had already been dead when she found it, Blackheart did admit that she had chopped the missing canine’s head off and boiled it, but only for preservation purposes. The teen taxidermist and autopsy aficionado explained her motives to local newspapers: "He was gone. His tongue was dried. The cause of death, I’m almost a hundred percent sure, was blunt trauma… I like to learn and a lot of times I like to figure out the cause of death. I've always been interested in autopsies."
Blackheart also described her method for preparing the canine’s head in ghastly detail, stating that she placed the animal on her kitchen counter and severed the windpipe, tendons and spine. She added:
“I severed the head, boiled the head. People make the mistake of hacking the spine, which will fracture the skull…You also have to put [the head] outside for the brains to leak out."
Notwithstanding her rather morbid fascination for canine forensics, Blackheart -- who decapitated and preserved the head off her Chihuahua Pixie after it was killed by a car -- insisted that the photo was taken without her knowledge and that she would never hurt a living animal:
“I would never kill a canine. I am a canine… I'm not a killer. I'm really not... I gave [Animal Care Services] all the information and I gave them the head so they could tell it was not animal cruelty and what I did was legal… I would be more likely to hurt a human than a dog anyday.”
The officers discovered that Blackheart's bedroom walls were slathered with a reddish substance, which they believe to be blood. But her mother claimed that this was merely the result of a ketchup fight: “When they saw her room, they had to call every single cop to her room. The spots on the wall, they thought it was blood. It’s ketchup. The kids had a fight. They’re teenagers.”
In her room the police noted that the walls were adorned with posters of wolves and anime characters. They also discovered a refrigerator full of blood. Blackheart’s mother explained: “Wolfie does have a bloody refrigerator, but they’re all dead animals.”
San Antonio officers also found Blackheart's collection of animal heads, including the skulls of a coyote, boar and ram. She also had an assortment of swords, including a Japanese katana, and a array of large knives. The forensics team swabbed the walls and confiscated the heads -- including that of Rigsby, although the dog’s body was never found.
Eventually authorities were able to deduce that the dog had died before the mutilation, thus eliminating any animal cruelty charges. While she was ultimately exonerated of killing the dog, the alleged wolf girl nevertheless became the subject of numerous threats, prank calls, hate mail and even rooftop stalkers, which instilled a sense of fear in her family.
While this is clearly illegal harassment, the vitriolic response is understandable considering that at the time the image of the dog's severed head -- on a rainbow backdrop no less -- served as Blackheart’s MySpace profile picture. This only further antagonized blackheart’s mysterious online critics whose reactions were venomous to say the least:
“I have friends who've met this crazy bitch so don't take her side... if they were human skulls she’d be in jail she's psycho and needs to go to a mental facility for good her mom too. That's not normal and she has made a bad rep for San Antonio she's a crazy gothic Satan worshipper disgusting pig.”
According to the San Antonio Express-News, the news that Rigsby had died was heartbreaking for Silva and her children, who had adopted the stray dog the year before: "My heart pretty much sank, because when I saw that picture, I said, 'that’s Rigsby… He was the sweetest dog ever."
“Wolfie would never harm an animal. She likes road kill… I say, ‘Don’t sever heads in front of me.’ She usually does it in the woods.”
Needless to say, the video of the Kens-5 news report of this event eventually ended up on YouTube and, as of November 2011, has garnered 2,671,918 hits. This sudden burst of online fame thrust Blackheart and the C.B.W.P. into the limelight… and under the scrutiny of an L.A. born fine art and fashion photographer who made her name photographing teens.
Danielle Levitt began her photography career documenting street fashion for the New York Post and has since shot for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar and Rolling Stone. Her most notable work is her first monograph “We Are Experienced,“ which was published in 2008 and focused on teens and their experiences growing up in America.
Levitt’s successes have often evolved around youth angst meets youth fashion and so when word came out that there was a pack of teenage werewolves loitering around the San Antonio mall, she wasted no time in contacting the British magazine “Dazed & Confused” hoping to go out and snap some photos. The fashion publication agreed to send Levitt out to get the scoop on the C.B.W.P. and their enigmatic leader.
The photographer spent three days with the pack in early 2011. She described her impetus to undertake this strange assignment:
"I went to San Antonio, Texas, to photograph Wolfie Blackheart of the Crimson Blood Wolf Pack, after seeing a video posted... on Kens-5, a local San Antonio TV station. Wolfie had been accused of beheading a dog. I was initially struck by this story, not out of interest in her innocence or guilt, but the massive outpouring from teens all over the Texas area offering support through YouTube videos. Wolfie, who claims to be part wolf, is very compelling.”
Beyond compelling, Levitt also claimed that Blackheart seemed to be a natural leader: “Once in Texas, it was clear why she formed her pack and why she was the alpha female of it. The Crimson Wolf Pack functions as a family, they look to her for guidance, and she tirelessly supports, mothers and leads. The kids in the pack need her, as she needs them, for they are sorts of outsiders and don't necessarily feel like they fit in normative worlds.”
Levitt got members of various werewolf packs together and gave them what most teenagers are secretly longing for… the spotlight. With her team of lighting, hair and makeup artists, Levitt began shooting her trademark pictures of the kids, hoping that she could capture the zeitgeist of the whole phenomenon.
Following a long day of scouting locations to shoot, Levitt followed the pack back to Blackheart’s home (and the C.B.W.P.’s unofficial meeting place.) The group was disturbed to find that the abode was surrounded by fire trucks and was burning to the ground. In Levitt’s own words:
"I spent a day with Wolfie and the pack. They live in a quiet suburb in San Antonio, a small home in the perpetual process of a remodel. The kids from the pack are always staying there, it's their refuge. A place to free themselves of parental observation, a place of fun and of love. So I was really upset and surprised when, after a day of location scouting, we returned to her home to find six fire engines putting out a fire that destroyed her house. All of the gang had gathered outside... The trauma brought out all of the pack and the packs friends.”
This time, however, reactions toward the lupine leader of the C.B.W.P. were much more positive. Blackheart claimed that folks were now looking for hugs or autographs.
Despite the death (be it accidental or not) and mutilation of Rigsby, Blackheart and her clan would soon garner a cultish celebrity status that would start a rush of YouTube videos from werewolf supporters worldwide. But as tragic of the fate of Rigsby might have been, it would sadly not be the most sorrowful element of this story.
As abovementioned, Blackheart’s acolytes considered her to be the alpha-dog of all the local wolf packs, but there were packs springing up across San Antonio and they each required lieutenants to maintain order under the patronage of Blackheart. One of these sub-alphas was 16 year-old Adrian Baine Manley, also known as “Deikitsen Wolfram Lupus.”
Lupus, who was in charge of the Brandeis High School chapter, had asked for Blackheart’s permission to begin his own wolf pack and was given her blessing. In Blackheart’s own words: "He's one of my submissives, but he leads a group of others.”
Lupus -- a budding artist whose work betrayed a lot of his teenage disillusionment with the world as well as his passion for wolves -- extolled the virtues of the pack and expressed how he felt that all people have a beast inside rearing to get out:
"You get friends. You get a place where you belong. You're pretty much accepted to where you are, who you are, what you are… I don't believe anyone is just human. Everyone's got something else mixed in with them. They just have to look inside themselves and find out what it is."
“As soon as he walks in the door, he is supposed to take out the fangs, lose the lenses and put his hair back. They’re good kids. And it takes some courage to stand up and be who you want to be and be able to express yourself in this way. If this is the worst that he does in high school, I’m blessed.”
Tragically, his choice of dress would be far from the worst thing that Lupus ever did. On September 28,, 2010, Lupus took his own life by hanging himself in his home with his leash. This horrific incident came on the heels of another wolf pack members’ suicide, 14 year-old Amanda Resendiz, who also hung herself with her leash behind the John Igo Branch Library just a week before, on September 22, 2010.
According to reports, Lupus and Resendiz were close friends, members of the same pack and classmates, although Lupus had been expelled from Brandeis High for bringing a knife to campus and was forced to attend the Bexar County's Juvenile Justice Academy, where his mother claimed that her son was the victim of frequent bullying.
That having been stated, San Antonio Child Protective Services also confirmed that they had previously investigated claims of “turbulent home lives” for both youths, indicating that their predicaments may have gone deeper than teasing.
While all evidence suggests that Lupus and Resendiz were just a pair of troubled teens, who regrettably did not receive the help they needed in time to save their all too short lives, this did nothing to prevent rumors from swiftly spreading throughout San Antonio that their untimely deaths were the result of a werewolf suicide/murder pact.
Preying on fears that are all too prevalent in a cynical post-Columbine world, the local rumor mill went into overdrive with wild (and ultimately unfounded) speculation that before he passed on, Lupus had issued an edict to his pack telling them to not only take their own lives, but also those of their classmates.
These wildly exaggerated (although, in some ways, understandable) suspicions were expressed in an online forum by a female poster known only as “Pascall.” Here is an excerpt: “Now there are rumors going around that before he killed himself, he [Lupus] instructed his 30+ followers who go to different schools... and start a three-school wide shooting [spree]. Four kids that were a part of this wolf pack have already been arrested for attempting to bring guns into Brandeis a few days ago. This shooting is supposed to happen on October 12th.”
After expressing her concern for the local law enforcement agencies apparent lack of concern over the unconfirmed report, she went on to say:
“So there it is. This "Wolf Pack" as they call themselves are basically planning on killing themselves and taking several with them. Now, I generally wouldn't be too concerned with something like this, but I know kids who go to these schools and I'm pretty worried… These kids are seriously [expletive deleted] in the head and I really hope that they don't go through with this. They all wear tails too. All the time. Every day. Everywhere. What the [expletive deleted] happened to today's kids?”
Pascall’s overwhelming negative opinion of these self-styled wolves and her paranoia surrounding their seemingly hidden agenda seems to pretty well sum up the lack of empathy and anxiety that many San Antonio citizens felt toward the packs after the news broke of their existence. Needless to say this potentially devastating mass murder never took place, but the stories circulating in the community were sufficiently scandalous to make members of the Northside Independent School District (NISD) Police Department go to the homes of ten known pack members to interrogate them.
While many in the community were reticent to express their compassion for Resendiz and Lupus, many of the teenagers' peers took a much more sympathetic view as was evidenced by the plethora of online testimonials posted on a memorial page dedicated to Lupus. One such tribute came from a member of the Okina Kiba Pack named "Silverwind Kiba":
“I really admired you for being different, Dei. I wish I could have known you or contacted you before it was too late. The Okina Kiba Pack is crying for you, let you be happy with the other wolves in the sky. We will hold vigil for you.”
"Kitsena Lupus" of the Blue Moon Wolf Pack, while acknowledging that they came from different lupine families, also expressed her wish that Lupus had taken another path:
“Even though we belonged to different packs, we always stayed friends. I miss you Dei. Why did you have to leave us? I love you, I miss you, and I hope you rest with the wolves in the sky.”
It goes without saying that the appeal of the vampire is obvious; eternal youth, ethereal seductiveness, sweet fangs, the ability to fly and (unless you transform into a bat) no overtly painful physical transformations.
I would even suggest that the tagline for the 1987 pop horror classic “The Lost Boys” probably proffers the most succinct theory as to why vampires are so enticing to young people:
“Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.”
Nowadays -- with an entire generation of children having been raised on the dubious romantic triangle of Edward Cullen, Bella Swan and Jacob Black -- it seems like more than ever the supernatural is being portrayed in a romantic rather than repugnant light.
Blackheart, of course, denies the influence of Twilight on the C.B.W.P., claiming that her lifestyle choice has little to do with the Twilight series: “I’ve never read the book. Ever. I saw the first movie it reminded me of a drama… it’s not my thing. I’m not into it.” Lupus, before his untimely passing, agreed with his alpha wolf’s opinion:
"Human wolves have been around a lot longer than characters in Twilight. It gives us a sense of belonging. You gain friends and you belong and indulge your wild side."
While it’s clear why vampires have had an enduring place in print and film ever since Bram Stoker offered up the first truly iconic version of the seductive blood sucker in 1897, the appeal of the werewolf is less apparent.
Surely part of allure is the raw, predatory power of wolves as well as their inherently wild and menacing presence. It should come as no surprise that teens who feel weak or bullied by the world around them would so fervently identify themselves with a creature of such untamed, bestial authority and natural beauty. Combine this with the fact that every other teenybopper across the globe was wearing a “Team Edward” shirt and it’s no wonder why these illegitimate children of the Goth movement wholeheartedly rejected vampiric identification.
Also worth noting is the tremendous upsurge of werewolves in pop culture. MTV’s re-imagining of “Teen Wolf,” the “Underworld” series and Benicio Del Toro's remake of “The Wolfman” all have proven to be fan favorites.
One need only look at television shows like “Being Human” or the cult hit “Ginger Snaps,” which featured a pair of misanthropic, suicidal, teenage sisters one of whom is inadvertently transformed into werewolf, to see a clear cut underground movement that’s heading away from cultivated and dapper vampires toward the wild and wooly werewolves.
It seems evident that the “Twilight” phenomenon is designed less for these teen wolves and more for the cheerleaders who detest them. In fact, one only need look at the appellations that many of these teens have bestowed upon themselves -- Silverwind Kiba, Kitsena Lupus, matsu wolfess -- to see that one of their primary influences seems to be Japanese anime and manga and not Stephanie Meyers’ melodrama ridden literary dreck.
Back in the day we had jocks, preps, metal heads, nerds, punks, divas and a handful of pale, spider headed, eyeliner wearing Robert Smith acolytes who would form the earliest foundations for the “goth” movement.
As a youth, I sported a peroxide bleached Mohawk, skull earrings, shredded jeans and an array of chains that would have strained Mr. T’s neck. I remember distinctly the epiphany that came to me sometime in 8th Grade that I would never fit in with the “popular” kids, so I did everything I could to separate myself from the pack -- so to speak.
In retrospect I realize that I wasn’t being anti-social or even particularly rebellious, I just understood that I would rather be ostracized for who I wanted to be rather than be rejected for trying to endear myself to people I really didn’t like that much to begin with… and if I couldn’t look debonair, then at least I would look weird. In short, it was better to be feared than ridiculed.
I think this is why -- animal mutilations aside -- I have a soft spot for this brood. When all is said and done the members of the C.B.W.P. are just kids. Lonely, confused kids who are trying to carve a niche for themselves in the all too cruel world of suburban high school.
Clinical psychologist, Dr. Anne Esquivel, confirmed the assessment that the adolescents are likely are drawn to the packs in search of recognition and approval, but she warned that there could also be a dark side to joining the pack:
"They need to feel included in something. These are going to be kids that are going to be socially isolated. Maybe they don't have a tight family unit… Whenever you go to such lengths to be eccentric, you are going to be ostracized. You want acceptance, but you're setting yourself up to not be accepted."
Had they been born a few decades before they might have been punk or goth or headbangers, but their generation just happened to come of age in an era when pop culture and the paranormal are forming a unique nexus that allows youngsters looking for a sense of identity to become werewolves -- at least in the confines of their own minds.
So while the claws, tails, contacts, collars, pointed ears and post-90s prepackaged androgynous anarchy may come off as hokey to some, it’s really just the same stylistic rebellion that’s been fought time and time again between each new generation with the one that came before it.
Understanding, to a degree anyway, the psychological context of a phenomenon like this is one thing, but there are still some pack members who claim that they have genuine wolf’s blood raging through their veins. So the question we have to ask now is; are we dealing with a case of authentic, lunar influenced lycanthropy or the dawn of a…
Despite the claims of some C.B.W.P. members, there is no evidence whatsoever that this these teens are physically transforming into wolves, but one must wonder if we are bearing witness to the birth of an emerging youth movement or, at the very least, the grassroots of a cult.
One which could eventually prove to be dangerous if left unchecked in leadership of an eccentric young woman with scores of overwrought, rebellious, teen angst infused followers. If that is the case, however, then Blackheart doesn’t seem inclined to do much with the power that she allegedly wields.
In fact, if her public persona is any reflection of reality, then she is nothing more than a prototypical post-pubescent woman who likes to hang out with her friends, party on the weekends and slather social networking sites with self shot vanity images of her and her girlfriends.
These activities do not have the earmarks of a "Jim Jones" or "Charles Manson," but those of a teenager out looking for a little bit of fun... even if that fun occasionally includes the dismemberment of roadkill. This alpha dog even seems surprised by the pack's exponential growth over the years:
"It's gotten really big. When I was 11, there were six of us. And my cousin used to lead it. From then, look at it now, spread all over the Internet and everything… I was surprised. It was interesting. I wasn't expecting it to get that big at all."
In the end, I don’t think that the residents of San Antonio have much to fear from the C.B.W.P. Like the rest of us most of these kids will likely grow away from this movement as the pressures and pleasures of life, love, work and family come their way, but until that day they're going to continue to be kids who are just looking to have a safe haven surrounded by friends. As a pack member known only as “Guerrero “explained:
"We're not trying to be intimidating, we're not trying to be menacing. We're just trying to live our daily lives and hang out. You know? We're teenagers and we just want to have fun."
I wish them well... it's just a shame that two young lives had to be lost along the path. Here's hoping that they found the peace that eluded them in life and that the remaining members of the C.B.W.P. will find some joy in their little corner of the world.