This is where it all started, the park across the street from Jamestown High School.

This is where the stoners hang out, next to the black-painted cannon and memorials to war dead, smoking cigarettes and griping about school, even if they don't go any more. This is where Nushawn "Face" Williams made friends, made friends into customers, made friends into lovers.

Tammy Arnold sat on a stone bench here recently, remembering a week last October when the park swarmed with camera crews, cell-phone packing producers, Rottweiler reporters, all wanting the next fresh-faced student from Jamestown High to talk about Williams. Back then one of Tammy's friends confessed to being among the infected 13 while they were eating lunch in the school cafeteria. Tammy also knew Nushawn's main girl -- her half-sister, Amber Arnold. Amber's public devotion to Nushawn catapulted her onto the front page of the New York Times and into a star role on the Montel Williams Show.

A year after the furor, Tammy imagined what would happen if Nushawn Williams had to face a jury of her peers. "People would kill him. Right here," she says, gesturing at the park. "I know they would."

Yet even though the virus has touched those close to her, Tammy doesn't faithfully protect herself from HIV. She's had condomless sex with her boyfriend, presently serving a four-month sentence in the Chautauqua County Jail for selling drugs. She gets tested regularly, but he won't.

She has a welcome home present for him, though: a home HIV test kit.

She stays with him because he comforts her. And comfort overshadows the risk.

A year later, little has changed for the lost children of Jamestown.

Nushawn is back in New York City, in a Rikers Island cell. But the young people living couch to couch -- the dropouts, runaways and throwaways -- haven't gone anywhere. They were there before Nushawn, and they remain today.

It's not a Jamestown thing. There are kids like them in Buffalo, too, in any community big enough for teen-agers on their own to find like-minded friends, crashing on floors or renting apartments. When it comes time to look for answers, for guidance, all the parents they have are each other.

After Nushawn, Chautauqua County had to face the harsh reality that some of its children weren't hearing -- or heeding -- the most basic lessons about sexual self-protection in the age of AIDS. These children valued their own lives so cheaply that they traded uncertain futures for immediate comfort.

"It's more important to some of these kids to have someone to hold them than to worry about whether they're going to live to a ripe old age," said Dr. Neal Rzepkowski, an AIDS specialist treating Chautauqua County people with HIV, including several of Nushawn's alleged victims. "Sex goes on, even in the eye of the storm."

If anyone should have wised up after Nushawn, it should have been the girls and young women he allegedly infected with HIV. Weren't they sentenced to live the rest of their lives taking precautions against spreading the virus?

The bleak truth is that out of 13, at least two have told friends that they are still having unprotected sex with men who don't know they carry the virus. In other words, Nushawning them.

"I'm going to take as many with me as I can," one told a friend. "I don't want to die alone."

A condom can protect against a virus. But what can protect against not caring?

Another young woman infected by Nushawn has a boyfriend who knows she carries the virus, but loves her anyway. Loves her so much that when she wants a baby, he agrees to make it with her -- the old-fashioned way. It could be years before the loving couple knows whether they share more than a baby.

Yet another of the infected girls started dating again, and met a guy. She decided not to tell him about the virus yet. They're were having safe sex, and she didn't want to scare him off.

Later, a condom broke. She decided not to tell him. Since she's was taking medicine, she wasn't extremely infectious, she reasoned. He probably wouldn't get it.

Still later, they ran out of condoms, and the fall was complete.

If I refuse to have sex without a condom, won't he ask why it's so important?

Layer by layer, she has abandoned all the safety she was taught. Truly, now she understands Nushawn.
If Nushawn showed up today, he could still find plenty of street kids to befriend. Ugly family situations haven't gotten any better. Teens still get hit or abused or angry and storm for the door. They stay with friends, then friends of friends, then wherever they can without being woken by police.

In the first floor of the Safe House, the Jamestown teen shelter he runs, Matt Milovich racks his brain and thought of the question:

What difference has a year made?

Well, when they get a kid in the shelter, usually they try to reach out to the parents, tell them where their kid has landed, hopefully start patching up their relationship. This year, Milovich says, more than ever, he hears: "Keep them."

Sure, his agency has gotten extra money since Nushawn, allowing two outreach workers to go full time. For the first time, the shelter has been designated a United Way agency.

With a $5,000 grant, shelter staffers assemble "survival kits" to give teens who won't come in. Condoms, a granola bar, a T-shirt, deodorant, a toothbrush, hat, gloves and a coupon for a burger meal don't seem like much to ward off the danger of the street, Milovich agrees. They're better than nothing.

But there aren't any "one-time fixes," Milovich says.

If the toxic cocktail that drives a few kids from every classroom to the streets -- bad or no parenting, hopelessness, hopelessness fueled with teen wildness -- hasn't changed, why should the kids? Put yourself in their shoes, he suggests.

"If I didn't give a s--- about myself then," he asks, "why should I give a s--- about myself now?"

Here's the short version of how Heidi Waite got to the Safe House.

First, she ran away from her adoptive mother's house after a fight. Then she fled to a boyfriend's, where they broke up and she was kicked out. A friend's house: kicked out. Another friend: kicked out. Then to her birth mother's place for three days.

Finally, she got a place of her own: the castoff couch by the dumpster behind the Big Lots store.

Here's a surprise: Heidi aches for adults who care enough to tell her what to do.

"I can't get away with anything, which is what I did with my mom," Heidi says, lounging in a chair outside her bedroom at the Safe House. "But I like that. I used to just party and come home at an awkward time, and she didn't care."

She started dabbling in drugs young.

"Crack cocaine," she yawns. "Heroin. Speeders. But I quit all the heavy drugs at 14, and went to pot and drinking."

She's made new friends at her Narcotics Anonymous meetings, people she can trust. She doesn't want to date at the moment, but she goes out with her NA sponsor, anyway.

"I could (say no), but..." her voice trails off.

"I always had a boyfriend. Since I was like 8."

A year ago, outside the county health clinic -- red pinprick from the HIV test fresh in her arm -- the 17-year-old talked about the future.

She wouldn't get caught in dead-end life. She had plans for college, move out on her own. She felt sorry for Face, and understood his need to fight the loneliness. "If he wouldn't have felt so alone, he wouldn't have gone and done this," she said then.

A year later, she has found her own brand of loneliness.

Her boyfriend's baby moves inside her. It will be half black, and she is anticipating the jeers of classmates who already label her a "nigger-lover."

Her dream of independence has burnt to a cinder. She can't even move out of her father's place.

"Having a baby worries me," she says, "but a lot of women in our family had kids young, and they handled it."

Her party days -- when she smoke and drank the night away with Nushawn and guys like him -- are history, she says. She's a mother now.

She wants what any mother would want: a comfortable house. A big yard. A way out of the cycle of neediness and hopelessness that leads to the easy, dangerous comfort than men like Nushawn have to offer.

"I'll probably have to settle for a lot less."
Andrew Z. Galarneau and Nicole Peradotto are staff writers for The News.