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Community mourns man, 25, who was synonymous with village

  • Deb Alexander, of Wilder, Vt., burns sage at a memorial outside the apartment of Micah Porter while grieving with her daughter, Nadia Elmaksoud, of Kansas City, Mo., a close friend and former roommate of Porter’s, in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Porter died by suicide last weekend. “Micah was magical,” said Alexander. “He has been incredibly open and honest with his disease,” she said of the depression Porter struggled with. “Right now, we have a gaping hole in our hearts.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nadia Elmaksoud, of Kansas City, Mo., holds a photograph of herself, right, with Micah Porter, left, and other friends while visiting a memorial for Porter in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Porter died by suicide last weekend. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Anna Magoon, of Thetford, visits a memorial in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, July 8, 2020, outside the home of her friend and fellow Thetford Academy graduate Micah Porter, who died last weekend. “I think the worst thing is, every time I’m back here, I want to ring the doorbell,” said Magoon, who has come to the spot several times this week. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A message to Micah Porter, who died by suicide last weekend, sits outside his apartment as part of a memorial in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A message for Micah Porter, who died by suicide last weekend, is chalked on a wall near his apartment where friends have set up a memorial in his remembrance in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Micah Porter with his cat in a photo posted to his Facebook feed in April 2019. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2020 9:48:49 PM
Modified: 7/10/2020 9:48:38 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A village has lost its folk hero.

For the past five years, Micah Porter had been an unofficial symbol in downtown White River Junction, skateboarding along, his long red hair spilling out of a bandanna, part of his identity as a self-described pirate. He knew and loved everybody, and everybody seemed to know and love him.

“What attracted me to Micah, it wasn’t personality and it wasn’t skills,” Allen Stark, the live-in maintenance man for both the Hotel Coolidge and the Gates-Briggs Building, said Tuesday. “You meet the guy and he had this bright, colorful aura about him. Any room he walked into he was the center of attention.”

Porter was found in his White River Junction apartment on Sunday. He died by suicide, according to family members and authorities. He was 25.

As word and shock and disbelief began to spread, friends gathered in the horseshoe-shaped space behind the main block downtown. From there, an alley too narrow to admit two adults shoulder-to-shoulder juts into the back of the Gates-Briggs Building. Porter lived in a basement apartment down the alley, and over time, the location became associated with the man. Friends would visit the alley on breaks from work to smoke cigarettes and talk to Porter.

By the end of Monday, Anna Magoon, Porter’s best friend from high school, had painted a sign that reads “Micah’s Alley” in slanting black letters on an orange background, and dozens of people had gathered to leave flowers and notes, to talk about their friend and to console one another.

“We’re just overwhelmed by the love for him in that community,” Kathleen Porter, Micah’s mother, said in a phone interview.

Shop owners posted in their storefronts and on social media about how much they adored Micah. Tuckerbox, the cafe and Turkish restaurant where he’d been working, shut its doors Monday and Tuesday in mourning.

“I’ve been fielding calls and texts from Israel, Ireland, Nova Scotia,” Joie Finley, volunteer coordinator at the Main Street Museum, said as she sat outside Micah’s Alley on Tuesday afternoon. “The outpouring of condolences has been overwhelming. I can’t even keep up with it.”

How, an outsider might wonder, had a young man become the heart of his community in the course of a few short years? And how had that heart stopped beating so suddenly? The two answers are related.

Porter’s battle with depression started in high school. Part of what made him an indispensable thread in the fabric of White River Junction was his openness about his struggle, a willingness to talk about hard times that soothed people who were going through hard times of their own.

While Finley, Stark and others sat at the alley on Tuesday, Wilder resident Deb Alexander came by, not for the first time. Her daughter Nadia was best friends with Porter, and they had shared an apartment. She referred to “the people he helped by being so honest and open about his disease.”

Family and friends described Porter as a strong-willed person who never quite fit into social confinements that most people take for granted.

He grew up with his three siblings, an older sister, Sarah, and brother, Asa, and a younger sister, Lydia, in a remote corner of the remote town of Corinth. The Porters put out 3,000 taps for maple syrup. The closest neighbors in both directions were relatives, aunts and uncles and grandparents, Sarah Porter said.

“He was bull-headed,” she said of her younger brother. “If it wasn’t his way, everybody knew.”

She recounted a favorite family anecdote in which 3-year-old Micah stripped his clothes off and ran naked around the inside of the West Lebanon Pizza Hut.

When he was little, he was running around the basement, tripped and struck his head on a piece of train track used to hold an exterior door closed. “He bounced up and started laughing his little punk ass off,” Sarah said.

They lived so far off the beaten path that a highlight for the kids was a trip to the dump, which included a stop for penny candy at what they called “the dump store,” the now-defunct Crossroads Trading Post on the Chelsea road. Back at home, they would “sit in the swing set and sing every manner of Disney song you could think of,” Sarah said. Micah “didn’t need to take a breath between one and the next.”

Like his siblings, Micah was home-schooled, an arrangement that didn’t thrill him. “Micah and I hated it the most,” Sarah said, adding that they “didn’t like being in the middle of nowhere with no friends.”

He arrived at Thetford Academy as an awkward kid in full goth regalia, black clothes, makeup, black fingernails, Magoon said. “We happened to get put in every single class together.”

“I think he kind of hated that he just didn’t know how to be social,” she said. He was rebellious, Magoon said. “It was just different. There was no filter.”

A particularly sharp memory was a half-credit, self-designed music class they took together. Micah played drums at home and in the school band. They spent half an hour a day in a music studio space with recording equipment and instruments and just made it up as they went along. “I don’t think for a single day we worked on anything,” she said, but they experimented. What would the crinkling of a potato chip bag sound like if they recorded it? They ended up recording a song as a final project and got full credit, but that wasn’t the point. “We just had such a good time,” Magoon said.

Micah ran track and cross country, mainly for fun. “Everything he did was fun for him,” Magoon said.

Still, his depression was plain to see, she said. “Even in the first year of high school, it was obvious.”

“He ended up going to see a therapist, who was awesome,” Kathy Porter said. He became a mentor for other teens at the Clara Martin Center, a nonprofit mental health organization with offices in Orange and Windsor counties. He received a youth leadership award in 2012, Kathy Porter said.

After high school, Micah spent a year at Lyndon State College, but “it wasn’t him,” Magoon said. “I think he realized he wasn’t the type of person who could sit down at a desk and do that kind of work.”

When he moved to White River Junction, he was homeless for a time, but he was already tapped into the community, so he couch-surfed, staying with Finley and others before moving into his shared apartment, then into the basement space at the end of the alley.

He lost his driver’s license when he was 18 for driving while intoxicated, Sarah Porter said. He still sometimes drank heavily, she said, but he’d gotten his license back and his life in White River Junction presented to his friends a vibrant young man who was busy and part of a big social scene.

In addition to working at Tuckerbox, Porter was a regular volunteer at the Main Street Museum, where he had put his exhaustive knowledge of show tunes and sea chanteys to use leading weekly hootenannies around the campfire a couple of summers ago. Last summer the events were often curtailed by rain, Finley said, noting that he had been one of the museum’s most dedicated and reliable volunteers.

Porter’s death seems inexplicable to those closest to him. He seemed to be doing well. His rent was paid up, which was unusual, Finley said. His band, The Silhouette, was starting to record songs.

“It was a shock,” Sarah said. “There was not a single person I’ve talked to who said they expected this.”

“We’re all trying to piece together, we all talked to him in the 24 hours before this happened. He gave no indications,” Stark said.

A preliminary death certificate released by the state Department of Health indicated Porter died by suicide. Police are continuing to investigate the circumstances of Micah’s death, but it is not considered suspicious, Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten said Thursday.

The last few months have been challenging for people in general, Kasten said. Even if someone appears healthy, “you don’t know what a person is dealing with or carrying around with them.”

“I think the more people talk about depression and anxiety and mental health issues, the more it helps to break the stigma,” he added.

That was the work Micah “the Pirate” Porter had taken on, as a service to his fellow White River Junction residents, his friends and family said.

“I think he, by being able to get in touch with himself through therapy, he found a purpose ... trying to help others,” Kathy Porter said.

“It’s important,” she added, “if you’re suffering from depression that you talk with someone and seek help. ... Professional help.”

A celebration of Porter’s life is planned for Saturday evening, starting at Tuckerbox at 5 p.m. and proceeding to the Main Street Museum, which will host a hootenanny in his honor.

If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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