It was the kid with the rocks that finally did it for Matthew Browning.
Browning was a ranger at Mount Mitchell State Park in North Carolina, and along with the other rangers he had been trained to give a little speech to children caught picking flowers, pocketing shells, or trying to make off with rocks. He explains it like this: “You are supposed to calmly kneel down and say, ‘I saw you picking the flower. That is so pretty! Now think about what would happen if every child picked a flower.’ And then they are supposed to have this moment of guilt.”
Browning had given this little talk many times. But on this day, in August 2009, he saw another ranger deliver it to a boy at the park restaurant, about age 8, with a fist full of rocks—rocks, Browning noticed, from the gravel road. “It…