Parents and teachers in New York State's Chautauqua County are struggling to come to terms with the news that nine teenagers have become infected with HIV after they traded sex for crack cocaine with an infected dealer.
The once-peaceful rural community was shocked to learn that children as young as 13 were doing drugs. This was followed by revelations of the sex for drugs trade and the final blow that an HIV-stricken dealer had infected some of the teenagers.
"As with any type of issue, it doesn't mean a lot until it happens to you," said Nancy Knee, president of the parent-teacher-student association and a college nursing professor.
The local school district has added extra sex education and drug abuse prevention classes and sex educators have made unaccustomed sweeps through the middle grades to offer frank advice to younger students. At emotional special assemblies, students have asked candid questions of health officials, coaches and classmates who have been trained to talk about sexually transmitted diseases. AIDS tests have been offered, and hundreds of people have lined up to be checked.
"Within 24 hours we were able to gather and mobilise people through the educational system, through the health system, and to get ourselves together to deal with the problem," Mrs Knee said.
But perhaps the greatest lessons came in the daily newspapers. The drug dealer, Nushawn Williams, who wandered to Chautauqua County from New York City, was reported to have preyed on young teenage girls from broken homes who hung out in a park beside their school, enticing them into sex with drugs.
He had at least 43 sexual partners between the ages of 13 and 24, health officials now believe.
"A lot of the kids had been taught about it and they've heard about it, but this has really been an eye-opener - for them and everybody else," said Janelle Krueger, who runs a volunteer programme for teenagers in the county. "Now I think the kids are really listening."
The incident has convinced Chautauqua County's adults that they should be more involved with their teenage children's education.
"Traditionally you have a lot of parental involvement in the lower grades, but when they get to the middle school, it starts to drop off a little bit, " said Mrs Knee. "By high school, parents have this misguided idea that their kids need them less. And that's when they need you most."