Northwest Arkansas ‘AIDS Angel’ faces scrutiny following book publishing

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ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – A local woman known as the ‘Aids Angel’ is now facing some scrutiny over how many people she reportedly helped during the aids epidemic in the 1980s and 90s.

Ruth Coker Burks is from Hot Springs but now lives in Rogers. She recently wrote a book called All the Young Men where she recounts her work during the aids epidemic. The book has gotten international attention, but also has a growing number of critics.

Burks and her lawyer declined to go on camera for an interview, but in a 2020 interview with KNWA/FOX24, she looked back on the years she spent comforting nearly 100 men with aids left to die alone,
burying them in a Hot Springs cemetery that was in her family.

“I started getting phone calls after that… and more phone calls… and more phone calls,” she said.

Burks now faces accusations from a few men she’s worked alongside in the past while advocating for those with AIDS and HIV. One of the men told NBC Today that 80% of the book is a lie.; ranging from her involvement in some events to how many men with AIDS she said she helped and buried over the years.

“It’s got to the point now, it’s almost opened up the stigma of HIV and AIDS in Hot Springs back up,” her former friend, Tim Looper told NBC news.

Burks says her intentions behind sharing her story through the book was to do the total opposite of what she is being accused of now.

It doesn’t matter what you have, you still need to love that person and care for that person.”

RUTH COKER BURKS

In addition, she is being questioned over a fundraiser someone started for her years ago.
A GoFundMe was created to put a monument in the Hot Springs cemetery honoring those she has buried. However, the monument has not yet gone up.

Toni Long is the lawyer for Burks. She provided a statement to KNWA/FOX24 in response to the accusations.

There is no doubt that Ruth did these heroic things in the 80s and 90s by caring for people dying of AIDS and HIV.  We find it curious and hurtful that Ruth has become the target of unfounded attacks and innuendo now after telling her story openly for so many years and after publication of her book, which shed light on what Hot Springs was like at that time.  We wonder if it’s due to jealousy because she is getting international attention or because of embarrassment about how people living with AIDS were treated during this unfortunate time in our history, not just in Hot Springs, but throughout our country. Fortunately, attitudes have changed drastically since then, but some may not like how Ruth’s story reflects on their past behavior.”

TONI LONG, ATTORNEY FOR RUTH COKER BURKS

Long says she and Burks have made a down payment on that monument going in the Hot Springs cemetery. She said they have also addressed the GoFundMe concerns and are offering to work with the family who organized it to put a memorial down at that cemetery as well.

To view the full story on Burks and accusations from NBC Today, click here.

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