If I didn't know the awful truth, I'd swear Andre D. Jones was sleeping.
But I know the truth.
Jones' rest is eternal. He looks peaceful lying in his casket, sharply dressed in an argyle sweater and button-down shirt, his newsboy hat snug on his head. But his tranquil look belies the truth. Jones, 33, was the victim of one of the metro's most disturbing murders of 2009: a quadruple homicide in Raytown whose other victims were his 21-year-old girlfriend, Precious Triplett, and her nephews, 10-year-old Amir Clemons and 7-year-old Gerard Clemons.
In March, their bodies were discovered by the young boys' father in an apartment near 61st Street and Raytown Road. The only life spared was that of an 18-month-old toddler.
Jones' cousin posted a video slideshow of his visitation on YouTube. Slide after slide flashes on the screen, showing Jones' friends, family and others surrounding his coffin, holding his hand and wiping away tears. More than 1,900 people have seen the video, which also shows a poster. "Help us catch a monster," it begs.
"Somebody know something ... imagine what these families are going thru ... someone lost a ... father, brother, son, mother, daughter, sister, cousin, friend ... somebody know ... somebody saw ... speak up!"
The video ends with the victims' names scrolling like movie credits.
Months went by without an arrest, compelling U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and former Kansas City Councilman Alvin Brooks to plead for tips. At an April press conference, Cleaver, a minister, sounded as if the murders had shaken his faith. "I have never stood in the pulpit of a church and looked over into the casket of two young children who have been brutally murdered," Cleaver said. "I don't know if my seminary training had been sufficient to allow a detachment of that experience. We're trained that we cannot become so emotionally involved when we do funerals that it begins to alter who we are. That funeral has altered who I am. ... It is something that will remain with me for the rest of my life."
Nearly four months after the killings, Jackson County prosecutors charged 24-year-old Gevante D. Anderson with first-degree murder. Anderson was reportedly Triplett's ex-boyfriend — and the father of the toddler found alive in the apartment.
Though not posted on YouTube, similar scenes played out in funeral homes across the metro.
As this issue of The Pitch goes to press, only 48 hours remain in 2009. If no one is murdered by the time this issue hits the streets, 2009 will close with 109 homicides in Kansas City, Missouri. The number will be lower than the year before, a hollow victory in another bloody year. Meanwhile, Kansas City, Kansas, counted 39 homicides. There were five in Raytown, six in Independence and three in Overland Park.
We knew it would be like this. As 2008 came to a close and police tallied 126 people murdered in Kansas City, Missouri, my colleagues and I tried to think of a way to comprehend the yearly slaughter. At the very least, we decided that we would write something about each victim, gathering photos when we could, and post the information on our news blog, the Plog at pitch.com. We called the project Killa City.
As the paper's blog editor, I have lived in Killa City for a year now. I don't have any insights or explanations for the carnage. I've noticed a few themes, though.
First, there's the randomness.
Deanna Lieber lived in Lawrence. One Friday night in July, after watching a performance of Anything Goes at Starlight Theatre with her 13-year-old daughter and her mother-in-law, Lieber, 45, was heading home on U.S. Highway 71 when she was killed by a stray bullet near 59th Street.
Lieber was the general counsel for the Kansas State Department of Education in Topeka. She and her husband, Joe, had two children. Her daughter and mother-in-law watched her die.
On the same weekend, random gunfire cut down 38-year-old Lynn Glover while she was waiting for a bus at 34th Street and Troost. Glover died at the scene. Kansas City police believe that she was caught in the crossfire of a rolling gun battle, and they have arrested a 16-year-old boy in connection with her death.
Mauro Brito-Pacheco died for $20. Robbers shot Brito-Pacheco to death while he was working at Tina's Hair Salon just off Southwest Boulevard, at 922 West 24th Street. The 38-year-old had immigrated to America as a boy and had two young children.
Ashley D. Thomas, who was nine months pregnant, was shot while sitting in a car at 13th Street and East Armour. Thomas died at the scene, and doctors couldn't save her unborn child.
Nelson E. Hopkins Jr., a 17-year-old described as a "good kid" by his superintendent at Alta Vista Charter School, was shot and killed at 54th Street and Troost as he walked home from the Plaza Library. In his pocket was a college application.
The list of dead teens and twentysomethings is long.
Someone peeled back a window screen at 16-year-old Xavier Ferguson's house in the 8600 block of East 93rd Place and shot him to death while he slept.
Ian Jones, a 22-year-old youth minister, pulled his BMW in front of a maroon Pontiac Grand Am at 18th Street and Vine. Moments later, he was fatally shot near 19th and the Paseo.
Joshua Sadler, also 22, was shot to death at 11th Street and Belmont on May 26. Police believe he was killed for wearing red clothing.
Khamis A. Saed's body was found in the back room of a Cricket cell-phone store at 5116 Bristol, where the 23-year-old worked.
A surveillance camera at Grand Slam Liquors (Sixth Street and Grand) recorded the shooting death of 23-year-old rapper Pierre Keyz Parker.
Darreon Murray, a 17-year-old basketball player at Hogan Prep Academy, was shot and killed on Interstate 70 near the Van Brunt Boulevard exit after leaving a post-game party.
David L. Smith allegedly shot 15-year-old D'Shawn Clayton accidentally while smoking pot and playing with a gun in the basement of a home at 42nd Street and Park. Smith, 17, claimed that he didn't know the gun was loaded. Jackson County prosecutors have charged Smith with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.
Steven Bertling was playing basketball in a church parking lot when four men allegedly jumped him. With a punch to the face, Bertling, 26, was gone. He'd been planning to marry his fiancée and spend time with their 8-month-old daughter.
Fights over girls turned deadly, too.
Independence police found 19-year-old Jeffrey P. Johnson with multiple gunshot wounds to his torso. He was reportedly shot and killed during a brawl in Benton Park over an argument about text messages sent and phone calls made to someone else's ex-girlfriend.
Jamaal V. Dixon is accused of shooting and killing Rashad J. Taylor at a convenience store on Longview Road during an argument over a girl reportedly named "Brianna." Dixon was arguing with Rodte Taylor and allegedly pulled a gun; Rashad Taylor, 17, jumped in to help his brother. Jackson County prosecutors have charged Dixon with second-degree murder.
Three men allegedly kidnapped and killed 18-year-old Keighley Ann Alyea of Overland Park. Her body was found in a farm field in Cass County, Missouri, in October. The three men were charged with first-degree murder in Johnson County. One of the men, 18-year-old Dustin Hilt, was reportedly an ex-boyfriend.
The violence even hit home at City Hall. Anthony Mosley, a building maintenance worker, was stabbed to death on May 21 during a drug-house robbery at East 38th Street and Olive. Mosley reportedly had a large wad of cash on him. Mosley was later honored at a City Council meeting — by the same politicians who had spent the winter and early spring months threatening to cut the police budget.
Several of this year's victims were from the same family. Some family members killed each other.
Odell Nelson, 27, is accused of killing his younger brother, Dominique Nelson. Prosecutors say Odell pulled out a gun and shot his brother "multiple" times during an argument and didn't stop shooting after his brother was on the ground.
Dominique, meanwhile, was scheduled to go on trial for murder. He was the alleged driver in a drive-by shooting that killed 17-year-old Joe M. Theus in 2007.
Mothers killed their children, sons killed their mothers, and husbands killed their wives.
Before the end of January, 26-year-old Lecletia Hardy drowned her 17-month-old daughter, Lailah, in the Little Blue River and then killed herself.
A week after that murder-suicide, Nick and Rebecca Candler were accused of starving to death their 4-month-old son, Jeremiah.
On February 7, Lakeesha Brown told police that she didn't know why she suffocated her 7-year-old son, Esmond Ross Jr., by placing her legs across his head and sitting on his chest. Brown had previously told police that Ross suffocated after she rolled on top of him while sleeping. Prosecutors charged Brown with second-degree murder.
Michael Adams Jr., a cross-dresser from Belton, allegedly shot and killed the mother of his two children in mid-July.
Many of Kansas City's homicide victims and suspects came from families with violent histories.
On April 25, 17-year-old Teri'yonna Stevenson was shot and killed at 3627 Michigan. Her cousin, Raheem Marchbanks, was shot and killed on June 8. Prosecutors have charged their cousin, Dshawn L. Marchbanks, with second-degree murder for allegedly killing 26-year-old Eric Taylor 13 days later. Police found Taylor shot in the driver's seat of a red 1993 Ford Thunderbird at the intersection of 35th Street and Agnes; he was pronounced dead at an area hospital.
He hasn't been charged, but court records indicate that Kansas City police detectives believe Diamond Blair, 33, shot and killed Montague K. Ashline during a robbery in September.
The murderous Blair family has been contributing to the city's death toll for decades.
Diamond Blair's grandmother, Janice Billie Blair, fatally shot her common-law husband, Elton Gray, in 1978, according to a September 2004 Kansas City Star story titled "Family's history awash in blood." Police officers noted that six small children were watching television just steps away from the paramedics who were trying to revive Gray. Janice Blair pleaded guilty to murder but received five years of probation due to mental illness.
Six months after his mother killed Gray, Walter Blair Jr. (Diamond Blair's uncle) was charged in the death of 16-year-old Sandy L. Shannon, whose body was found in a snowbank in the 2300 block of Olive. Shannon died from a shotgun blast to the back, The Star reported. Prosecutors charged Walter Blair Jr. with capital murder, but the case was dropped when witnesses refused to testify. In August 1979, Walter Blair Jr., then 18, confessed to shooting Kansas City Art Institute student Katherine Jo Allen in the head, killing her as she begged for her life. In 1993, the state of Missouri executed Walter Blair Jr., then 32, for killing Allen in a murder-for-hire plot.
Diamond Blair's mother, Warnetta U. Blair, was charged with murder twice and convicted once.
In September 1980, after James L. Bell was found stabbed 30 times in his apartment in the 3400 block of Prospect, 25-year-old Warnetta Blair and her husband, Noila White III, were charged with Bell's murder. The Star reported that Warnetta Blair had agreed to testify against her husband, and prosecutors dropped the murder charges against her, but state law barred spouses from testifying against each other. In 1984, White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, admitting that he conspired to kill Bell to collect on Bell's life-insurance policy.
Ten years after Bell's murder, Warnetta Blair was again charged with murder. In December 1989, Warnetta Blair's boyfriend, a Cuban drug dealer named Pablo Gomez, was found bound, gagged and dead in the couple's apartment in the 900 block of East 30th Street. Blair pleaded guilty in August 1990 to killing Gomez, admitting that she and a friend had tied up Gomez to steal his drugs and money but saying they never intended to kill him. (In fact, The Star reported that, after leaving Gomez, Blair and her friend went to a neighbor's apartment and smoked crack all night.) A judge sentenced Warnetta Blair to 10 years in prison; she was released in December 1999.
Diamond Blair's brother, Noila White IV, pleaded guilty in 2001 to killing his father, Noila White III, by shooting him in the head in the elder White's furniture store in the 3100 block of Troost.
Another uncle: Serial killer Terry Blair, sentenced to six life terms for murdering six women along the Prospect Avenue corridor in 2004.
Born in 1975, Diamond Blair was in juvenile court for stealing by the time he was 6. He had been in and out of state custody by June 1992, when a judge handed down six sentences against him — the longest was 18 years for two counts of first-degree robbery. His other sentences included unlawful use of a weapon, kidnapping and sodomy.
At the hearing, Blair reportedly spat on a Jackson County assistant prosecutor. As guards removed him from the courtroom in chains, he glared and cussed at the prosecutor. An assistant prosecutor described him as "a one-man crime wave."
Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar tells The Pitch that Diamond Blair's role in the death of Montague Ashline is still under investigation. Once their investigation concludes, county prosecutors will decide whether to add Blair to this year's list of accused murderers.
When we started Killa City, we didn't know how people would react.
We didn't expect a comments-section catfight between two women who both laid claim to Drell D. Fisher, who was fatally shot outside of Gerry's Silver Slipper in early February. A woman named "Shay" even warned the other woman, "Tamika," to "get yo mind right bitch b4 yo mama b wearing yo face on a shirt."
Nor did we anticipate that the comments would turn into online memorials where loved ones would return month after month to share their grief.
In early November, Yolanda Walker was shot and killed, allegedly by her girlfriend, after Walker broke up with her.
Someone posting under the name "Baby Girl" left heartbroken messages. "I miss you so much already," Baby Girl wrote on November 13. "I love you to pieces. ... God please continue to wrap your arms around all of us because we need you ... more than ever."
Ten days later, Baby Girl left another comment. "Well sweetheart it's been a couple of weeks and I still find myself calling your phone just to hear the one voice that made everything ok for me.... I miss you so much. I wish you were here."
One thing that didn't surprise us: Racist screeds quickly infected many threads.
The most obvious example of this disgusting but common phenomenon occurred after we reported on the April "execution style" murders of Justin K. Budreau and Andrew J. Eli, both white and both killed in an apartment in the 1300 block of East 59th Street after men looking for some marijuana allegedly decided to rob them. The accused — 17-year-old Michael G. Gunn, 20-year-old Larry Marshall and 19-year-old Eria L. Doss — are black. The race war dragged on for 275 comments.
As it turned out, our biggest surprise was how people who were immersed in the violence were willing to discuss it publicly on our Web site. Anonymity enabled and encouraged the discussions, but it was clear that many of the feuding partisans knew exactly who they were talking to and about, regardless of whether they were using fake names.
This was most obvious after Jackson County prosecutors filed charges against 21-year-old Vincent R. Muzquiz, also known as also known as Big V.
In late April, Rebecca Amparan-Chacon was killed and another woman wounded at Jesse's Tavern and Restaurant at 2853 Southwest Boulevard. Police concluded that Amparan-Chacon, who died from a bullet to the head, had been caught in the crossfire of a gunfight.
Prosecutors charged Muzquiz with unlawful use of weapons and armed criminal action. On Monday, April 27, we reported that court records said Muzquiz had shown up at Jesse's around 11:25 the previous Friday night. "A witness told police that Muzquiz was upset, wouldn't talk to him and then pulled out a gun and fired it at another customer who was standing outside the business. A woman tried to calm Muzquiz, but he shot her."
According to court records, Muzquiz told detectives that he may have shot someone while running out of the business, but "he wasn't positive."
Muzquiz's trial is scheduled for June 1, 2010.
In the post's comments section, Muzquiz's family members and friends defended his honor.
Someone posting under the name "Eddie Muzquiz" wrote:
"This is Muzquiz little brother and I'm so sorry for the lost but my brother did not and i repeat did not shot becca. he was also shot how come they didn't put that in there read this."
Someone claiming to be Big V's girlfriend and calling herself "Ms Bigg Vee" posted on behalf of "the only father my babies have" and wrote that Muzquiz "is a loving caring person."
Chacon's friends left comments expressing their sadness and anger. "I don't really care who shot first," an anonymous poster wrote. "All I care about is that there are 3 babies with out a mom because you dumbass people don't care about no one but your self. ... I hope he gets everthing coming to him. She lost her life for NO REASON AT ALL!!!! We miss you Rebecca:( "
Others left the names of two men — and an address — whom they claimed were the real shooters.
"Everyone wants justice then they need to find out where this EX-Cop is and turn him in, my cousin did not shoot himself he was in fact shot first and if he did fire back it was only in self-defense," someone wrote under the name "Big V's Cuz."
Others defended the men to whom Big V's Cuz had referred and threatened Muzquiz.
After this went on for about 40 posts, detective Matt "Buck" Williams of the Kansas City Police Department chimed in.
"Come talk to me," Williams wrote. "No one is beating down my door to tell me what they observed. ... Feel free to come talk to me. This is an on-going investigation and it takes time to talk to everyone. It is even harder to get to the truth when people would rather talk anonymously on a forum than stepping up and doing the right thing for an innocent person who got caught in the middle of a senseless gunfight." (Williams didn't return a call from The Pitch in December.)
Williams' plea for information didn't change the tone of the discussion. The posts only grew more threatening.
Eventually, commenters turned against The Pitch for allowing it to go on. In the office, we debated our role and responsibilities. On the one hand, our job is to tell the truth, even when it's ugly — and these commenters were now telling their own stories. (Some accused us of getting a kick out of it, but no one here was laughing.) On the other hand, the thread was deteriorating into spamlike posts that focused on us rather than on the story. After three days, we disabled the feedback feature — no one else can comment, but the 188 posts are still visible for everyone to see.
We've come to believe that, as hard as they sometimes are to read, the comments often reveal information we could probably never get through standard reporting.
They're as much a part of the story as the grief displayed by loved ones in the YouTube video of Andre Jones' funeral.
"Andre Jones is my bigg brother my hero my love," an anonymous poster wrote on July 13. "I am so so happy they caught that monster!!!! thanks for keeping up with the story My mom and I haved moved from killa city and we are glad we can keep up with everything on line...thanks Ebony Jones."
Here's a pessimistic prediction for 2010: The bloodshed won't stop. It's part of our city's DNA.
Candlelight vigils, marches and political talk about inner-city economic development have the best intentions. But in the five years that I've lived here, the result is always the same. How do you stop random bullets from cutting down a mother who's driving her daughter home from a play or a woman waiting for the bus? How do you convince a person that it's wrong to kill someone for $20 or $500?
When 2010 ends, we'll count the hundred or so murders again and wonder why no one learned anything from 2009.