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During the first week of March last year, a string of drive-by shootings startled the metro. When the week was out, one 22-year-old man was dead and 10 people had been wounded. The firepower on display was impressive. The heavy artillery found at one crime scene, near 30th Street and Agnes, included an AR-15 fitted with two large drum magazines capable of firing 100 rounds without reloading, prompting police spokesman Capt. Rich Lockhart to conclude that patrol officers were "outgunned."
Sgt. Brian Jones and his officers on the assault squad interviewed witnesses with the zeal of homicide detectives because, Jones says, shooting victims tend to turn around and become shooters. "They're not going to do the legal thing. They're going to tell the police to go take a hike and retaliate themselves. So the victims in one assault became the suspects in another. That's where the media gets the term 'gang war.'"
During the squad's investigation, Henderson's name surfaced.
"Everyone was describing this masculine female at the scene," Jones says. Masculine, he explains, as in "the way she wears her hair, the way she carries herself, her mannerisms, the way she dresses. I don't know if she was the shooter, but she was there."
Jones says he still doesn't know what caused the violence to erupt last March, except that it was a gang feud and Henderson was involved. He describes Henderson's enemies by numbered streets in Kansas City: "They were 33rd [Street]. A lot of them were 31st. A lot of them were 24th. A lot were 12th. For some reason, they were forming bonds between different sets and picking on others. I assume [it was] just allegiance to whatever gang she was in."
At the end of that week, Corwin used the term "gang war" during his press conference at Linwood and Prospect. The police chief stood in front of a poster plastered with mug shots of fugitives, Henderson included.
"Anonymity will not be their friend anymore," Corwin said. Pointing out Henderson's photo, he said, "I believe she's right in the middle of all of this."
Henderson was the only suspect Corwin named that day. The faces on the poster left the impression that she was being pictured with other members of her gang. But according to Detective Joseph Marinella of the KCPD homicide squad, that wasn't the intention.
"I think those were people that other units had identified as people we wanted the public's help in locating," Marinella explains. "In fact, we got several calls like, 'Hey, my son's face was up there next to Shauntay, and he didn't even know her.' I was like, 'Hey, that's not what it meant.' I know that's what it sort of looked like."
Nonetheless, Corwin's press conference triggered an avalanche of tips to the police. The Kansas City Star reported that some officers were working 18-hour days tracking down Henderson. Officers held one stakeout at Bannister Mall and another at an inner-city gas station, responding to sightings of Henderson that turned out to be false. Community activist Alonzo Washington recorded YouTube videos of himself begging Henderson to call him so he could help her go to the police. Former Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks used several of his regular one-minute radio spots on KPRS 103.3 to urge Parker's alleged shooter to turn herself in.
Two MySpace pages attributed to Henderson appeared on the Web: "Who Dat Girl" and "Girl on the News" were decorated with wintry photos of Henderson's neighborhood, around 12th Street and the Paseo, and snapshots of a woman resembling Henderson clowning around in a dingy-looking kitchen, exhaling greenish clouds of smoke. People commented on the page with messages such as "Free 'Tay!"