But even college-bound girls need to have fun every now and then. It was her girlfriend's birthday, and she wanted to spend a Saturday evening celebrating.
She and her brother Chavis made plans to meet up with their friends at a bowling alley near 85th Street and the Blue Ridge Cutoff on November 23, 2002. But when they got there, the place was full of league bowlers. There were hardly any teens.
One of their fiends mentioned having seen a flyer for a party at the Troostwood Banquet Hall -- "no player haters, no wallhuggers," it read. They decided the action would be better over there.
Chavis headed straight for the party with a friend, but Kristi had a friend drive her to her grandmother's house on the way to pick up a few things her mother had asked for.
When Chavis got to the banquet hall, the place was already packed. For lack of an underage nightclub, Kansas City's teen social scene depends largely on amateur promoters who rent facilities and charge nominal door fees. Troostwood had become something of a hot spot for teens. Though usually rented for family events such as wedding receptions, reunions and graduation celebrations, its wide dance floor and cheap rental rates made it attractive for people who wanted to throw parties.
Chavis paid his five dollars. The man who collected his money at the door waved a metal-detecting wand across Chavis' body, but it didn't go off when it passed over the keys and cell phone in his pockets. He pushed through the crowd and looked for people he knew.
Almost as soon as he got there, a fight broke out. The party's DJ rushed over, broke it up and pushed the combatants out the door. Other than the man with the metal detector, Chavis saw no security guards.
Just after Kristi showed up a few minutes later, another fight broke out, this one between two girls. The crowd pushed forward to watch the scuffle.
The pushing escalated. Chavis saw kids throwing gang signs. He started thinking that maybe the party hadn't been such a good idea after all.
He made his way across the room to talk to his sister. When he got to her, she agreed it was time to leave but said she wanted to say good-bye to her birthday friend first. She waded back through the crowd.
The tension in the banquet hall thickened. The place was packed wall to wall with teens jostling against one another. Lil' Jon and the Eastside Boyz boomed from the sound system: In the club, motherfucker, go bad, go hard! Chavis saw more gang signs flash around. His feeling that it was time to leave grew more urgent. He caught up with his sister, grabbed her hand and started leading her to the door.
Among those making gang signs was 19-year-old Yntell Duley, police reports allege. According to a police report, Duley and an associate tangled with other gang members in an altercation. "Fuck them niggers, it's still going down," Duley yelled, according to police transcriptions of witness testimony. "Them niggers is bitches. I'll pop the niggers, it's whatever, cuz. Nigger, you know, my strap [gun] holds more."
Then Duley allegedly raised a pistol and fired several rounds.
In his left hand, Chavis felt a dead weight.
He ducked down and pushed toward the door.
Looking back over his shoulder, he saw his sister on the floor. He figured she had simply dropped to the floor to dodge the bullets.
Then someone said, "Your sister's been shot."
He thought she'd just been hit in the arm when he got back to her. She was still breathing. But when he looked more closely, he saw blood around her head. He pulled her shirt up to try to stop the bleeding.
He panicked. He thought, Let's get her out of here.
He carried her to a friend's car, hoisted her in the back seat and climbed in. A friend whisked them to Research Hospital at 63rd Street and Prospect.
"Everything will be OK," he kept telling her. She gasped for air and shook her head.
Kristi was Chavis' best friend. The two were born just ten months apart. They went to the same schools and did almost everything together. She woke him up every morning to go to school. If he couldn't afford new shoes, she'd buy them for him. He hung out with her when she wrote poetry, both of them thinking aloud about how best to express her feelings. He couldn't imagine losing her.
At the hospital, the nurses rushed her away on a gurney. Chavis called his parents.
When Ronnie Carroll got there, the doctor told him Kristi had been shot in the head and her chances were not good.
Kristi didn't survive the night.
When Linda Serrioz heard about the murder at Troostwood Banquet Hall, she wasn't surprised.
For the past several years, she had been the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition's coordinator for the citywide Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax initiative known as COMBAT, which is funded by a special sales tax. Her main duties were to keep an eye on the neighborhood and to field complaints from residents.
Formed in 1971, the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition is the oldest organized neighborhood association in Kansas City. Encompassing the sturdy bungalows southeast of the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, it stretches from 49th Street along Brush Creek south to the commercial thoroughfare of 63rd Street and from Oak Street east to the shade-dappled Paseo. It's the only neighborhood organization that spans Troost, the city's historic racial dividing line. The association was formed in an effort to break down racial barriers at a time when property values were plummeting amid white flight. To this day, 49/63 remains one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city.
In spite of its location in the middle of the urban core, the neighborhood's crime rate has stayed relatively low because of programs like the one Serrioz worked for and the presence of Community Action Network officers -- beat cops based in a neighborhood office who work with residents to make the streets safe. The coalition pioneered the program, which operates in several other neighborhoods around the city, such as Blue Hills directly to the east of 49/63 and Lychens in the Historic Northeast.
But like all neighborhoods in the inner city, 49/63 has had trouble spots. Serrioz says Troostwood Banquet Hall has been one of the worst. (It has continued to operate infrequently since the shooting.) A lot of the calls she received were about Troostwood: loitering, booming car stereos, street brawls, screeching tires, public urinating, gunshots.
Often the calls came in the middle of the night. She'd drive by the banquet hall and see teens scattering, leaving behind broken bottles.
On several occasions, she called the building's owner, John Haynes. She left him messages relaying the complaints, but she says he never called her back.
She wasn't the only one who called on Haynes. Officer Patrick Foster, who patrolled the neighborhood under the CAN program, had fielded numerous calls about the place and had been dispatched there on several occasions to shut down parties. He tracked down Haynes in early summer 2002.
The two men talked briefly. Haynes explained that he'd rented the facility to a high school graduation party. He said he had another party scheduled, which he promised would be the last.
Foster suggested that Haynes hire security or at least require that renters do so.
Like Serrioz, Foster wasn't surprised when he heard later that year that a girl had been shot at Troostwood.
Neither was Marti Lee. As president of the Southtown Council, a nonprofit organization that works with businesses and neighborhood associations in the southeast part of the city to improve the community, she had contacted Haynes four times about the problems associated with his facility. Haynes was a member of the Southtown Council, but other members had been flooding her with complaints about the noise, the trash and the occasional gunshots.
She told Haynes he needed to supply security for his events, both inside and outside the hall. Haynes said he thought his renters would be hosting family events, but they'd turned out to be raucous public affairs complete with flyers and door charges.
Lee and Haynes discussed ways he could strengthen his rental policy. But Haynes' place had built a reputation among teens looking for a place to party. The demand was great. Initially, he welcomed the business, knowing the kids didn't have a lot of other places to go.
The parties kept getting bigger and bigger.
In 2002, just a few months before Kristi Carroll was shot, Haynes told the Pitch he'd had enough. He talked about a kid who had called him to rent the place so he could throw a big bash for his 16th birthday. Haynes wanted no part of it. "I do not do youth events from this day forward," he said.
In the days after Kristi Carroll's death, dozens of people visited the Carrolls to offer their condolences. One was Al Nicholson, the man who threw the party where Kristi had been shot. "He came in, and he said how sorry he was," Cynthia Carroll recalls. "He said, 'Let me know what I can do. I really want to help you out with the funeral expenses.'"
Nicholson had rented the Troostwood Banquet Hall earlier that year for a graduation party, an event that went without incident. Haynes rented the hall to Nicholson again in November 2002 for $625, including deposit.
Haynes claims he didn't know Nicholson planned to charge admission and advertise the event on flyers that were passed around among hundreds of teens. The rental contract didn't prohibit such promotion, though. Haynes didn't even draw up a new lease. He used the same form Nicholson had signed that spring.
The document required no security. It specified only that the renter provide "a designated person to be supervisor in charge of the rental area." Instead, Haynes testified, Haynes and Nicholson made a verbal agreement that Nicholson would provide security for outside the building.
In spite of his promise to help with the funeral, the Carrolls never saw Nicholson after his condolence visit.
Several family friends told the Carrolls they should hire a lawyer. At first, the idea seemed alien to them.
"I was not thinking of suing anyone," Cynthia Carroll says. "I just wanted answers. How did it happen? Who did it? How did the guy get into the dance hall if you had security?"
She was more concerned about the criminal investigation. Through media reports, she pleaded for witnesses to come forward with information. Eventually, Yntell Duley emerged as the top suspect. Nearly a month later, Duley was arrested and charged with eight criminal counts, including second-degree murder. His trial began March 29 in Jackson County Court.
But the Carrolls still wanted more answers. Their friends suggested that the legal system might help them find answers. One recommended they call Michael Fletcher, who, in his short career, has gained considerable media attention for high-profile cases.
Prior to becoming a lawyer, Fletcher worked on both of Emanuel Cleaver's mayoral campaigns. After law school, he represented a number of African-American churches. In 1998, he represented the plaintiffs in a racial discrimination suit against Rent-A-Center, which ended with an $8 million judgment against the company. In 2001, he successfully sued the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department after a police shooting. He also won a multimillion-dollar judgment for City Councilwoman Saundra McFadden-Weaver against the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Allie Johnson's "Divine Debauchery," June 7, 2001).
The Carrolls called Fletcher. He'd heard about the murder on TV, but he wasn't sure he could do anything. After talking with them, he decided to help them build a case.
"I didn't think we'd get any money," he tells the Pitch. "I just figured we could do this at least to give them [the Carrolls] some peace."
"It's not a money issue," Cynthia Carroll says. "I'm looking at it as a mother who is trying to bring justice for my daughter."
Fletcher knew he had a case after he talked with people from the 49/63 neighborhood. When he shared with the Carrolls the information he'd gleaned -- the warnings for increased security at teen parties -- they were incensed.
"If I have a bunch of kids here at my home, they're my responsibility once they come up those steps out there," Ronnie Carroll says. "And that should be anywhere a kid goes. It just makes me so mad when I think about it."
After doing some research, there appeared to be plenty of blame to spread around. Fletcher initially drew up a case against Nicholson, the security firm Nicholson hired for the party and Haynes.
In a sworn affidavit, Nicholson testified that he'd hired American Protection Industry to supply three security guards at a rate of $23 an hour. According to Nicholson, his agreement with API stipulated that the guards would ensure "that weapons were not brought into the Troostwood facility [and] that crowd control was carried out in a safe and prudent manner."
But just two API guards showed up to work at the party. After being assured that two guards would be adequate, Nicholson testified, he decided to proceed with the event.
Meanwhile, API owner Andrew Harvey swore in a deposition that Nicholson had merely requested security for outside the facility. He said that no contract had been signed. "It was only a phone conversation, five or six minutes at the longest in length," Harvey said. "Phone rang. I answered. 'Can you provide two security guards to do the parking lot?' 'Yes.' That was it."
Harvey admitted that he didn't research the facility to determine its level of risk -- he didn't inspect the grounds, for instance, or check police logs of the area. And he testified that Nicholson had never informed him what kind of event he would be staffing.
"Had I known this party was for teenagers and there was going to be drinking, alcohol and drugs and all that type of stuff going on, I never would have taken the job," Harvey said.
"Why not?" Fletcher asked.
"Because it's too high-risk," he replied. "I just wouldn't want to put my people in harm's way like that, where they would have to pull a weapon or use those sprays or whatever to break up fights or protect themselves or whatever."
Shortly after the suit was filed, Harvey dissolved his company. In the process, he destroyed all of the company's financial documents.
"You intentionally destroyed those documents after you were aware that API was being sued by the Carroll family?" Fletcher asked.
"I got rid of the company," Harvey replied. "I got rid of the paperwork. I wasn't trying to hide anything, because I've got nothing to hide. Like I say, this all boils down to me sending two people to do a parking lot and I wind up in this crap."
Eventually, in late October last year, API settled with the Carrolls for $175,000. Fletcher's firm received 50 percent.
Harvey wasn't the only one who disputed Nicholson's testimony. While Fletcher was building his case, Maurice Jones, one of the security guards who worked the event where Kristi Carroll was shot, spoke over the phone with one of Fletcher's assistants. He offered to help. He wanted to "clear his conscience."
Jones said Nicholson had told him to arrive at the party at 10:30 p.m. There was already a large crowd inside when Jones arrived. Nicholson ordered him to stay in the parking lot and direct people into the building. They were not to search anyone -- Nicholson was taking care of that with a metal-detector wand at the door. Jones said Nicholson's instructions were to come inside only to break up fights.
Jones heard the gunshots from outside. He tried to get into the hall but couldn't because there was only one entrance and everyone was rushing out. When the crowd thinned, he came in with his weapon drawn and saw Kristi Carroll lying on the floor. When Jones saw Chavis Carroll drag Kristi outside, he thought the girl was already dead.
In spite of this added witness, Fletcher decided to drop Nicholson from the case and focus solely on Haynes.
"Nicholson had nothing," he explains.
"They're looking for deep pockets," Haynes' attorney, Ed Ford, said during a break at the trial. "Unfortunately they haven't found it with my client."
Ford is a former Kansas City, Missouri, City Council member. This case, he says, has made him recall his time in office.
As chairman of the Planning and Zoning Committee, he had dealt with the issue of where teens might safely gather to socialize. During his term, members of the Westport Merchant Association appealed to the city for the right to close the entertainment district's streets to keep out underage people. The idea was run through the city's legal department, which declared that such a move would be unlawful.
"It's always a problem when you have lots of young, black teens," Ford says. "Westport doesn't want them. They've made that clear. And neighborhoods will always raise a fuss when there's lots of young, black teens.... My experience is that when the city steps in to offer a teen event, it's not very well-received," he says. "Teens are not going to go where the city's fathers and mothers want them to go.
"Arguably, the events at the banquet hall were a good thing," he continues. "It was a place where kids could go out and see and be seen. But look where it got my client."
Ford has represented Haynes for more than twenty years. Facing off against Fletcher in the early March civil trial, he was in unusual territory. Ford is usually a plaintiff's attorney.
The trial lasted three days. The Carrolls retold their stories about what happened on November 23, 2002, and tried to convey to the jury what it's been like for them in the year and a half since their daughter's death. Officer Foster and Linda Serrioz, the neighborhood COMBAT leader, both recounted their experiences with the Troostwood Banquet Hall and its owner.
Fletcher also brought in Charles Stephenson, a security consultant, as an expert witness. While he was on the stand, Fletcher handed him a thick printout from the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. It listed all the times over the past several years when police were called to the vicinity of Troostwood -- robberies, assaults, homicides.
After reviewing the documents, Stephenson described the place as an "epicenter" for illegal activity. He said that if he were to provide security for a teen event there, he would send no fewer than six guards, preferably ten.
Then Haynes took the stand.
"I thought it was a family event," he said of the party where Kristi Carroll was shot. "No one told me there was going to be 300 people there. I have no knowledge of them charging any admission. I had personnel on hand. They didn't see anyone charging admission."
Haynes, who lives in Liberty, admitted he wasn't there that night. He said he had entrusted his staff to oversee his facility in his absence.
His staff -- one man, Eric Senir -- unwittingly provided some of the most damning testimony against Haynes.
A diabetic, Senir could barely make his way to the witness stand. He wore house slippers because his feet were swollen. His gravelly voice was barely audible. He admitted that he had stayed in the banquet hall's office during the party, away from the action, as he usually does during events. He didn't check to make sure security was in place.
"That's not my job," he said. "I be watching TV."
Besides, he doesn't see very well.
Several times, Fletcher handed him documents to read on the stand, but Senir said he couldn't read them because of his diabetes.
According to police reports, all other witnesses to the shooting agreed that several shots were fired shortly before midnight at the party. But Senir testified that he heard only one shot -- at about one in the morning, well after the place had cleared out.
The jury didn't take long to reach its verdict. It awarded the Carrolls $5 million.
Shortly after the verdict, Cynthia Carroll noticed people staring at her at the grocery store. "I'm hearing people say, 'Oh, that's the lady that's a millionaire," she says. "I'm not a millionaire. I don't look at it as myself being a millionaire."
In fact, it's unlikely that she and her husband will receive the $5 million.
Ford persuaded the judge to instruct the jury to render its verdict against Troostwood Banquet Hall Inc., a limited liability corporation of which Haynes is the sole shareholder, even though Haynes often referred to himself and represented himself in various documents as the banquet hall's owner.
Because the judgment was against the corporation rather than against Haynes, the Carrolls' restitution can be paid only out of the corporation's assets: its building, valued at less than $500,000, and a $500,000 insurance policy.
Haynes once held a $1 million policy, but he had recently changed to the less expensive one.
"As a matter of fact, he only wanted a $100,000 [policy] when [we] first discussed insurance," Haynes' insurance agent, Raymond Edgerson, testified in a sworn deposition before the trial. "He wanted to underinsure. He was trying to keep his costs down."
Ford says he doesn't know when his client changed his insurance policy.
The $500,000 policy is with Atlantic Casualty. The Carrolls will have a hard time claiming it, though, because the insurance company maintains that the policy contains a clause that precludes payment on injuries or death caused by third-party criminal activity, even if it takes place on the policyholder's property.
"Nobody wants to be accountable," Ronnie Carroll says, clearly frustrated. "Everybody wants to say, 'It wasn't me. It was the other guy.'"
So the Carrolls can expect more legal wrangling. Fletcher is optimistic, though, and expects to eventually collect $3.5 million.
Ford says he doesn't believe the Carrolls will end up with any money from the judgment. The hall's debts, he says, are likely to be greater than what the building would net in a forced sale.
The Carrolls will likely assume ownership of the hall, a prospect they're not excited about.
"If it was given to me, I'd go out there and I'd hire a demolition crew and tear it down," Cynthia Carroll says. "Why would I want to drive down Troost and look over there at a place that was unsafe that caused my daughter's last days on earth? I don't even want to look at it."
Besides, the lawsuit never was about money, Fletcher says. "Our position was always to close this place down."
Cynthia Carroll agrees. "My thing is, everybody needs to be accountable for their own actions," she says.
In many ways, the Carrolls see the legal system as the only means by which to discipline the community, the way they disciplined their own children.
"I guess I came up in the old school," Ronnie Carroll explains. "My grandmother had a hand in raising me. And she believed in getting a little switch or a belt and whipping the kids' tails when they get out of line. So I somewhat took part in that. My kids knew that when they got out of line they had to answer to me.
"That's what I instilled in my kids," he continues. "Follow the rules, live by the rules, and you'll be OK. You break the rules, then your butt belongs to me."
The Carrolls might ultimately succeed in closing Troostwood Banquet Hall and sending a message to others who would host large teen events. And the criminal trial might end with a young man behind bars. But the world around them remains unruly.
"People have called here on several occasions threatening my wife, telling her she wasn't going to make it to [the criminal] trial," Ronnie Carroll says. "One day a phone call came in from this pay phone right here in back of the house. They waited until they saw my son leave and went to the pay phone and told her, 'We know you're at home alone.'"
He shakes his head. "People are threatening my wife," he says. "For what? She didn't do anything. She didn't do anything. My daughter didn't do anything."