By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
Evans Avenue runs smooth and wide. From Vandeventer to Newstead, it's a flat stretch of concrete, yellow lines and black skid marks. Along either side, shabby homes, some bursting with several families, stand beside condemned dwellings whose bricks crumble over rotted floors visible through missing walls. Vacant lots, filled with litter, offer bleak oases from the decay.
The east-west road a block north of Page Boulevard is nestled in the north-side neighborhood of Vandeventer, named after one of the main arteries feeding into it. While other St. Louis residential areas boast about being "colorful and charming" or "dynamic and thriving," the best spin mustered for Vandeventer on the city's Web site is that its residents "strive to improve the area and reverse the current deterioration trend."
That trend encompasses not just buildings but also the lives of the people who live there. During the past two years, the neighborhood has generated more than 50 drug-related felony and misdemeanor charges and almost 30 assault cases, most of which are domestic-violence matters but which also include assaults on police. There have been arrests for sexual assault and prostitution; charges for tampering with motor vehicles, stealing and trespass.
"This is a block," declares a young man, standing in front of a two-family house where just a month earlier a young girl was killed.
On the street, he explains, a blockmeans more than just a square on a map. It's a place where drug dealers store "keys" of dope in their mamas' basements and where car thieves tear up and down the road in "stolos," or stolen cars, in a showy ritual akin to strutting in the end zone after a touchdown.
"It's like your territorial spot, what they trying to do is hold it down." he says. "So that's why they up and down the street joyriding and everything else -- because it's Evans. They feel like it's their block and the police can't do shit. Nobody can do shit."
But Evans Avenue is also a place where little girls like ten-year-old Annalyn (her name has been changed for this story) and her twelve-year-old friend Ketrease Murphy liked to sing about apples, cream and butter while double-dutch jump-ropes snapped on the ground beneath their feet.
If they weren't jumping rope with the other children on the block, the two might meet at the tiny TMT Mini-Mart on the corner of Pendleton Avenue and Page, which boasts a full line of groceries and fresh meats and accepts food stamps. On Friday, October 24, that's just where Annalyn, a skinny girl with large brown eyes and a whisper-soft voice, says she "went to buy me some chips."
Ketrease, called Treasy by her parents, was also at the market that afternoon. She "went to buy her a orange soda and some sour-cream chips," recalls Annalyn, who was worried about bees. Ketrease had to throw away her soda. "And I told her I'd give her some of my chips if she give me some of hers. And we both traded chips."
But after a while Ketrease left the store to go home and grab a sandwich. Annalyn soon grew bored, as well, and headed toward her friend's house a block away. She saw Ketrease in the front yard near the chain-link fence outside the house. She often played on the swinging gate, Ketrease's father, Cortez Murphy, would later say. It was shortly after four.
A stolen pickup truck, allegedly driven by a thirteen-year-old, was heading east on Evans in the same direction Annalyn was walking. As it sped past, she says, "the tire hadda busted. It popped."
The driver lost control and the pickup careened across the yellow line, leaving a trail of skid marks. "He had to hit the curb," Annalyn recalls, "and then he hadda to got on the sidewalk. She flew up in the air and hit her head on the window again, and then she fell down."
Ketrease's body, and the stolen truck that assaulted it, came to rest in the middle of the vacant lot next door. Annalyn says a boy she knows jumped out of the truck and ran away. "I asked him why he hit her for." But he kept running, "and he was laughing."
Ketrease was on the ground. "She was laying down, breathing hard."
Annalyn remembers that her playmate "had a big ol' dent up in her head. And then when she got hit, blood came out of her mouth and....the sandwich." Tears seeped from the corners of Ketrease's eyes and left streaks on the edges of her cheeks.
The child's body had landed in a twisted heap; her feet were pointing the wrong way. Holding up her slender hands about six inches apart and making a slight twisting motion, Annalyn demonstrates how she tried to put her friend back together again. "I tried to move her leg, her leg moved over and then laid back down."
She remembers running to the front door and urging Ketrease's older brother to tell his parents that Ketrease had been hurt. But she couldn't convey, and he couldn't comprehend, the seriousness of the situation. By the time someone called an ambulance, folks had gathered around the girl on the ground. "My momma said she paralyzed. Her whole body hadda broke."