Authors: Fred Rosen
Like most middle-class kids who join gangs, Lisa felt alienated from her peers. As long as she remembered, she had always hated kids.
They were always so mean to me growing up
, she thought.
And when I got older, all the girls wanted to do was talk about their boyfriends
As for her home life, it was nothing if not strained. She felt impotent at home, at the mercy of her parents’ whims, never free to assert herself, to be her own woman. The gang gave her the one thing she lacked. Power. People knew who she was. They wouldn’t mess with her because she was a member of the 74 Hoover Crips. It was kind of like she, Wayde, Larry and all the rest had formed their own
What a wonderful feeling, that sense of belonging, of being part of something greater than yourself! Lisa Fentress cherished that feeling more than anything. It was a feeling unlike any other, a feeling so heady, so strong, so intoxicating that in order not to lose it, she was willing to chuck the belief system she had grown up with, that some things were wrong and some things were right absolutely. She decided that, for her gang, she would dwell in the gray area, neither wrong nor right, just what was right for the gang regardless of the consequences. That was why she readily agreed to become a
She was given the job of pressing a button on a guy. Put another way, Lisa’s job was to finger a guy to be murdered. And since it was being done to maintain gang unity and loyalty, there was nothing wrong with that.
OCTOBER 3, 1994
Had it not been for Meriwether Lewis, the Eugene chapter of the 74 Hoover Crips would not have had a turf to begin with. It was Lewis who, in 1806, explored the Willamette River Valley during his fabled expedition to find the Northwest Passage. In the process, he made peace with the Indians who inhabited the valley.
Not much changed in the years immediately after he left to return to Virginia, but the mere fact that he and his partner William Clark and their Corps of Discovery had penetrated the area opened it up to white trappers and hunters, who would go on to make fortunes off the abundant wildlife that inhabited the area, and would inexorably affect the history of the United States.
The valley was so fertile that almost two centuries later, there were sections that were almost as pristine as in Lewis and Clark’s day. But there were also the trappings of modern civilization, most notably the University of Oregon that made its home in this major northwest city, where Indians walk the streets harmoniously with cowboys, and gun shops coexist with head shops. It’s the Old West and the 1960’s all rolled into one.
Nestled snugly in Oregon’s Willamette River Valley, Eugene is a tight-knit, secure community. But it has one major source of vulnerability to the corruption of the outside world.
The town sits on the Interstate 5 corridor, a major thoroughfare to Portland in the north, and California to the south. Because of its proximity to these population centers, Eugene is susceptible to urban problems. Like gangs.
Lisa Fentress admired the au courant gang look—baggy clothing in dull colors. But the school she attended felt just the opposite. The administration believed that wearing gang clothing incited gang-type violence. The school passed an ordinance banning students from dressing as “gangsters.” In protest, Lisa led a walkout among students, who, like her, believed in freedom of clothing. Not to be outdone, the school punished her by forcing her to attend a gang-prevention seminar at the Downtown Athletic Club run by the community’s dynamic anti-gang activist, Mary Thompson.
Mary Thompson had exploded on the Eugene scene like a comet in the night sky. She had lived in anonymity for years, she said, but when organized gangs first came to Eugene in 1991, she decided to take action.
Her son Beau had been seduced by the power of gangs. A small, tousle-haired kid, he looked innocent enough to be in one of those milk ads. But Beau was hardly an innocent. Barely thirteen years old, he helped form the 74 Hoover Crips, taking the gang name “Bishop,” and subsequently served time in the MacLaren Juvenile Facility for gang-related crimes.
Instead of fretting like most would, Mary Thompson became an anti-gang activist. Her message was simple: “If it could happen to my family, it could happen to yours.”
She began conducting anti-gang seminars at high schools and youth centers, where she spoke passionately to teenagers of the good life her son Beau gave up, of her pain in watching him go down the wrong road. She showed students her photo albums filled with heartwarming shots of Beau proudly wearing his Cub Scout uniform, fishing with his father, and opening presents on Christmas Day like any normal American kid. But he wasn’t any normal American kid, Mary said, not since he got involved with gangs.
Instead of the scenes depicted in the photographs, in her mind’s eye she saw Beau selling guns at a local ice cream shop, serving time in prison, and threatening cops with a revolver. She saw a boy who, ever since he became “Bishop,” had a gaze as hard as glacial ice and a heart frozen with hate for authority.
As her stature in the community increased, so did her influence. She formed a close relationship with the police department. Law enforcement looked to Mary as the one person who could break the spell that gangs cast over the city’s youth. She formed a close working relationship with Ric Raynor, a detective in the anti-gang unit. Eventually, the department appointed her to the newly formed Gang Prevention Task Force.
Like the best evangelists, Mary could spellbind a crowd with the emotion behind her words, her commitment to keeping Eugene gang-free, her zeal in allowing the city’s children to keep their childhood pristine. And Mary vowed publicly to continue to pursue her cause, to break the hold of gangs in Eugene, to stop kids from joining them, as long as one breath remained in her body.
As Lisa listened to Mary tell her story, she felt very moved and attended a subsequent meeting of the Gang Prevention Task Force that Mary was a part of. It was there that she met Aaron Iturra.
“Hi, is Aaron there?” said Lisa into the phone. She was in the privacy of her room at home and took a quick toke of the joint in her free hand.
“Uh, he’s busy right now, but if you want—”
“No, it’s okay. Never mind,” Lisa interrupted, and hung up. Taking another toke, she made her second call.
“He’s home,” she said. “I just talked to his sister.”
“Good. Now call James.”
The third call was to James “Jim” Elstad.
“It’s a ‘go,’” she said.
The wind came whistling in through the window of the back bedroom, where Janyce Iturra lay sleeping. Despite the weather, Janyce always slept with her windows open. She liked the feeling of fresh air around her. She worked hard during the day, as a receiving clerk at Fred Myers, a large department store. And since she usually went to work at four or five, she was in bed by nine.
When the phone rang at ten, it woke her up. She heard her daughter Maya go out to get Aaron because the phone call was for him. After he came back in, she heard him say:
“Well, who is it, Maya?”
“I don’t know,” Maya answered. “It was just a girl. She hung up.”
Janyce drifted back to sleep.
Minutes later, seventeen-year-old “Crazy” Joe Brown stood in front of the Iturra home. The house was a panhandle, situated in back of another, the two connected by a narrow alley. The beauty of it was, you couldn’t see the panhandle house from the street. This type of dwelling was common in Eugene.
Brown was a short kid who, at five-foot-six, weighed all of 140 pounds soaking wet. Dressed in black shirt and pants, with jet-black hair, scraggly mustache and goatee, he cased the joint. Quickly, he realized he had come too early. The house was lit up. People inside were still awake. He left and returned around midnight.
This time, the house was dark. He tapped the glass of the living-room window several times just to be sure. When no one answered, he walked back to the far end of the alley where Jim Elstad crouched in the darkness.
“Iturra’s asleep,” he whispered, the cool night air making his breath come out in a white plume.
Elstad nodded and followed Brown back to the house. Both boys were dressed in the gang colors: blue bandannas over their faces and heads, blue bandannas covering their hands. Their gang leader had told Elstad and Brown that the open display of their gang colors was a symbol that someone was going to get killed. This was ritualized behavior. Dressing in this manner signified this as a Crip event, a Crip killing. Their gang leader had assured them that their “brother” Crips in Portland and Los Angeles would soon know about their work.
They lifted the door of the garage, and found themselves standing before a bedroom that had been partitioned off by sheet rock in the rear. Brown pushed at the door of the makeshift room.
Clothes, beer bottles, soda cans and empty pizza boxes were strewn all over the floor. On a small dresser made of cheap pressed wood were various types of shaving lotion and high school loose-leaf binders filled to bursting. There was also an old console color TV set.
Two of the walls were decorated with posters celebrating Motley Crue, Menace II Society and Budweiser beer. There were pictures of two attractive young women dressed in low-cut outfits revealing their cleavage. The two other walls of the bedroom were covered in graffiti.
And there on the bed was the target, Aaron Iturra, sleeping arm in arm with his girlfriend Carrie Barkley.
Brown shook Aaron’s bare back. The teenager continued to slumber, but then Brown saw Iturra move his head a little bit, and start to get up. By then, Jim Elstad was at the door, holding a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in his right hand. Steadying it with his left, Elstad raised the weapon.
Brown reached down to the girl’s purse, which sat on the floor amid the litter of the beer bottles and pizza cartons. He reached in and took out a pack of cigarettes, which he pocketed, then stood up and to the side.
A few houses away, Jack and Cameron were visiting Angel. They were hanging out like they always did, smoking cigarettes, Angel doing so despite the fact that she was pregnant. They were talking about scams when they heard a loud pop.
“F—!” Angel exclaimed.
“Was that it?” Jack asked.
“That was it!” Cameron confirmed.
A neat, red hole had materialized in the back of Aaron Iturra’s head. Iturra slumped back down, the mattress suddenly turning a dark red. Carrie came awake instantly and screamed, “Help me, somebody come and help me.” Elstad and Brown turned and ran. Soon, they were back on the street and Elstad turned to Brown.
“I can’t believe it. I shot that muthaf—er in the back of the head,” he said with a great big smile.
Not a minute later, the boys came running in the door of the house that Jim shared with his sister Angel and their parents. Shaking violently, Jim Elstad declared, “I did it! I did it!”
Angel looked at her brother and smiled.
“Well, how do you feel?”
All of the Crips in the room looked at Jim, who beamed proudly, like the kid who had sunk the big basket with regulation time gone.
“I feel great! ’Cause you get such a thrill from it, you know?”
“Yeah, you get a real thrill from it,” Joe Brown repeated.
Joe opened his fist. There on his palm, for all to see, were four bullets and one spent shell.
“Oh, God,” said Angel.
They all looked at her. Water was seeping down her leg.
“My God, it’s coming!” she screamed.
“Somebody come and help us! Somebody come and help us!”
Some sound, some feeling,
roused Janyce Iturra to consciousness. It was the TV, she thought, that was it. Darn you, Aaron, you left the TV on. He’d been watching TV in the living room and had fallen asleep on the couch. Which happened a lot.
Janyce got up and went into the living room. Her first thought was “Oh, my God, it’s dark!” Then, as her sleep-shrouded mind cleared, she heard the plaintive cries again. “Somebody come and help us! Somebody come and help us!”
Janyce’s adrenaline began to pump and she could feel her heart pounding in her chest as she ran through the living room and the kitchen into the garage area, to Aaron’s room. The door was open a crack and she just bashed right in.
Carrie’s mouth froze in fear when she saw her.
I scared the heck out of her
, Janyce thought, seeing the pale, frightened expression on the young girl’s face.
“Oh, God, it’s you!” said Carrie.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Carrie muttered. For a moment, Carrie’s sad face and eyes looked even sadder, making her seem older than her twenty-two years. Janyce looked over at Aaron and suddenly, everything was blocked out. She heard nothing, saw nothing but the bloody picture in front of her.
Her first-born son lay prone on the bed, a gash on the top of his head, on the upper part of the right eye.
Oh, my God, somebody has bashed Aaron in the head
, Janyce thought.
“Carrie, call 911.”
Carrie ran out to the living room where the phone was, just as a commotion began. Janyce’s teenage daughter Tina came running into the bedroom.
Seeing her brother, Tina asked anxiously, “What happened?”
“Somebody has bashed Aaron on the head,” Janyce answered grimly and looked down. “You’re going to be okay, Aaron, you’re as strong as they come,” she said to the unconscious boy.
Janyce glanced into the living room. Carrie stood motionless at the phone. She had gone into shock and couldn’t even dial 911.
“Tina, go get me your phone,” Janyce ordered.
Tina’s phone had a fifty-foot cord on it. She went back to her bedroom to drag it in. Janyce’s eyes trailed Tina down the hallway. Her other three kids were all standing at the back of the hallway screaming, talking, wondering what was happening.
“Tina, get the damn phone!” Janyce shouted over and over until finally, Tina came back with it. “Get me some towels, get me some towels,” Janyce screamed.