By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
Women in tight dresses drink pink concoctions from plastic cups as men throw elbows on the dance floor. But Darnell isn't into drinking and fighting. If he's still feeling a little stoned, he doesn't show it as he hangs to the side, chatting with a few friends. Then a short but fierce-looking man in a black skull cap notices him from across the club.
Club 112 glows with green light. As Toro enters the multistage live-music venue and strip club, he clutches a stack of CDs. He gives copies to a few choice DJs and fellow rappers.
More than a few fistfights have erupted here, where men wear sports jerseys and carry wads of cash while curvy dancers strut around in tiny shorts. Toro doesn't seem interested in the women. He's in a strange mood, standing alone and sipping a glass of Hennessy.
Toro has always been a bit of a loner. His mom died when he was 11, and his dad pinched pennies to send him to Northwest Christian Academy. Older kids from the neighborhood made fun of his private school uniform — it made him look rich — so he'd rush home to take it off.
In his 20s, he began selling music for a dollar at the Carol City Flea Market. He got props on the street for his freestyle skills and the fact that he could draw a crowd. His song "Ride," featuring Miami hip-hip legend Rick Ross, has gotten airplay. Says Iconz Music owner Jay Fentz, who signed Toro: "He had a work ethic like none other."
Adds industry friend Dizzy: "He just kept grindin'. He was destined to make it."
But on this particular night, Toro tells friends, the place has bad vibes. "They were playing his song and he wasn't even dancing," says his friend Cuzo, who was with him that night. "It was almost like he knew something was going to happen."
It's around 1:30 a.m. when Charlene and Chelsea head back to Overtown and park facing south. As the shooter drives up, his shiny Escalade looks hulking next to Charlene's Saturn. His face is shadowy, and he's moving his lips — Asking directions? Trying to snag the parking spot? — so they give him a confused look.
Charlene rolls down her window. "What's up?" she asks. He doesn't answer. That's when he pins the front wheel of his SUV to the back of her Saturn, trapping them.
A homeless man across the street is folding palm tree leaves into grasshoppers. He's the only one who notices.
Then come the shots. The girls scream. Glass shatters. It sounds like a car backfiring and smells like the Fourth of July. One of the bullets feels warm as it tears diagonally through Charlene's shoulder, piercing her lung and lodging under her esophagus. A pool of blood spills onto her leopard-print seat cover, and it takes a second to register: Somebody just shot me. I could die right here.
As he speeds away, nobody catches a good look at him or a license plate number. Charlene rolls the car a few feet to the entrance of the club, opens the door, and collapses onto the cold sidewalk. "She was moaning, and her friend was totally flipped out," says White Room owner Luis Fonseca, who called the police.
TV news crews rush to interview witnesses but find only the homeless man, who guesses — incorrectly — is was a fight about parking.
At 3 a.m. inside Studio A, a man with no shirt and a black scull cap chest-bumps Darnell. The guy is only five-foot-two, but he wears an intense facial expression. One female friend overhears him say, "Don't worry about it — I got something for you," according to police reports. Then he pulls out a black handgun. From the center of the club, gunshots pepper the smoky air — crack-crack — and the crowd scatters.
A female bartender ducks for cover under the bar and then faints. Girls drop their purses and run outside. Clubbers leave behind high heels, crack rocks, and bags of weed, according to cops on the scene. Darnell's lifeless body is left behind on the floor.
Outside, Officer T. Jones sees customers fleeing and reports there's "a male down inside" the club.
The club closes two weeks later.
Says Officer Jeffrey Glasko: "The promoter had a history of violence." He had hired a private security company and did not use surveillance cameras. (Club owner Dave Slifkin did not respond to several calls for comment.)
Two years later, Darnell's mother replays the scene in her mind: "I felt like he was reaching out to me," Vender says. "And I couldn't get there in time."
Toro pulls up to a North Miami street corner lit with a neon yellow Coco's sign against a slick tile wall. Tonight the strip club is hosting "Freaky Friday." It's the kind of place men eat chicken wings while girls jiggle their thighs.
Toro is in a foul mood when he enters the strip club with his friends Travell and Venis. According to Coco's club manager, Michael Benable, Toro had gotten into an argument earlier that night at Club 112. But why — and with whom — was a mystery.