Blood streamed from two bullet holes in Chris Headley's temple. The 20-year-old's chest was also shot through. The front and back of his white T-shirt were stained scarlet.
"Don't let me die," he gurgled. "Please don't let me die."
He stopped breathing for a moment. Then he rolled over on the sun-bleached pavement outside a boarded-up Miami Gardens crack den.
Christopher Andrew Headley
Kenya Greene had heard the shots and sprinted outside. The 31-year-old beauty grabbed Headley's hand. He looks 16 years old, she thought, a baby. "Breathe, baby. Breathe."
The dreadlocked shooter was nearby. That didn't matter. She screamed and then began praying: "Our Father, who art in Heaven..."
"Our Father," Chris parroted in a whisper as blood poured from his mouth and down his cheek.
Fifteen hours later, after a helicopter flight to the trauma center, the young man was dead. That was this past September 9. The TV news didn't broadcast a word about the murder. It was just one of 160 in the county this year. Newspapers were mum too. Cops never even returned to ask Kenya or her slender, blond-wigged 38-year-old roommate, Charlene, any questions.
"After he passed away, no detective came around," says Charlene, stamping her feet and pointing at the still-bloody pavement. "Nobody came knocking on people's doors asking if they knew or saw anything. It just ain't fair."
The seedy place on NW 207th Street where Chris was shot reeks of mayhem. A kid with dreadlocks killed him from a car just outside the "candy house," where neighbors say you can buy hard-boiled eggs in brine, a soda, and more. When I visited recently, a new silver Mercedes with wire rims pulled up in front. A guy dressed in low-slung shorts and a crooked baseball cap walked inside to make a buy. A new Dodge pickup truck was parked there too. Next door is a boarded-up house on a garbage-strewn lot.
Although Miami Gardens is only a few minutes from the suburban Miramar home where Chris lived with his grandma, the city is one of the deadliest places in the Sunshine State. Local cops rarely issue a news release or even mention murders.
Chris shouldn't have been there. A month before, he had snared a job at Home Depot. He had stopped dressing like a thug. His mom, Kristina Mahoney, a tax consultant with two master's degrees, and his uncle, Paul Neil, a well-known club manager, thought the once-troubled kid had turned his life around. But last month, Chris Headley's corpse was buried to a hip-hop soundtrack.
"Chris was a very funny kid," his mother says. "He always had a story to tell. Now there are no more stories."
He was born at Miami's North Shore Medical Center in 1991, and Kristina moved to Miramar just before Hurricane Andrew flattened much of the city. From the beginning, Chris was bright and athletic, but not much of student at Fairway Elementary. He made B's and C's. Kristina calls him "a little lazy."
Chris was a tough kid, who at just 7 years old fell and banged his head on a concrete bumper in a parking lot. When Kristina cried at the sight of blood, he soothed her: "It's OK mom. I'll take care of you; I'll always take care of you."
He was captain of the football team and point guard for the West Pembroke Pines Optimist Club, where he called himself "Little Michael Jordan." Sports were his passion. They would also be his undoing.
When Chris was still small, Kristina remarried to a guy named Tourek. "He and his stepdad got along well at first, but later things got rough," she recalls. "He was independent, but his stepfather was very strict."
At age 14, Chris started hanging with a bad crowd. He was busted for battery that year after Miramar cops chased a bunch of brawling kids into a back yard. But prosecutors quickly dropped the charges, and he sunk himself into sports. Though he was short, not much taller than five feet, he played junior varsity basketball when he started at Flanagan High.
The next year he moved to giant Everglades High, which had just opened. He had big plans — to make the varsity team and win the state championship. But when a coach wouldn't start him, he muttered something disrespectful and was suspended. Not much later, he was removed from school for fighting.
"Things went downhill from there," Kristina says. "After that, he just kept getting in trouble."
First he was pulled over with a joint in his pocket. Charges were quickly dropped. His worst crime was showing a pellet gun to a kid who had "looked at him hard," according to a police report. A judge gave him 100 days of community service and anger management classes.
"All typical juvenile stuff," says Broward attorney Reginald Mathis, who represented Chris. "He had good values and was always respectful, always." Mathis, a 40-year-old former prosecutor, has represented three other kids shot down by people he calls "domestic terrorists" in "senseless gun violence." But he says, "Chris was different. He came from a good home. He wasn't an at-risk youth. He knew right from wrong."
Kristina divorced and moved with Chris to Pearland, Texas, near Houston. "I wanted to get him away from all that," she says.
But Chris dropped out of school and soon returned to South Florida. He worked at a car wash on NW 27th Avenue near Sun Life Stadium for a while and gained some independence. He briefly moved to Palm Beach County, where his uncle Howard Hardie helped him earn a GED. But when he moved into his grandomother's home in Miramar, the old friends came back into his life.
He began smoking pot more often than he should have. He wanted to quit, says his uncle Paul, "but he confided in me that it was hard to give it up in a day. The drugs would make him hyper. He knew we didn't approve."
The night Chris died, he was at home around 8 p.m. when Paul called from Miami International Airport. A ride had failed to appear, so could Chris pick him up? They headed back to Paul's place just off Miramar Parkway. "He was very happy that night," Paul recalls. "He said, 'You see, I am not dressing like a thug anymore.'" He talked about his new job. "He was ecstatic about that."
The two chatted for a while until Chris poured himself a cup of fruit punch and headed out the door.
"There's nothing alcoholic there?" Paul said, emerging from the bathroom. "You can't be drinking and driving."
"No, it's fruit punch."
"Where you going?" Paul asked.
But instead, Chris headed to the Miami Gardens "candy house." He was dead within minutes. Neighbors didn't hear yelling or arguing before the shooting. He was shot twice in the head and twice in the chest.
"My guess is he probably just stopped off to buy a joint," his mom says. "This wasn't a random incident. It was somene who had a vendetta out for him. I can't imagine that someone would shoot him this way otherwise. Whoever this person is, it was someone who had knowledge of Chris. It had to be."
The police report says a maroon Dodge pickup truck pulled into the area just before the shooting and then left immediately after. Neighbors I questioned say someone stepped out of the truck and fired at Chris. The day I was there, a new red Dodge pickup was parked out front.
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Though four neighbors I spoke with, including Kenya and Charlene, say cops haven't returned to question them, Miami Gardens police spokesman Sgt. Bill Bamford insists officers have scoured the area. "The leads are few, but we are certainly working this case," he says. The department, he adds, did not issue a news release about the killing, which took place around 9:20 p.m., likely scuttling any press coverage. For a reporter to get a response from any police higherup can take days.
There have been three recent murders, Bamford adds. Indeed, the city might be Florida's murder central. Twenty-two people were killed last year in Miami Gardens, whose population is less than 110,000. The murder total is higher than that of any other city in Dade County except Miami.
"I don't believe the police have done anything," Kristina says. "They told me they had handed out flyers, but when I went out there, I didn't see one. Not one."
Adds Chris's uncle Paul: "I think this should have gotten more media attention. His life had just started. We need to make people aware of this so it doesn't happen again. Next time, it could be their kid."