It was a shot fired in the presence of a crowd, but it was apparently seen by no one. Or so those who were there would have police believe.
More than 30 young people were at an unsupervised house party in East Anchorage in September when the bullet, one of many fired in the gang gunfight that erupted, struck 17-year-old Desirae Douglas in the neck when she was caught in the crossfire.
Nearly three months after her death, the case remains one of the four unsolved 2009 homicides in Anchorage. After making several arrests on charges not related directly to the shooting early in the investigation, police by November renewed an appeal to the public for information about the case. But those details rest with the crowd there the night Desirae died. And detectives say those people, ranging in age from 13 to their early 20s, aren't talking.
Police say the involvement of gang members, the lack of information from the crowd of potential witnesses, and the threats against at least some witnesses have made for one of the most frustrating cases on their unsolved list for the year.
"We haven't had as much information as we would expect from such a large number of people," said Detective Sgt. Slawomir Markiewicz, supervisor of the homicide unit. "With such a number of people, you would expect some accurate information, good information. A lot of people that were there claim they didn't see the moment of the shooting: They were somewhere else, they were in a different part of the house."
TOO LATE TO SAVE HER
A McDonald's employee with plans to go to nursing school, Desirae wanted to get out and let loose with some friends Sept. 20, said her mother, Nara Carney-Brown. Desirae had graduated from the Military Youth Academy earlier in the year and was working full time awaiting her 18th birthday in April, when she could apply for the nursing program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"There was no reason not to let her go, because she was responsible and she didn't drink," Carney-Brown said. "She just wanted to be with her friends."
Desirae said goodbye about 10:30 p.m., then left with two friends. In about three hours, she would be dead.
The party was at a home in a string of duplexes in the 8000 block of East 36th Avenue. Police say the kids and young adults had gathered there with not a parent in sight. Neighbors described a raucous party, with attendees running between yards and shouting curses. Music blasted the night.
Desirae's boyfriend, Julio Batista, 23, said he met up with Desirae at the party. He'd seen most of the people around before, but didn't know them all well, he said. At one point in the night, there was a fight out front, but then things seemed to calm down, he said.
Batista said he "went next door and then next thing I know, soon as I closed the door, it was just gunfire. Just nothing but for like five minutes. Then I come back outside. ... I run over there, turned her over, and she was already gone. I seen the hole. I picked her up, took her inside to where the party was, tried to give her a little mouth-to-mouth CPR, but I already knew it was too late."
GONE, JUST LIKE THAT
Later, Carney-Brown heard Desirae's friends ringing the doorbell and pounding on the door.
"Desirae got shot," they told Carney-Brown. "They didn't tell me she died. They just told me she got shot."
Carney-Brown prayed on the way to the scene, hoping her daughter was hit in the leg, maybe. She found the street blocked off, flashing police lights surrounding the area and kids crying in the night.
"I just couldn't believe my daughter was gone, just like that," Carney-Brown said. "She was so close to coming home. Her purse was in the back seat of the car, and when they were shooting, the bullet hit her in the neck, and they said she went down right there by the car."
In the days following the shooting, while Desirae's family grappled with the loss, investigators determined at least two Anchorage street gangs, possibly more, were at the party. At least one of them was involved in the shooting, police say.
That gang, identified in court documents as "K.C.," has been around for five or six years and was started as a Blood-affiliated "feeder group," introducing young members to gang life before they move on to a more established gang with older members, said Scott Lofthouse, the Anchorage police gang intelligence officer.
Police so far have arrested three men -- at least two of them gang members -- with ties to the party on charges unrelated to Desirae's death.
Homicide investigators picked up Paul Thomas Baldwin, 18, on a warrant for lying to police about his name during a traffic stop.
Shearn Tyrone Joshua, a 19-year-old known member of "K.C.," according to court documents, was accused of sending text and voice messages to two teenage girls who were apparently witnesses from the party, threatening to hurt them if they talked to police about the party. Upon his arrest, police found some 19 grams of cocaine in his pocket, according to court documents.
And Christopher Thomas Mejia, 20, was pulled over a week after the shooting with a stolen .40-caliber Glock in his possession and a nervous disposition, according to police. He told investigators he was outside the home when Desirae was shot but he ducked behind a vehicle when the shooting started.
Mejia is a known gang member with a history of violent behavior, including a felony weapons conviction for a 2006 case in which he shot up the Mountain View apartment building where his ex-girlfriend lived during a drive-by, according to court documents.
But that's about where the trail has dead-ended. None of those men has been charged in the death, and there has been no progress revealed publicly in the case for months. It's a chain of events police have seen a lot this year. They say they have seen about 10 gang shootings or stabbings since spring where victims or witnesses refused to cooperate.
The gang members often want to deal with things themselves, and on occasion tell police exactly that, Lofthouse said. Some witnesses or victims are afraid of retaliation if they talk -- either because of direct threats or just because of the violent circumstances -- but police say there is little precedent in Anchorage of witnesses being killed or seriously injured because they cooperated with police.
"Nobody saw anything, and it's sad," Lofthouse said of Desirae's case. "What's really sad about it is that there were a lot of females there who witnessed what happened and they are 'best friends' or 'good friends' of the victim, and yet, they don't have the courage, the integrity -- they don't care about their friend enough to come forward. To me, that's wrong."
Batista said he told police everything he knows about the night his girlfriend died, and that he thinks most other people did too. Most people had other things on their minds than getting a good look at the shooters once bullets started flying, he said.
"Once they started shooting, everybody ducked," Batista said. "They didn't get to get a good look at who actually did it because so many people were firing at the time."
But police don't buy that nobody saw anything, and neither does Desirae's family.
"It's just a fact that these kids are scared," said Desirae's father, Earl Douglas. "It is hard because when it is your child, you want results. You want the answers, you want these people to pay for what they did. I've got to believe that eventually they'll be held accountable. God ain't going to let them go unpunished and unjust."
Markiewicz said he's confident someone will come forward sooner or later. Relationships and allegiances change. Witnesses can be less afraid to talk with a few key people in jail. Or those arrested on other charges and facing hard time in prison often decide to talk themselves.
"That happens all the time," Markiewicz said. "There's no loyalty among thieves or even gang members. We see that time and time again. They may be tough on the outside, but when they're looking at some serious jail time, they want to save their own skin."
Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.
By JAMES HALPIN