By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Until the arrests, most people in Kingwood did not think of Katie, Michelle, Lisa and Krystal as a foursome. It's not clear how they came to be sitting together at a table at the Kingwood Sonic, shortly after the end of school, planning an armed robbery. Lisa, it seems, was short on cash and suggested that the girls rob a store. Krystal reportedly thought this was a great idea. As Detective Stephens tells the story, it went down like a meeting of the prom decorations committee. One girl said, "I've got a gun!" Another said, "I've got a mask!"
On May 30, three days after the last day of classes, they were headed for their first target, a Stop-n-Drive on Loop 494, outside Kingwood's western edge in Montgomery County.
Two days later Krystal reported to summer school because, she said, she wanted to graduate a year early. During June she skipped class a lot and got her tongue pierced again. The other girls were, according to police, on an up-all-night, sleep-all-day summer schedule. But according to what has come to light so far, they did not rob any stores then.
But just before July 1, Pudifin says, there was a three-way phone call. Two of the girls said they were going to hit again. The third one said to count her in.
It's tempting, at least until one talks to their alleged victims, to think of Katie, Lisa, Michelle and Krystal's crime spree as a big screw-you to good suburban girls everywhere, an adventure with a certain B-movie glamour and switchblade-sister appeal. But, of course, there's a simpler and more sordid explanation: cocaine. All four were reportedly heavy coke users, a fact of which many of their close friends were well aware, but of which their parents and teachers were apparently not.
Asked how Kingwood High deals with substance abuse, Kathy Collier, the spokeswoman for the Humble Independent School District, rattles off too many education and counseling and prevention and awareness programs to write down. "I wouldn't want you or anybody else to think we're naive about it," she says.
Told that kids had a great deal to say about drug use in Kingwood, she says, "I know. Kids. Half of them think that everyone's doing it, and the other half think no one's doing it." She was partly right. Half the kids in Kingwood do think everyone's doing drugs. The other half think almost everyone's doing drugs.
"Rusty" is a winsome, delicately boned 24-year-old who seems, if not totally grown-up, at least to have made major, relatively recent strides in that direction. He has agreed to discuss the Kingwood drug trade over lunch at Chili's. Until recently, when he got out of the game, Rusty was a big-time dealer from Humble who says he made a six-figure income supplying "half of Kingwood" with pot, acid, ecstasy and coke. His goal when he got started as a teenager, he remembers fondly, was to get everyone in Kingwood "fucked up."
Kingwood is a dealer's dream. "Every kid there does drugs," Rusty says, "because there's nothing else to do." You can bleed rich kids for more than the going rate, and you're not likely to get screwed over. In the days before Houston annexed Kingwood and HPD came in, kids didn't even worry about the cops: "They know Mommy and Daddy are taking care of it."
In his heyday, Rusty says, he could unload a quarter-kilo of coke a week in Kingwood. In retail prices, that's about $17,000 worth. About half his customers were in what one might normally think of as the cocaine demographic, 35 and over. ("There are so many places in Kingwood where the parents are just as bad as the kids," he says.) But most of the other half were high schoolers.
The demand for cocaine started to heat up among Kingwood youth about three years ago, which by some accounts is when Krystal began to get hooked. "Everyone knew it was going on, but it wasn't okay to do it in front of everyone," Rusty recalls. Eventually what was going on behind closed doors moved out in the open, and there were parties where everyone sat around doing lines on the coffee table. Chris Berriesford, who says he broke up with Krystal in part because of her taste for drugs, remembers seeing her cut a line on the hood of her car. "That girl just had no boundaries," he says.
"Everything is a trend in Kingwood," Rusty says. "Cocaine is a trend in Kingwood. It's kind of a trendy thing in Kingwood not to believe in God."
Today, according to Rusty, "drugs are up and they're down." By drugs, he means cocaine, and by up and down, he means that the flagrant openness and the single-track minds of those who were hooked began to scare off many kids, and cocaine became uncool. Meanwhile, those who were hooked escalated their demand. "Kingwood is a really stressful, stressful place to grow up," Rusty says. "Parents have an image to uphold, and kids are just a part of that image.The kids can't just be themselves."