Nice Girls With Guns

Kingwood High friends say the girls were "Sweet." Adults say "Well-Mannered." Cops say "armed robbers."

While those who knew the girls say Krystal flaunted her cocaine use, for Katie, the Filly, and Lisa, the athlete, the drug was a struggle. "[Katie] told me she spent a lot," says one friend, who believes Katie started doing coke during her junior year. "Something bad would happen, and she'd be like, 'I gotta quit, I gotta quit.'ŠWe stopped talking for a while because of it."

Lisa had "dramatically changed" over the past year as well, says the friend, a fellow athlete who used to practice with her on the court until Lisa seemed to lose interest in athletics. "She didn't want what she used to want."

Police confirm that the girls used some of their spoils to buy cocaine (Stephens says Katie also used the extra cash to get her belly button pierced). The July 1 robbery, which netted their biggest take, apparently whetted the girls' appetite for a wild spree the following weekend.

Kingwood High: where the football team runs out of a giant inflatable helmet.
Steve Lowry
Kingwood High: where the football team runs out of a giant inflatable helmet.
Starbucks and Sonic are major landmarks in Kingwood's teenage wasteland.
John Childs
Starbucks and Sonic are major landmarks in Kingwood's teenage wasteland.

On July 4, according to police, Krystal and a male suspect wearing one white and one black glove held up the Porter Food Store in Montgomery County. The owner put $200 in a fast-food paper bag they handed him. The store is located just before a curve in Ford Road, which leads into Kingwood by a back way, and the robbers escaped handily. The male suspect has yet to be arrested, possibly because only Krystal was allegedly with him, and only Krystal has not given a police statement.

By six the next morning, after what one can easily imagine was a wired night, the girls were desperate enough to rob in broad daylight. Back on Hamblen Road, according to police charges, Krystal and Katie held up Ryan's Bakery.

"The girls did tell me they were sober at the time of the robberies," says Stephens. He uses a perfectly straight tone while managing to convey utter disbelief: "That's pretty brave, to do something like this sober."

By this time the girls were starting to get in hot water at home. Krystal was supposed to start the second session of summer school on July 5, the morning of the bakery holdup, but she was absent. Eventually poor attendance forced her to drop out.

When Katie had left home that weekend, she did so despite the fact that she was grounded, and she stayed away for three days. That's why she was grounded yet again when the other three girls hit Jack's Grocery, next door to the bakery, the following weekend. In all the robberies, their M.O. was basically the same: One held the door, the other the gun, and there was a lot of yelling and cursing. ("Don't get your panty hose in a wad," the plainspoken bakery clerk Carolyn Dunn told them when they tried to rush her.)

But at Jack's, says Chiên Barker, a Vietnamese woman with a good deal more poise than your typical convenience-store clerk, the girls weren't as harsh. Jack's, owned by Chiên and her husband, Rick, occupies a soft spot in the hearts of many Kingwood youth, who remember it fondly as the only place that used to sell cigarettes to minors. More than one kid hanging out at Starbucks offered the opinion that holding up Jack's was some sort of treason, far worse an offense than simple armed robbery. Katie, Lisa and Krystal were regular customers there, and Chiên says she would sometimes inquire after Lisa's mother, since the two women had been friends for about a decade.

But on the day Chiên found herself with a gun pointed at her face, she had no idea that the petite masked figure wielding it was, allegedly, her friend's daughter. All Chiên could think about was her young, motherless grandson, and what he would do without her to raise him. It was the first time in nearly 20 years of business that Jack's had been robbed, and Chiên, who lived through the war in Vietnam, doesn't want to tell the story. When finally she does so, her voice stays calm while her eyes fill with tears.

"I feel sorry for their mothers," she says simply.

It is a Monday night in Kingwood, about 9 p.m. Everything is pretty much dead. Behind the Fuddruckers, a smattering of teens are gathered in the parking lot. A cheerleader in uniform leans into a guy seated on the hood of his car. All the shops are dark, except Espresso Yourself, a coffee shop where people under 21 are not permitted in the evening because beer is served. On the sidewalk in front, what passes for culture in Kingwood is taking place: The Mad Matt Show. A twentysomething guy in a T-shirt and shorts plays the guitar for an audience that looks largely made up of his parents' friends. A girl with dyed black hair sits morosely near the back. "I'm funky / I'm not a junkie / I don't know where to get it," Mad Matt sings between cigarettes. Then, to an appreciative murmur, he strikes the opening chords of "Margaritaville."

Back in the '80s the Clergy Association of Kingwood and the Friendswood Development Corporation, which is the Exxon subsidiary that developed Kingwood, commissioned a study on the needs of their young adult constituents. In light of the tragic, alcohol-related death of a Kingwood teen en route to a party, the Clergy Association particularly wanted to know about the need for substance-abuse services. The name of the community in question was not to be mentioned in the study, and the study was not to be published.

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