By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
When the report was issued, according to lead researcher Paul Raffoul, it was essentially ignored. Yet the main finding was simple: There was absolutely nothing for teenagers to do in Kingwood. There still isn't.
As a result, Kingwood is the site of a sort of guerrilla war between kids and cops. Vandalism is so frequent as to seem like a hobby -- there were more than 400 incidents reported last year. Kids complain that all the cops do is look for parties to bust. Asked about juvenile crime, Houston police Sergeant G.A. MacAnulty, who works at the Kingwood station, says, "That's all we deal with out here is juveniles."
Crime in Kingwood doesn't make headlines very often, but when it does, it always seems to involve teenagers. This summer a 13-year-old set fire to an elementary school, doing $3 million worth of damage. A week later a 14-year-old set fire to a middle school, which will cost $40,000 to repair. Four teenagers -- two boys and two girls -- sent a house up in flames. In 1996 six football players and two other teens were charged with beating up one of their peers at an outdoor concert in Town Center. In 1995 nine teenagers were arrested for entering a house and beating the kids inside with baseball bats.
In one of the most sensational Kingwood crimes, 15-year-old Andrew Merritt shot and killed his mother, telling authorities that Satan had spoken to him through the heavy-metal music of Megadeth. The following year, 1994, there was another case that seemed made for Hard Copy: Eight teens aged 14 to 16 videotaped themselves exploding mailboxes, trapping joggers in pits and setting fire to air conditioners. Their misdeeds were plotted, like football plays, on a chalkboard. One of those kids was Katie's boyfriend this summer.
Throughout all these crimes runs a chilling failure to grasp the notion of consequences. Partying in Kingwood, cheerleader Christina Ousman explains, is a way to say "you have your parents around your little finger." The more you get away with, the higher your status.
When the four girls were arrested, Detective Stephens says, all but Katie showed no remorse. "It just didn't seem to upset them," says Stephens. "They gave their story and that's it. Point-blank."
Ultimately Lisa was the only one who displayed an inkling that she could have ruined her life. (Armed robbery is a first-degree felony that carries five to 99 years.) "It was, 'Okay, when can we get this wrapped up, because I have school starting in a few days,' " Pudifin told People magazine.
A girl who was a friend of Andy Merritt's, the guy who killed his mother, says the strangest thing about growing up in Kingwood is that no matter what you did, nothing seemed to come of it. During nights of aimless vagrancy, she and her friends threw Molotov cocktails and set walls on fire. Other kids threw golf balls at policemen to make them give chase. One night the girl and her friends took a track hurdle and hurled it through the window of a school. The next day the broken glass was still there, right where they left it.
When her friends returned to school at the end of a week's vacation, the glass was fixed. No one said a word about it. You could throw rocks at the bubble, but they'd just bounce back.
Detective Billy Stephens was on the case of the Hamblen Road robberies when a tipster called the Harris County Sheriff's Department and said that Katie and Michelle were involved. Though the girls had no prior record, the tip seemed plausible, if only because a common thread in the robberies was that witnesses believed they had been committed by either females or very young men. Detective Stephens called in undercover investigators Pudifin and D.W. Smith, who placed the two girls under surveillance.
But waiting around for the girls to pull guns on more unsuspecting store clerks was a less-than-ideal situation, not least because the girls themselves stood a good chance of getting hurt. Besides, the girls didn't do anything illegal while the police were watching except drive too fast, for which they received a speeding ticket.
Because of the robbers' masks and hoods, Stephens knew he wasn't going to get a facial ID. So he went after a vocal one: He asked a Kingwood High School assistant principal, someone who knew all the kids, to view the surveillance tapes from the robberies in Montgomery County (there were no tapes in any of the Harris County jobs). The principal's identification of Katie's voice was enough for the cops to get a warrant.
By then the girls were sliding downhill fast. On the surface, their antics seemed rough, but within the bounds of normal teenage angst. But that was only on the surface.
Lisa reportedly used her mom's credit card to buy tickets for the Woodstock concert in late July, planning to steal her mom's Jeep Cherokee to drive there. But when her mom found out, friends say, she confiscated the tickets. At some point Lisa took the car and didn't come home "for a long time."