By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
It was Saturday night, and 17-year-old Kevin Rivas and his best friend, Robert Hidalgo, were cruising southeast Houston. It was the weekend after Thanksgiving, 1999, and the two high school students randomly decided to steal a white Honda from a woman. Kevin drove his mother's Mazda MPV around the cove for about five hours before he and Robert found a car they wanted.
At 4 a.m. Kevin spotted a dark-haired woman driving a four-door Accord down Almeda-Genoa Road. She turned left into the Windmill Lakes subdivision, and the silver van followed her through the gates of The Breakers apartment complex. The woman parked the car, but when she didn't get out, the boys thought she'd fallen asleep behind the wheel. She was an easy target.
Tracey Lynn Deel, 31, sat in her car listening to the radio the way she always does when she gets home. Suddenly, her driver's-side door opened and a teenage boy told her to scoot over. When another guy, his face covered with a gray sweatshirt, pointed a pistol at her head, she jumped over the gearshift.
The driver steered the car down Windmill Lakes, a road that curves past three safe-looking apartment complexes. After less than a mile, the road dead-ends into a wall of trees on East Haven Drive. The driver parked the car and ordered Tracey into the woods. Ten steps from the curb, Tracey turned and begged the boys not to shoot her. She told them she was a good person and she'd give them anything they wanted. "Let me go," she said. "You've got the car. Let me go." She pulled out her ATM card and said she'd give them all the cash she had.
Mentioning money worked; they drove to a nearby Wells Fargo. Tracey tried to reason with them, but the driver told her to shut up. He said she was a "good bitch" because her gas tank was full. The boys argued in Spanish; Tracey wished she knew the language. At the pulse machine Tracey handed over her Chase MasterCard and her PIN: 6241. Nervous, the driver typed it in wrong and the machine spat out the card; spotting the ATM's camera, he freaked and drove off. A white truck was behind them. Seeing her chance, Tracey opened the door to jump out, but one of the boys yanked her back inside. During the five-minute drive back to the field, the guy in the back pressed the pistol to her head. Tracey suggested they try the cash machine at the corner Stop N Go. When the boys nixed that idea, she said her dad lived only four miles away and he had money.
"No," the driver said. "No more money. This is it."
He stopped the car and ordered Tracey into the field. Repeatedly, she told the boys not to shoot her. "It doesn't have to be this way," she said. "Let me live." She didn't believe they would actually do it; she was sure they were going to take her car, and she was irritated that they were going to steal the breakfast burritos she'd bought, but she didn't think they were going to kill her.
"On your knees," the gunman yelled. "Get down."
Tracey stayed standing. "Don't do this," she begged. "Don't."
"ON YOUR KNEES," he repeated.
If she was going to get shot, she was going to get shot standing. The driver got out of the car and gave the gunman an order Tracey couldn't hear. A second later she saw the flick of fire as the first bullet left the gun. The shot hit Tracey below her right eye, knocking off her custom-made Jean-Paul Gaultier goggle glasses. She thought her head had exploded as half her world went black. "Holy shit, they blew my head off," she thought. The second bullet went into her mouth, knocked out seven teeth and sliced her tongue before she swallowed the bullet. What felt like gallons of warm blood filled her mouth.
Linda Deel had let her dogs, Snoopy and Sam, outside and crawled back into bed when the phone rang. She glanced at the clock; it was 5:40 a.m. Her husband is an emergency response manager for Lubrizol, so Linda thought it was just another early-morning office emergency. Instead it was a woman wanting to verify Tracey's social security number. As Linda tried to understand what the caller was saying, her husband asked what was going on and told her not to give out any information until he checked the caller ID box. It read Ben Taub Hospital. The trauma nurse said Linda's stepdaughter had been in a carjacking. Linda told her they were on their way. She and her husband jumped out of bed and began throwing on their clothes.
The phone rang again while Linda was in the bathroom; a police officer told Rick that his daughter had been shot at least three times in the head and chest. Rick collects guns (he has a .357 magnum stored on Linda's side of the bed, a .38-caliber pistol, and six rifles Rick inherited from his father and grandfather) and knows the damage they can do. As a former paramedic Rick has seen several people with gunshot wounds, some he could save and some he couldn't; others ended up living half-lives hooked to machines. "I thought if she'd been shot that many times maybe it'd be better for God to take her," Rick says. "I didn't think she would make it, or have much to make it for."
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