By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
Outside, a police officer repeated pleas that echoed throughout the apartment complex from a tinny bullhorn.
"You don't want to do this," he urged the man, holed up in his unit with his baby and a gun. "Come out. You haven't gone too far yet."
Malana West heard the efforts to calm the invisible gunman, then peered nervously through her blinds toward the siege unfolding across the parking lot.
A month pregnant and with four young children, but too curious to stay away from her window, West was still watching when she suddenly witnessed this scene 20 minutes later: The blinds parted in the man's apartment, revealing 33-year-old Timothy Adams Sr. cradling a pistol in one hand and his 21-year-old month son in the other.
West's portion of the complex was already teeming with cops. Two SWAT vans rolled into an alley beside Adams's four-unit building. She saw an officer wrap yellow caution tape around the main entrance, and heard another one knock on her door. He told her to take her children, who ranged in age from six months to five years old, to her next-door neighbor's, out of the line of potential fire.
They moved to the neighbor's hallway floor and turned the bedroom television in their direction. News crews on the Fondren esplanade were already broadcasting the turmoil. Residents of the complex were used to seeing police around -- West had come home from work at a credit investigation office and initially figured it was just another couple fighting. Adams had chased his wife from their unit with the gun. West knew it was worse when another tenant advised her, "He's got his baby hostage."
Darkness had arrived by 6:30 p.m., but police trained spotlights on Adams's window.
Dozens of SWAT officers broke through nearby wooden patio fences while others climbed a ladder to gather in apartments adjacent to the gunman.
Inside her neighbor's apartment, West never heard Adams fire his gun. Moments later, his hands in the air, Adams emerged in a white T-shirt soaked with his baby's blood. Half the officers fell on him, half rushed inside. West stepped outside just in time to hear an officer scream, "Make a hole!"
The officers on the stairs parted, and an officer holding the limp infant raced down and into the back of an ambulance that sped away. The child died from two shots to the chest. West saw the pensive look on the father's face as police dragged him to the parking lot.
"Maybe he was thinking about what he had done," West says. "Maybe he knew his life was over."
That was her second thought. Her first was that she had to move.
"If I was waiting on a sign," she told herself, "there it is."
Five days later, West would think the same thing after another murder at the complex. Her urge grew stronger when two more people were killed there in the following five months.
The curse of Fondren Southwest seemed to be descending again. Houston's forsaken southwest corner -- an area squeezed by aging apartment units and regular explosions of anger -- had been trying for years to make a comeback, fueled by federal grants and gritty grassroots activism, and dislodge the gangs and legacy of lethal violence.
West's own apartment house, Pointe Royale, had been considered by police to be one of the safer ones crammed into the maze of the nearly 100 complexes of Fondren Southwest. Then came the four homicides within six months, beginning with the Adams murder on February 20, just as new owners were instituting more security upgrades.
Tired of trying to raise her kids in what is perceived to be a perpetual crime scene, West was one of many tenants determined to break through financial limitations and escape to a new future. Demetria Kimble, a resident for nine years, scoffed at assurances that three of the killings were "domestic" -- involving families or friends, not strangers.
"The bullet don't have no names," she says. "It doesn't have any direction."
About 25 years ago, developers determined a bold new direction for Houston -- virgin land in Fondren Southwest would be transformed into a haven for young, white professionals wanting to flee then-decaying areas like Stella Link.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, huge apartment complexes sprang up beside expensive homes in pristine subdivisions. Businesses also saw profits in the fresh population influx, and fine restaurants and strip malls further transformed the landscape. The economic outlook seemed good for the mostly white, predominantly Jewish area -- a roughly eight square-mile tract bounded by Braeswood on the north, South Main on the south, Hillcroft on the east and the Southwest Freeway on the west.
But the real estate market bottomed out in the area's oil bust of the mid-1980s. Property values plummeted and many of the complexes deteriorated. The prized upscale residents fled, followed by the better restaurants. Strip malls sat half-empty. In a rush to maintain apartment occupancy, owners lowered rent and offered free move-in specials, attracting many low-income black and Hispanic families to smaller units originally designed for singles or couples. Still, many complexes failed. And many of the foreclosure actions were by savings and loan companies that soon faced their own insolvency.