Sudden Impact

What could be safer than dropping your kid off at the movies? A lot of things, as it turns out.

Casey and his friends decide to kick it up a notch by dropping some of their X, something they say they've all done many times before. Some nights they'll stroll through a nearby field and smoke a joint or climb up onto the roof of a storage facility across the street. Tonight's pill is a "blue wavie," named for its color and design. It's not a special occasion or anything, really, just an antidote to boredom. A friend sums it up: "It makes Sugar Land better, 'cause Sugar Land fucking sucks."

Yolanda Conner-Canty got the call that night at 11:15, the call that every parent dreads when the phone rings late at night and the kids aren't at home.

Maurice Canty and Yolanda Conner-Canty, Fred's 
stepfather and mother, with their daughter Mauronda.
Daniel Kramer
Maurice Canty and Yolanda Conner-Canty, Fred's stepfather and mother, with their daughter Mauronda.
Maurice Canty and Yolanda Conner-Canty, Fred's 
stepfather and mother, with their daughter Mauronda.
Daniel Kramer
Maurice Canty and Yolanda Conner-Canty, Fred's stepfather and mother, with their daughter Mauronda.

Fred's friends had picked up her son to go out at around seven. By that time, it was already dark out. They headed off to the AMC First Colony and bought tickets to see Barbershop 2. Halfway into it, Fred got up and left the theater without his ticket -- apparently he had given it to a girl to hold onto. When he tried to get back in, his friends say, the theater security wouldn't let him and kicked him out. He called his buddies on his cell phone in the middle of the movie. They came out and joined him. That's when they all saw Roderick.

It was Fred's phone calling his mother at 11:15, but it wasn't Fred on the other end of the line.

"They told me that Frederick had been into a fight and that he fell. The boy hit him in his mouth and he fell back and he can't get up. And I asked, 'What do you mean, he can't get up?' " says Conner-Canty, her voice and ire rising. She rushed to the parking lot and followed the ambulance to Polly Ryon Memorial Hospital. (Fred was later LifeFlighted to Memorial Hermann.) The X-rays, she says, revealed a blood clot in the back of his head the size of a fist. Fred was throwing up and speaking incoherently. When she asked about the fight, Fred only repeated feverishly, "Coach, get them off of me! Coach, get them off of me!"

"[I] asked him, do he know what year, does he know what year that he's living in -- he says he living in the 16th century," she says. "This is what my son's saying…His mind was playing tricks on him." At other moments, he could correctly identify himself, his mother and father and return an "I love you."

A few days later, doctors performed brain surgery on Fred. His brain did not stop swelling. They gave him heavy anesthetics, so that his whole body numbed up and a breathing machine kept him alive. On February 18, doctors determined that Frederick was brain-dead. They let the medicine wear off, to see if he would still come around.

He died the next day.

Fred's family had moved from New Orleans nine years ago, hoping to escape the grittiness of the projects.

"We move out here because we heard that it was a safe environment -- for our kids," says Maurice Canty, Fred's stepfather, a mountain of a man with a N'awlins accent, standing on the sidewalk in front of their home. By any standard, their cul-de-sac glows with that hope: red brick houses, a basketball hoop next to the mailbox, a bicycle left in the driveway and a country club around the bend.

But for Fred's parents, standing underneath the dim streetlight, retelling the story of the death of their son has a way of quieting that dream.

"It's just ridiculous how it's gone down this road. I mean, my child wasn't supposed to go like that, he wasn't supposed to leave me like that!" says Conner-Canty, puddles of tears filling in beneath her eyes, her voice brittle and cracking. "He wasn't supposed to go! He wasn't supposed to leave me!" She shakes her head and sniffs back the tears.

A Fort Bend County grand jury convened in late March to review one of two possible charges: criminally negligent homicide and aggravated assault. Roderick's mother brought him to the police station to give a statement the Sunday after the fight. As the district attorney's office believes the fight was consensual and the fall -- which caused Fred's death -- was largely accidental, the grand jury voted not to pursue criminal charges against Roderick.

"It's a very, very tragic and unfortunate scenario. It really is. It's just that it did not rise to what we believe to be criminal charges," says Tyra McCollum, chief assistant district attorney of the juvenile division. "You have to wonder if either of those boys knew that if they fought and one of them was definitely going to die as a result of it, that it still would have happened."

Teenagers are always very welcome for us, and by and large the majority of them are well behaved," says Rick King, an AMC spokesman. For AMC that's just smart business, as teenagers constitute the most active moviegoing demographic. A 2003 Cinema Study report found that 71 percent of kids age 12 to 17 in the United States had been to a movie theater in the past month.

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