By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It lasted, at most, two or three seconds. Enough time to send and receive a million impulses that ripped through her mind like neural buckshot.
They are stuck there today, two years later, as memories, and Elise Thompson can feel them viscerally; she recalls the sounds, sights, and sensations as though they are unfolding before her right now.
The place is Amarillo, around 11:30 p.m. on December 12, 1997, a sharply cold winter night; she sees patches of snow on the asphalt.
She is sitting in the back seat of her friend's enormous Cadillac, and she is jerking her eyes from window to window as "chaos" wraps itself around her.
The car is moving.
She cannot form words, cannot breathe. Jagged images of bats and batons and chains cross-cut the shadowy outlines of human figures chasing one another, grappling on the pavement.
Clubs and chains slam against glass and metal. The car turns, jumps a curb. She braces herself against the movements.
She hears the driver's words, floating up from the chaos, divorced from all context: "I'm a ninja in my Caddy."
She turns forward, straightens up in the middle of the back seat. Directly in front of the car, she sees a man with his arm raised up, his back to the grille. He is dressed in punk-rocker regalia. He is holding a black stick.
Instantly he turns. He is looking right at her. The look, she says, is "complete terror."
The car does not stop.
The man's body seems to roll onto the hood, then is sucked under. She feels one bump, then another.
She is hoping, hoping desperately, that it is the median, not flesh.
She turns again, looking out the back window, and sees a crumpled figure on the pavement, limbs splayed, "blood everywhere." A girl is running toward the body.
She hears more words from the driver; they have faded edges, they are less distinct. "I bet he liked that." The car does not stop.
In tears, talking nervously about how he'd made a mistake, how he'd take the fall alone, the teenage driver of the Cadillac dropped off his buddy, Rob Mansfield, who had been sitting beside him in the front seat, and Rob's best friend, 16-year-old Elise, at their homes.
Rob and Elise immediately woke up their parents. Within minutes, the two families, who live across the alley from each other, were talking on the phone. Together, they escorted their children to the downtown police station, where both teens gave statements to police.
Elise did not sleep that night. She would go without sleep for many days.
Morning would bring a small measure of order to the chaos. Order, but never any sense.
At 6 a.m. on December 13, Amarillo police pulled up to the home of a 17-year-old high school kid named Dustin Camp and arrested him in connection with the death of another teen, 19-year-old Brian Deneke.
For whatever reason, Camp -- universally described as a "clean-cut kid," with no criminal record, not even a traffic ticket -- had not turned himself in after mowing down Deneke in his boat-like Cadillac.
Instead, he drove home and told his parents what had happened. They urged him to go to sleep; they'd do something about it in the morning. It was one of many missteps by Camp that would seem to indicate a callous nonchalance about the young man's death.
Search warrant in hand, police seized the tan-colored 1983 Cadillac parked at the Camp home and later examined it. On the hood were gashes and dings. On the car's undercarriage, they found spattered blood.
An officer's affidavit shows that police gathered as evidence "10 swabbings of possible blood," "2 hairs and/or fibers," bits of paint, and, from the trunk, an "almost empty" bottle of Crown Royal whiskey and an 18-pack of Bud Light with 13 cans missing.
Dustin Camp was charged with murder.
From the statements of witnesses in hospital emergency rooms and the homes of worried parents, police investigators would piece together an account of a colossal street fight: the jocks against the punks, or, in the derogatory tags the kids used, the "white hats" vs. the "freaks."
Although as many as 50 teens were involved, no one will ever know the exact number. Most of them scattered immediately after Deneke was struck.
As cops delved deeper, the story that emerged from eyewitnesses grew uglier. It seems that tensions between the jocks and punks had existed for months. There had been constant name-calling in the halls of both Tascosa High School and Amarillo High School, and punks were getting "jumped" in the street by packs of white hats, so called because of their fondness for white caps bearing the names of colleges with top-ranked football teams, such as Notre Dame or Michigan. It's something none of the jocks wants to talk about now, but some of them appear to have made a sport of harassing the couple of hundred punks, goths, and skinheads who make conservative Amarillo their home.
There was no doubt about the tribal identities of the suspect and victim.
Deneke was a punk, a wiry high school dropout with a faded blue mohawk, spiked collar, and leather jacket. He went by an unlikely moniker for a hardcore music fan, "Sunshine." Camp was the class clown, a baby-faced kid who played junior varsity football at Tascosa, earned above-average grades, and was more or less ambling toward college. Both were highly popular within their own groups.