The Girl Who Played Dead

The untold story of the 1990 bathtub shooting

Quit crying, he'd tell his son, "because you whinin' and whinin' and whinin'. And there's a lot of black kids and a lot of black men, that's all they do."

Daryl says his new life gives him satisfaction. "Now I go on the job, be there all day and get hard-earned working money," he says. "My daddy say that yesterday, my mother woke up and she say she happy. She feel good. She hated to see us going through.

"They happy now. They take walks together."

LaTonya Williams testified that she was shot 11 times--just about everywhere but her head and heart. Now 29 and in prison for felony cocaine possession, Williams pointed out some of her many scars from bullet wounds.
Mark Graham
LaTonya Williams testified that she was shot 11 times--just about everywhere but her head and heart. Now 29 and in prison for felony cocaine possession, Williams pointed out some of her many scars from bullet wounds.
Lizzie Williams after a 1996 shoplifting arrest
Lizzie Williams after a 1996 shoplifting arrest

Jimmy, a burly man with an easy smile, has finally given his wife, who stuck with him all those years, something to be proud of. And his son is right beside him.

"It's amazing. It's a miracle," Jimmy told his kids one day. "I'm a miracle."

An answer came back from the kitchen. It was Daryl, the quiet son, saying, "Me, too. I'm a miracle, too."

Out There

Of all the survivors, Lizzie Williams had drifted into the greatest obscurity. I remembered what LaTonya had said, after looking at a recent photograph of her cousin: "I can tell she out theya."

She meant the scraggly look, the street look. Out there.

Lizzie had left just the faintest trail since the 1990 shooting. She popped up in court records in 1996, when she was sentenced to jail for shoplifting. What she stole provides a clue to her world: six pairs of earrings ($11.94) and one pair of sunglasses ($1.99). On this arrest, when she was detained by a store security guard, Lizzie gave that goofy smile for her jail mug shot.

I carried around that photo in my search for her and started knocking on doors. The trail finally got warm on a short street near a shabby collection of liquor stores and cinder-block Latino clubs. An address in a database from 2001 led me to a lime-green shotgun house with boarded-up windows.

In the street, maybe a dozen muscled young men in tank tops, T-shirts and dangly britches hung around some cars, sucking on beers and smoking weed: the cream of wasted manhood. One guy was tossing a football; a perfect spiral whizzed overhead and hit the street with a slap.

It was 6 p.m. on a March day; the sun was sagging. A woman was sitting on her front porch with a friend. She motioned me over. I pulled out my Lizzie photo; the woman looked at it and smirked. "That's her face," she said. "She was here just yesterday morning."

While Lizzie had moved out of the lime-green house long ago, she'd still wander back here when the weather turned nice, park herself on an empty barrel on the backside of a nearby business and drink. Out theya.

The woman chuckled. "You know, she's not playing with a full deck," she said. "She's missing a few cards..."

Her voiced trailed off. " an ace, a jack, a king, a queen..."

The photo, I said, was from 1996. What does she look like today? "Oh, her hair might be standing up, but that's her face," she said. The girl, she said, would be easy to spot. "Don't matter how hot it is, she'll have her coat on." The woman tightened her eyes to little slots and pulled her arms across her chest like a straitjacket, mimicking a crazy woman.

Finally, after days of just missing Lizzie, one of the boozers who hangs out with her led me to a dingy apartment building with a single decapitated tree trunk out front.

I found the girl who played dead sitting in a metal folding chair in the bare courtyard. Her boyfriend, Elvin Armstrong, sat beside her. Her hair was uncombed, and she was dressed in a black sweatshirt, clean blue jeans and crisp white canvas tennis shoes, the kind you get at the dollar store. When I saw her over the next two days, she was wearing the same clothes, just dustier. She looked young and old at the same time, with a smooth face that has tightened into a strained look.

It's difficult to describe our attempts at an interview. She'd look up into the distance, then answer some question--but usually not the one I asked. She had great difficulty putting together the simplest sentences.

She'd say "I-I-I-I-I..." then give up. She seemed to have an answer in mind, but in a moment it slipped out of reach.

"Do you recall what happened that night on Cleveland Street?" I asked. Here is her exact answer, transcribed from tape:

"See, see, uh uh uh, most people always, you know, uh, stay away from each other and stuff when, you know, I do not know."

She chuckled under her breath. "No?" she asked.

"How old are you?" I asked.

She thought for a while. "Twenty-eight or 29."

Over the next two days, I searched for clues about what had happened to her and found her in a slightly more lucid state at times.

"Did the shooting change your life?" I asked.

"It really did," she said, momentarily connecting. Then she drifted off again. "'Cause you know, see, um um, from that, see, see, I was staying with...I was staying...I was staying...I was staying with my mama and stuff, and then you know, you know, she had took my kids and stuff, and then, you know, my kids..."

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 OMG I remember this happening! I was 15 at the time and I actually  knew Money Mike and Ken  (RIP Kennth  ) Now Trouble I mostly heard  about and seen one time from a distance. It was so fuck up back then every time I turned around someone I knew was getting killed. I even had a gun pull on me by one of those Jamaicans.   (In Da Trap!)  I had to use the restroom when Bazar came in behind me and pull out his gun and ask did I have any  diseases I said no and he told me to take off my pants or he was going to shoot me. God was definitely looking out for me because my friend  burst through door at that very moment since he was her boyfriend. I ran my ass out of there and never went back.