Anarchy in Amarillo

Page 6 of 9

"Dustin was heading for the highway...and like from the moment we hit him till we got on the highway, it was complete silence. It seemed like forever. And then I started, like, freaking out, rocking back and forth and stuff, and just covering my face.

"Then I just started saying, 'Oh my God. Oh my God.' Over and over again. And then I was praying -- I was crying out to God, you know, like oh my God, help me please. And then I sat up and leaned into the front seat, and they were completely silent sitting there.

"I said, 'What if he's dead?' And no one said anything."

Memories of Brian Deneke's final moments are tattooed in the consciousness of everyone who witnessed them, even though the details don't always agree.

Chris Oles: "You know those low-rider cars? That's what it looked like. It just went over the top of him and bounced. You know what the scary thing was? After he ran over him, they all started cheering."

Jennifer Hix: "Blood was coming out of every hole in his head. He got...squished. There was blood, like, from his nose, ears, and mouth."

John King: "He was saying something, but I don't think anybody understood it. There was all of us surrounding him, and Jason [Brian's brother] was like holding him in his lap. There was blood everywhere -- tons of blood."

Hix: "I felt like I was in a movie or something, like it was fake. All these Christian people were, like, saying prayers, and I said man, he's fuckin' dead. He's dead he's dead he's dead."

Deneke's body lay in a patch of snow against the median Camp's car had jumped. The crime-scene photos show him lying on his left side, arms grotesquely askew. His mohawk is flopped to the side, like a wilted flower.

His front teeth are broken. A deep gash runs down the left side of his face. His left shoulder is ripped out of joint. An autopsy would reveal that his skull, spine, pelvis, and several ribs had been crushed.

None of the jocks stopped to see what happened, much less render aid.

In the days that followed Deneke's death, the punks would turn to one another, retreating into their close-knit community.

That's what happened, but no one can tell you much about it. "I stayed drunk for a long time," Hix says. "There would be cases of beer in our house every night."

When the kids emerged from their drunken trance, they gathered remembrances of Deneke's life. Some attached bits of Jason's bloody jeans to their leather jackets; others, such as Oles, tattooed the victim's name onto their arms. Later, Deneke's family and friends printed up T-shirts with Brian's face against a field of orange flames, with the words, "Brian Deneke: Hate Kills!!!" Another version -- more popular with the girls -- read, "Punk Angel -- Will You Be Mine?"

The loss hit hardest at the Deneke household. Mike and Betty Deneke had struggled to hold on to a relationship with their son as he ventured deeper into a lifestyle so utterly alien to their small-town Kansas upbringing. His music, to them, was noise. They didn't understand his fondness for blue hair, or some of the creepier friends who trooped through their house, or his disdain for school.

They always fought to understand, and today their grief hides an earlier, deeper heartache that in some ways, they had lost their son a long time ago.

The final break wasn't any less agonizing because of it. Betty Deneke was hanging Christmas decorations in her living room that night; the family always spent Christmases together. Jason called her from the IHOP. He was crying, but he wouldn't say what had happened.

She recalls this in words so quiet, they are barely audible. But no words of explanation were needed when she arrived at Western Plaza and saw the blood, the yellow sheet, and the form of her son's body beneath it.

For a while, she thought she was fine. She didn't understand the pathology of shock, the numbness that allows you to live, for a time, in a mental safety zone.

It doesn't last.

Elise Thompson crashed hard after finals week at Tascosa High. She couldn't sleep; she'd continually awaken with horrible nightmares, such as watching herself brutally murder the girls in her Bible study.

She became so depressed, so immersed in guilt that she had done nothing to stop Brian Deneke's death, that she shuffled around in dirty pajamas for weeks, refusing to bathe or brush her teeth. Her reasoning, such as it was, was that if Brian could no longer participate in the mundane activities of life, then neither should she.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons