He was armed and amped after a crappy day made tolerable by pills and pot, and "down for whatever," the phrase that gave the DFW Mafia its name.
Hardge himself had been shot two years earlier and still has a fleshy bubble of a scar on his elbow. "I got shot!" he remembers thinking at the time, amused with twisted pride. He lost his 16-year-old best friend to a gunshot wound not long after DFW Mafia became a serious force in Oak Cliff.
"Kids now, they don't care," says Detective Germaine Walls of the Dallas Police Department's gang unit. Over the years, he's seen a gang mentality develop that is more violent with less purpose. "The violence ... it's getting worse."
Dozens of people gathered in a line that snaked around JeRenee as they waited in the summer heat for security at the door to swipe them with a metal detector. The flier announcing the party warned, "No fightin!!! Police on duty!!" Brawls between members of rival gangs or even rival high schools were expected at certain high school parties.
Hardge cut the line and paid the $10 entrance fee while his friend stayed in the parking lot, mingling with the crowd outside. Sweat coated him instantly as he walked into the room packed with more than 100 sticky bodies. He recognized hardly anyone, but that didn't matter; he was high and could still feel the Xanax ramping him up after a day that left his nerves taut. The drug widely used to calm anxiety had the opposite effect on Hardge. He felt capable of anything, like a superhero who couldn't stand still. Hardge waded through the crowd and hopped onto the stage to hang out with another friend from Carter High School.
Barely 15 minutes had passed when a brawl broke out on the dance floor, sucking Hardge's friend into a mass of contorting bodies and flying punches. That quickly, the music went dead. The party was over. While many were still in line to enter, security pushed everyone from inside out the door. As the crowd dispersed, anger hung heavy.
Neiman Ross sat slumped outside the door holding his face, bloodied when a punch to the back of the head knocked him down. He had been dancing with his cousins and friends when he and Dunngea Suber, whom he had fought with in middle school, exchanged words, then punches, setting off a chain reaction that sent the crowds running and peeling away in cars. Amid the chaos, Hardge recalls someone helping Ross outside and yelling, "I'm going to kill one of y'all niggas."
Hardge ran down the sidewalk to the trunk of his friend's car.
"Y'all need to leave," he told a group of girls standing near the car in the club's dark parking lot. He grabbed the AK as people ran in all directions, trying to get as far away as quickly as possible, as if a timer were counting down. There was too much commotion, too much anger, too much disrespect carried outside. Someone was going to start shooting.
The person helping Ross ran to a green Explorer, but Hardge never saw him with a gun. Before he could even grab his weapon and slam the trunk, he says, shots were flying in his direction from across the street. From a corner area where the parking lot dumps into the street, Hardge squeezed off several shots in that direction. Barreling toward the road, the green Explorer clipped him, knocking him to his back on the asphalt. For a split-second, Hardge thought he had been shot, but it was only the burn of the pavement. He unloaded his gun into the Explorer.
Homicide Detective Robert Quirk, who was on the scene soon after the shooting, said a bullet struck the front of the Explorer, indicating that Hardge shot the vehicle before it leveled him at the entrance to the parking lot. Though Hardge said he was being fired at from across the street, Quirk says the only shell casings found in that location were Hardge's own — two spots, 500 feet apart, same gun. "It's not like they're the same caliber from two different guns. They're the same caliber, same manufacturer of the bullets — same freaking gun," Quirk says.