Out of the Ashes

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The witness didn't hear about the fire until a couple of days later. "Everyone was afraid to say anything because we knew the Jamaicans would kill us," he told authorities.

Another witness told police she'd paged Lupe some time after hearing about the fire. She asked him if he was involved, and he said "yes." Vincent Thomas' attorney, Scottie Allen, dismisses such claims as untrue. "These people they're evidently basing their case on are drug dealers themselves," he says. "They are not credible and have an ax to grind against Mr. Thomas."

Ketrick Jordan never had a chance to say goodbye to his family. He was still in critical condition when his siblings and niece were buried; he stayed in the hospital for months, enduring burn treatments at Parkland and rehabilitation at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, where he was fitted with artificial legs and learned to walk again. The burn treatments were excruciating. "I'd rather die than go through that again," Ketrick says. "It was that painful."

All of the medical personnel in Parkland's burn unit got to know him, he says, because he'd scream and holler so loud in the whirlpool used to bathe his wounds and loosen his bandages.

News and television stories have kept up with Ketrick's recovery since then, as the boy learned to walk, shoot hoops, ski and ride a horse--even wrestle on the stumps of his legs at Skyline High School. Ketrick pumped iron, building his upper body to the point where he won several matches at 112 pounds. He was determined, he says, to live his life to the fullest. The articles leave out some parts of an otherwise inspiring story: how his family fell apart after the fire, with various relatives pointing fingers and squabbling over the flood of donations from sympathizers. "They kind of split up and went their own separate ways," Ketrick says. "We had some on high horses, and we had some on low horses. That was real sad. But what's not supposed to happen is everybody blaming everybody."

Neither did the newspapers record the times when Ketrick would drive to the house on Strawberry Trail, which his grandmother abandoned after the fire. He'd back in his car at night, cut off the lights and "just sit there and cry. I felt like they was still there. The crime hasn't been solved; they aren't resting. I felt like I needed to go there and keep them company."

Ketrick eventually moved with his grandmother to Omaha, Nebraska. A rigid disciplinarian before the fire, Mollie Jordan had gone soft and quiet. "All that anger went away," Ketrick says. "She's the sweetest lady in the world." Ketrick graduated from high school in Omaha, then moved back to Dallas in 1998. In February, he married his girlfriend, Marsha, and today they live a quiet life in Pleasant Grove with Marsha's two children. Ketrick is an unusually serene 25-year-old, quick to smile and seemingly without a trace of bitterness from his ordeal. One thing that helps is the fact he can "do just about anything," from driving a car to musing in writing about the fire and its aftermath, despite having lost part of three fingers on his left hand. He wants to record his life story some day.

It all goes back to his brief foray into heaven, he says. He describes it as "a feeling of joy, of happiness, of warmth." When he thinks about his brothers' and sisters' faces in the smoky room, the smell of the acrid smoke and the sound of his little niece crying, he remembers his near-death experience. "I guess what makes me a happy person," he says, "is the talk that the Lord had with me. That's why I keep a joyful feeling in my heart. I'm not like most people in wheelchairs; you ask them what happened, and they get all mad."

Today, Ketrick sees a chance that justice may be done, that his family members can truly rest in peace. Vincent Lamont Thomas' day of reckoning may come soon in a Dallas courtroom, though that can't be said of several of his alleged accomplices in the Strawberry Trail fire. No one, however, seems to escape the vortex of the gangsta life, pop stars and posers notwithstanding.

Dallas police know the identities of murder suspects Curly, Silky and Coolie, but it isn't clear whether they're alive or dead or still in Dallas. Silky reportedly met a violent end here, but police haven't confirmed it. Since the Jamaican gangsters tended to work under numerous aliases, it's hard to track their entrances and exits.

Coolie, the oldest of the crew and a one-time drug kingpin, was charged with an unrelated murder, for which he received probation, a year after the fire. He still may be in Dallas.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons

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