Risky Business

Two teens are murdered, as violence escalates at West Valley house parties. Some blame party-crew rivalry

Momentum to find Jose's killer was strong immediately after his murder. But Phoenix detectives ran into roadblocks sadly familiar to those who investigate homicides.

"Fuck snitches!" an anonymous punk warned in a Web chat room shortly after Phoenix police announced the Silent Witness award.

Then another unnamed scribe who signed his (or her) message "602" wrote of being "sorry about Jose, but if you step out of line that's what happens in the 602. This isn't a threat to all you pussies in the 480 or the 623, it's a warning.

The body of Jose Renteria at his memorial service.
Paul Rubin
The body of Jose Renteria at his memorial service.
Marianna, Ivan, and Andrea, Jose Renteria's siblings, 
raising money for his funeral.
Paul Rubin
Marianna, Ivan, and Andrea, Jose Renteria's siblings, raising money for his funeral.

"That's how we handle our shit in the 602. If you stay chill, there is nothing to worry about, but don't start shit if you ain't willing to finish it."

Out of curiosity, the Phoenix cop heading the Renteria murder investigation asked the teenage girl who'd offered up her parents' home how her parents had reacted to the situation.

"They were mad and made me clean everything up," she told him. "And I had to promise not to do that ever again."

Rashelle Carpenter's murder less than 24 hours after Jose Renteria's didn't have the same impact on the house party community as Jose's.

That's probably because Rashelle wasn't as integral to the scene as Jose. But to those who knew and loved her, the loss was devastating.

For someone who was just 17, Rashelle had unusual direction and focus in her life. She had graduated in 2004 from Glendale Mountain Ridge High School, where she was class valedictorian, then enrolled at Glendale Community College.

There, Rashelle took classes in criminal justice, with an eye toward a career as a prosecutor. In fact, she was just finishing a project on gun control when, in a nasty irony, she was shot to death.

She was planning to move to San Diego during the holidays, where she was going to attend the University of California, San Diego.

"I try to live life to the FULLEST," Rashelle wrote on MySpace.com shortly before she died. "I'm moving to Cali after Christmas, and I can't wait! I've always wanted to live there. I'm thinking about getting a bike when I move. I want to eventually have a big lifted truck with lots of toys behind it, like quads, jet skis, a boat etc. College is just too expensive for all that right now. I know I'm gonna need a good job to get what I want so I'm going to school for Law. I can have a good time doing almost anything. "

Phoenix police reports say the owner of a north Phoenix home on West White Feather Lane and the small crew running the party, known as The Insomniacs, wouldn't allow entry to several youngsters who showed up at the same time. One of those turned away, Christen Beckner, allegedly fired his handgun into a group of kids as he left the area.

One bullet struck Rashelle in the chest, killing her.

It happened in the bat of an eye. Rashelle's friends drove her to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

Despite the violence, weekend house parties have been going strong across the Valley.

On a recent weekend, about 50 teens lined up at the front door of a tidy home in a new subdivision in the city of Tolleson.

Everyone was pat-searched by party crew members running the show before they got into the house. If they left even for a minute, they again were searched when they returned.

The party's host was the older brother of a teenage girl about to celebrate her 16th birthday. He says he used to run in the old school (and, of course, "better") house party scene before he got married, got a good job with the City of Phoenix and settled down.

Now he's 23.

Inside the home, in a spotless cul-de-sac, a keg of Bud Light sat in a corner of the living room, manned by a party crew member.

A music mix -- controlled by a young Latino wearing a Reggie Bush football jersey -- ran from Kanye West to the Latino street sounds of reggaeton, just about anything with an insistent beat and a monster hook.

The only spoken rule seemed to be no smoking of anything in the house, just in the backyard. The evening was notable for the absence of "drama," as the partygoers call it.

Still, the police came by around 12:30 a.m. to tell everyone that enough was enough.

Despite the relatively mellow atmosphere at this particular party -- a Sweet 16 celebration -- an undercurrent of tension dominated conversations that weren't about the latest romantic match-ups or upcoming football games.

"I like to party, but I don't want to die 'cuz I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Hector Jimenez, a junior at a Phoenix high school who aspires to a career in the military. "I've been too many places recently where these bad-asses pulled out their pieces and scared everyone. I don't plan on staying home, but . . ."

A Phoenix teen wrote in an Internet chat room just before Christmas, "What do I think about the scene these days? That is a stupid question. Count up the funerals then you know how the 'scene' is."

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