Some speak specifically of the Grende home as a turning point, saying young men started congregating there on weekend nights late last summer, looking too young to drink but drinking anyway, one kid especially belligerent after a while--just one of those drunken voices that stands out, as one neighbor put it.
And that was the voice the neighbor remembers the night Tommy was killed, the one that was still bellowing, punctuating the phrases "leave me alone" and "get off me" with profanities as others pushed him into a car and whisked him away not long after the shooting.
"This kid with the big mouth, I think he wanted to stay and go back and fight some more," the neighbor says. She has no idea what he looks like. "It was not just a little pop gun."
Victoria Hansen, another neighbor, thought for sure police would talk to her, because when she called 911, she requested police contact, so she stayed up for a couple of hours, looking out the window, waiting. "I never saw police go and talk to them [the people in the Grende house]," she says. "We were just sitting here. We thought police would come talk to us. Finally, we figured, they're not coming." As of last week, they still hadn't.
Yet another neighbor wasn't interviewed until Suzzane Rivera told police the neighbor might have important information. This neighbor saw the same person Adam Tarango saw, a guy holding out his arms and facing the Rivera home from the driveway of Grende's house. His left shoulder was bloodied.
The neighbor says several vehicles were still at the Grende home when the police arrived at the Riveras', that one of them--a Chevy Blazer--had its parking lights on, and that a Mustang convertible left and then returned, all while the cops were grilling those in the Rivera home. She says she knows this because she was on the phone with a friend after the shooting, watching until 3:30 a.m.
When Detective Mills questioned her, she told him: Nobody ever went over to that house and investigated. "He said, 'Yes, we did. I went over there myself and knocked on the door. No one answered.'" The neighbor says she told Mills, "`I didn't see anybody right away over there . . . I was up a long time.'"
If Mills did knock on Grende's door, he didn't mention it in his report.
For her part, Grende, who is 21, tells New Times that she allowed Bobby Casarez, the father of one of her two children, to have a birthday party at her home the night of December 3. However, she says, he did all the inviting, and she guesses word spread, and pretty soon, strangers were showing up.
"Finally, we said, 'The party's over. Everybody's gonna have to go home.'" And except for a few friends, she says, everybody left. A little while later, they heard gunshots, then people at the carport door, trying to get in. There were noises in the backyard. "I didn't open my door," she says. "I didn't go outside. I didn't know what happened until the police came."
But according to Grende and police reports, that didn't happen until the evening of Tuesday, December 6, two and a half days after Tommy was killed.
Told by New Times that several witnesses saw people running into her carport that night, Grende says no officers came to her house that night. "You'd think they would have raided my house [if they thought someone was there]," she says.
"They made it seem like it was my fault," Grende says of the questioning by detectives. "Like everything I said was a lie. . . . Gosh, I'm sorry for what happened, but I don't think there's anything I could have done."
The day after Tommy's funeral, Suzzane Rivera showed up with her own gun, a Tec-9, at Grende's door, because juveniles were congregating on Suzzane's sidewalk, laughing, playing with the bullet holes in her fence as if it were a spot where a hunter had felled a prize deer. She told herself, this is crazy, this has got to stop.
Grende: "I said to her, I'm sorry. I can't help what happened, I can't help what happens in the street. I didn't do it--I don't know who did it. The reason we broke [the party] up was because there was people we didn't know. It could have been anybody out there."
Detective Mills: "It's a tragic situation, where a young man was apparently gunned down. It's frustrating not to have the resources of people able to identify the person involved."
As to why officers didn't approach the Grende house or the people that witnesses say they saw milling around that night, Mills responds: "I've been there [the neighborhood] many times [on other cases], and talked to those people. They are not exactly prone to making spontaneous and culpatory statements.