Longform

Killing Time at Shadow Mountain High

Ryan Winn, in an uncharacteristic state of agitation, exploded across the backyard of a north Phoenix house where a teenage beer party was rocking and roaring.

Ryan was a strapping, big 16-year-old with jug ears. He played football and basketball at Shadow Mountain High School and was friends with just about everyone.

Just about.
He stopped at the beer keg, where his basketball buddy Pat McCarville was filling his cup.

"Chris is here," he told Pat, "and he's got a bunch of guys with him. So do you want to come over and back me up?"

"Chris" was Chris Colombi, 17, a misfit kid from the same nice neighborhood who fancied himself to be a gangster. He'd come to this predominantly jock party with three other teens, all of them wearing red shirts--their gang colors--and the baggy pants and baseball caps that are supposed to signify gangdom.

Chris and Ryan had had a dispute of three months' standing, and it was understood that the next time they ran into each other, they would fight.

Pat McCarville, 16, told his friend Ryan that he'd be right over to help him.

"Ryan wasn't the type to fight, so I just blew it off," Pat remembers. "I thought they'd probably just yell at each other."

He was wrong.
Ryan confronted Chris and, according to police reports, he told Chris, "You're at the wrong party. [If] you've got a problem with me, you shouldn't start shit here. All my boys are here."

He then punched Chris in the side of the head.
Chris backed up and, as Ryan charged, pulled a small black handgun out from under his shirt, stuck it into Ryan's chest and fired pointblank, three times.

Ryan fell back; Pat McCarville tried to stanch the flow of blood coming from Ryan's wounds. And another basketball friend, Danny Richardson, 18, chased Chris and his boys out into the street.

Chris jumped into his mother's 1994 Jeep Cherokee and screeched away from the curb. Danny Richardson chased the car, banging on the windows. He later told Pat McCarville's mother that Chris had pointed the gun at himthrough the car window, but didn't pull the trigger. Somehow, he failed to convey that information to the police and prosecutors handling the investigation of the shooting.

Danny and Pat and another boy jumped into Danny's truck and chased after the Jeep, but lost sight of it at 32nd Street.

Just after midnight, Loretta and Burt Winn received the late-night phone call that no parent wants to get.

When Ryan had left the house with some friends earlier that evening, he'd told them he was going to see a fireworks display--it was July 4--and then get a bite to eat. Apparently, he'd run into other friends at Taco Bell and they all decided to go to the beer party, an activity his parents had never suspected he'd do.

"We were up 90 percent of the time when he came in on curfew," his father said. "If he drank, he never showed it. We would watch him walk in."

The first call that night came from a teen who told them Ryan had been shot, then hung up without saying where or when. The second call came from another parent who had heard the same.

Then John C. Lincoln Hospital called to say that Ryan was in surgery.
As the Winns drove to the hospital, they passed the party, and when they saw some of Ryan's friends still hovering on the street, they knew that the shooting had taken place there.

And shortly after they reached the hospital, they learned that Ryan was dead.

"He was such a vibrant kid. He made you love life," his mother says. "I was thinking, 'Lord, how could You do this to us?' I just freaked. We had so many goals, so many things to look forward to."

Three months later, Danny Richardson, Ryan's friend who had chased Chris Colombi's car, was dead, too, stabbed to death in a fight at Paradise Valley Mall. His twin brother Paul was stabbed also, and so was Pat McCarville.

They'd bumped shoulders with some other boys in the mall's food court, then both groups faced off, strutting stiff-legged like male dogs sniffing butts. Neither sidewould back down, adolescent egos roused and riled by the bump, and within minutes, three boys lay bleeding on the sidewalk outside the mall, and three boys were running with blood on their hands and their clothes.

The community was sent reeling in shock that four good kids from Mr. Rogers' neighborhood could find the kind of trouble usually associated with west and south Phoenix.

The parents of all the boys rushed to their sons' defense, half out of the protecting parental instinct, half in denial.

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Michael Kiefer