The kids called it "Boo's Warehouse," after the building's manager, 61-year-old Michael "Boo" Booher. And for months on end, neighbors say, Boo hosted raves that packed 'em in by the hundreds.
It was quite the scene, but like all scenes without the proper permits, it was destined to come to an end. Two weeks ago, the Phoenix fire marshal caught wind of a rave called "Bloodfest 3." When the party went off, even after the Fire Department's warnings, they shut it down.
And what the fire marshal found at the scene was scary enough to give even the most laid-back parent a coronary.
We're talking eerie special effects, with cobwebs and skulls adorning the walls. We're talking hundreds of kids, many distinctly underage fire officials estimate more like 14 and 15 years old than 17 ready to party the night away. Most frightening of all: The party was set to happen in an old building with only one exit and those flammable cobwebs just about everywhere.
Fire-prevention specialist Brian Scholl was there. He realized almost immediately just how dangerous the warehouse was.
"I've been doing this six years," Scholl says. "And this is the worst thing that I've run into. The place is just not safe. You've got only one exit and these scary little stairways. I was afraid to walk on them, and that was with just two people ahead of me."
Take a panicky crowd during a fire, Scholl adds, and those "scary little stairways" suddenly become much, much worse.
But while the Fire Department's shutdown that night is hardly shocking, plenty about the bust at Boo's Warehouse is.
For one thing, while the Phoenix Police Department accompanied fire officials to the scene, the cops issued zero citations and arrested nobody. In fact, a police spokesman says, they didn't even write up an incident report despite all those underage kids. (The kids, according to the chat rooms at www.azedm.com, ended up partying in the desert.)
This is much different than busting a homeowner for throwing one loud party. There's a reason that the fire marshal takes this stuff so seriously: It would take only one cigarette to spark a tragedy like that at the 2003 Great White concert in Rhode Island a fire, a panic, and 100 people dead.
Yet neighbors allege that underage raves were a fixture at the warehouse. Helen Hestenes owns the Icehouse just across the street and has hosted some raves, too, although hers are strictly legal. Hestenes says that she and her staff have witnessed no fewer than 24 unlicensed parties at Boo's site in the past year.
And here's the funny part. Hestenes isn't the warehouse's only neighbor. Next door is the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Seriously. The warehouse is at Jackson Street and Fourth Avenue. The Fourth Avenue Jail, where deputies process arrestees at all hours of the day and night, sits directly across the street.
But there's no record indicating that anyone in the Sheriff's Office did a thing to question why there were hundreds of underage kids next door, sporting angel wings and sucking lollipops. (Not surprisingly, Captain Paul Chagolla, the sheriff's spokesman, didn't get back to me with a comment.) Instead, it took Hestenes to get the city's attention and she's now facing retribution because the rave kids aren't exactly thrilled about their party being busted. The sheriff's deputies apparently chose to look the other way.
And that might be very funny. After all, despite the obvious danger, no one's died.
But there's one big problem.
Boo, the nice old dude who let the kids party at the warehouse, is a convicted child molester.
In 1998, Michael L. Booher was charged with molesting a 7-year-old girl in Pima County. Court records indicate he coerced the victim, who happened to be his girlfriend's daughter, into urinating on his genitals. The clincher for Tucson detectives: Booher's girlfriend, horrified to learn about what had happened, said that particular act was something he'd asked her to do, too. Booher pleaded guilty, served four years in prison, and was released in 2006. He's now a registered sex offender.
When I finally managed to reach Booher just hours before press time on Tuesday, he acknowledged his criminal record but insisted there had never been an incident since he began allowing raves at the warehouses. "I haven't done anything and I haven't thought of doing anything," he says.