Duncan, Oklahoma, takes pride in its homespun image and churchgoing values—though, like many American towns, its soul has been swallowed by chain stores and fast-food restaurants. The old Rock Island tracks literally divide the haves and have-nots, in an increasingly unbridgeable split. Buzz Bissinger discovers how a killing crossed that line, on August 16, laying bare the desperation of three young lives, and ending a fourth.
The day came up clear in Duncan on Friday, August 16. The night’s wind gusts of 30 miles an hour had calmed. It had rained maybe a tenth of an inch and then stopped. When the sun rose, at 6:53 A.M., the temperature was 64 degrees—the sweet cool of a summer morning in Duncan, just as it was in Marlow and Loco and Comanche and the rest of Stephens County, in southern Oklahoma.
Jim Brasher wasn’t awake when daylight broke. He had lost his leg up to the knee in a farming accident when it had gotten caught in an auger, and the phantom pain had been particularly bad during the night. He hadn’t been able to sleep, so he moved to the oversize soft-cushion chair in the den and watched television until he finally went back to his bedroom, around five A.M.
At 75, Jim was long and lean, his face finely weathered. He was from Tennessee, and he had come to Duncan to get married after getting out of the service, in 1959. He liked Oklahoma because you could see the sky spread out before you. It was a nice reminder there was something out there greater than you or anybody else. He and his wife owned a ranch-style house on Camelback Road. This was an area of Duncan where the housing thinned out and it felt like farmland. Jim had eight acres himself, including a field where he kept three donkeys, two cows, and two calves.
He was still asleep when the sharp sound came, around eight A.M. But his 73-year-old neighbor, Jerry Mitchell, heard it. Jerry was with his wife, having breakfast in their sunroom. She thought it might be some type of car wreck. Jerry just knew something wasn’t right. He went out to see what was going on. He used a pair of binoculars, through which he saw one of Jim’s donkeys slumped on the ground near a tree stump in the fenced-in field. Then he made out a trail of blood from the corner of the field, which is where the donkey usually stood.
He called Jim and told him what he had seen. Jim’s first thought was to wonder if he had pissed anybody off at the V.F.W. post, on Highway 81, where he played low-stakes poker three nights a week with a $10 buy-in. But the game was friendly and if you made a hundred bucks it was a big night and somebody usually brought along cold cuts.
Jim and Jerry walked over to the donkey. She was dead. Blood was still seeping out of seven holes in a circumference of about 8 to 10 inches right behind the left front leg. They could tell from the wounds she had been hit by buckshot. Jim called the police about 8:10 A.M. It didn’t take long to conclude that the donkey had been shot from a car driving down Camelback, just as it didn’t take long to conclude that she had been shot only for the thrill of killing an innocent creature.
And that made no sense unless measured by the sheer maliciousness of the act. But nothing about August 16 would make sense; the day, as it unfolded, would become only more inexplicable and horrifying. There are questions that may never be answered. There is only one given:
On the afternoon of August 16, a 22-year-old from Australia named Christopher Lane, who had come to America to go to college and play baseball, went out running and, without warning or knowing why, was shot to death in Duncan.
Surprises are not Duncan’s strong suit. If you want surprises you can go 80 miles to the north to Oklahoma City, or 60 miles south to Wichita Falls, just beyond the Texas line. Duncan, a town of roughly 23,000, takes pride in its homespun image, its simple values, its churchgoing, its virulently anti-Obama politics. The most popular first names in town are James, William, Mary, John, Robert, Charles, George, Dorothy, Ruby, and Joe. The most popular last names are Smith, Jones, Williams, Johnson, Brown, Wilson, Moore, Davis, Morris, and Harris. The topography is largely flat, the roads mostly straight.
The Duncan First Baptist Church, one of 60 churches in town (25 of them Baptist), had hosted a teacher-appreciation breakfast on August 15. Pre-season training camp for the Duncan Demons football team had just started. Tryouts for the 25-member Duncan High cheer squad included hopefuls named Kamrin, Kylie, Kenzie, Kayla, Karlie, and Kayce.
Most of Duncan’s demographic barometers hovered close to state and national averages—its median household income of $39,607 was below the rest of the state, the crime rate slightly above the rest of the country. Duncan had been an oil-field town ever since the O Nahdy Magnolia well had hit, in 1918. The multi-national firm Halliburton was founded here a year later, and in today’s Duncan roughly 15 percent of the town’s male workforce is employed in mining and oil-and-gas extraction. The population breakdown based on the 2010 census was 82 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic, 4.7 percent Native American, and 3.3 percent African-American.
The city had just glossed up its Web site, using as its backdrop a picture of downtown Main Street glittering in the twilight. The image looked warm and inviting, something plucked from a stage set. But in reality downtown had died as a center of commerce long ago. The local businesses that had given Duncan a distinct identity either were shuttered or had moved. Henderson Furniture, gone. Crutcher’s Western Wear Store, gone. The Hotel Wade, with its thick red drapes and talking mynah birds in the lobby, once owned by director Ron Howard’s grandparents, gone.
The focal point had shifted to Highway 81, a four-lane cleaver chopping the town straight down the middle between east and west. There was still ample commerce here, since Duncan was the county seat. If you drove Highway 81 south for two and a half miles from the commercial fringe down to Main Street, you went by the gigantic American flag atop the equally gigantic flagpole, followed by Days Inn, China One Buffet, Hampton Inn, Arvest, Honda, Sonic, Halliburton Employees’ Federal Credit Union, Chicken Express, Arby’s, Chevrolet Buick GMC Certified Used Vehicles, McDonald’s, Phillips 66, Verizon, Ace Hardware, Dollar General, Walmart, Payless Shoe Source, Deluxe Nails, Burger King, BancFirst, Carl’s Jr., Subway, Kyoto, Quiznos, Taco Bell, U.S. Cellular, Quality Inn, and Tastee. And that was just on the right side of the highway.
East of the Tracks
The police spent about four hours at Jim Brasher’s field investigating the shooting. They left at 12:30 P.M. Their investigation would eventually center on several teenagers.
It was a common complaint that if you were a teenager there wasn’t a lot to do in Duncan beyond a skating rink, a bowling alley, and a teen club. There was also the Simmons Center, on Chisholm Trail Parkway. It was a beautiful complex with ample recreational facilities. But it cost ten bucks for a day pass, or $60 for an individual monthly membership, and either way that was a lot of money for a working-class family, once you paid the rent and the cable and the co-pay on insurance. If you were scratching out $7.25 an hour over at one of the local businesses, then you could forget it.
There certainly were prosperous pockets in Duncan. The lawyers and doctors and white-collar managers lived on the west side of the old Rock Island tracks, which some residents saw as a literal dividing line between have and have-not, between those who could easily afford the Simmons Center, and could regularly eat out at the new Applebee’s (which had opened in December 2012 with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony and more than made up for the closing of the Golden Corral buffet), and got to live in classic suburban-style upscale homes of red and white brick with the ample backyard for barbecues, and, on the other side of the tracks, those who lived in ramshackle homes with white aluminum siding and tiny front yards filled with broken tricycles and plastic wagons and battered dressers and cars rotting into rust.
If you were a Prep, or a Richie, as some high-school kids called those with money, if you lived up around Country Club Road and the tentacles off of it, then Duncan might seem like a good place to live. But if you lived east of the tracks over in the Hill or Alphabet Land or Elm Terrace subsidized housing—the Ghetto, as the southeast side was sometimes referred to—Duncan was not so easy. The Douglass Community Center served as a nexus for the area, but the center carried the lingering shadow of being the former site of the segregated school for blacks that had once existed in Duncan.
The divisions made the town seem smaller than it already was. Or, as one resident said, “If I’m bored here, the kids are really bored.”
Teenagers punctuated the boredom the way teenagers in any American town punctuate the boredom: dragging the Highway 81 strip, hanging out in front of the old Goody’s or Tractor Supply, depending on where the police weren’t, drinking, smoking weed, getting into fights in Centennial Park, across from the middle school.
Rumors ran over the summer that a “burn book” had made the rounds in which at least one teenager, with anonymity and great accuracy, had made an inventory of who was sleeping with whom. Names were named, not just in high school but among adults as well, with special note given, it was said, to white females who had an appetite for black males on the southeast side of town. The very notion was apparently taboo, as was the multicultural example set by a white couple who adopted several bi-racial children. Some people falsely assumed the wife had been cheating on her husband because the idea of whites adopting a bi-racial child was inconceivable.
As with a lot of places, Duncan’s prejudices were not necessarily hard and fast. Different ethnic groups did mix in the high school, and Duncan’s mayor was black. But you could hear the term “nigger knocking” spoken unself-consciously, a reference to the game in which a white kid knocked on the door of an African-American family and then ran.
Questions were still raised about the five Duncan High football players charged in 2001 with raping a 14-year-old female student, whether they would have been convicted had they been white. (Four of the players were black and one was Hispanic. Three were convicted. The victim was Native American.) Robert Yates, a barber over at Spyked on Highway 81, still remembered the black kid in high school who had reached down to get the scooper after it had fallen into a container of ice cream at a social and the white adult grabbing his wrist and saying, “Get your damn monkey hand out of the ice cream.”
The way Yates saw it, there was still a lot of racism in town and people who said there wasn’t were fooling themselves. He pointed to his own business: the more diverse his clientele, the fewer his white customers.
The people of Duncan could act with beautiful hearts, as they did last May, sending multiple volunteer crews when the Oklahoma town of Moore, 75 miles to the north, was decimated by a tornado. But there was an undertow in the community and surrounding county, a simmering violence that did not explode very frequently but was horrific when it did. More often than not, it involved the young.
In the early-morning hours of June 10 in Duncan, 16-year-old Michael Ray, disconsolate that his 14-year-old girlfriend, Alyssa Wiles, had dumped him, broke through the back door of her home and stabbed her to death with the knife he was carrying, according to the police, who said he also stationed a 14-year-old friend outside to alert him if her parents or anyone else came to the house. (Ray has pleaded not guilty.)
Five months before that, in January of 2013, a home invasion had taken place in nearby Comanche. According to police, two men shot Mark Roebuck twice, bound his wife, robbed the safe, and then shot Roebuck again on the way out. Roebuck survived; two suspects were later arrested and are awaiting trial.
In June 2012, in neighboring Velma, a 16-year-old girl, Braylee Henry, had gone into the Tee Pee Totem convenience store to get a soda. She encountered Miles Bench, a 21-year-old man who worked there. Bench, apparently infatuated with Henry, allegedly beat her to death with a blunt instrument, dumped her body, and then was arrested driving her car. (Bench has pleaded not guilty.)
People in Duncan and surrounding towns were shocked by the brutality of such crimes. They responded with admirable largesse for the families of the victims. But the crimes were passed off as aberrational blips. On the morning of August 16, nobody thought violent crime was trending up.
The police would come to believe that the car from which Jim Brasher’s donkey had been shot was a 2003 black Ford Focus with fin-style headlights and a scuffed-up rear bumper with white streaks. It was also believed that there had been as many as three occupants inside, all of them teenagers.
The youngest was thought to be 15-year-old James Edwards Jr., known as Bug. Chancey Luna was 16 and liked using the handle “Baby Drake” on Facebook, an apparent reference to the rapper Drake. Michael Jones was 17, and he was nicknamed Tugboat because he was short and chubby. The car was registered to Jones’s mother. Edwards is African-American. Luna had been born to a black father and a white mother. Jones is white. Edwards and Luna were extremely close, to the point where Edwards frequently stayed at Luna’s house. Jones certainly knew them, but as a trio, they weren’t a thing.
Of the three, Edwards, who police believe was in the front passenger seat, was the most charismatic, if you could call it that. He would walk into a room and light it up, although friends acknowledge that half the room might love him and half hate him. He didn’t really care as long as he gained attention, positive or negative. He posted pictures on Facebook and on other social-media outlets that created chatter because of their repulsiveness or suggestion of violence or absolute lack of judgment. Like the one of the dying dog with its guts hanging out of its hindquarters.
Or the one of a high-school boy and girl naked, one atop the other, in which anyone could easily make out their identities. Edwards liked to fight, and he was good at it. If he laid someone out, he often posted it on video. Robbie Harvey, the youth minister at Faith Church, on South 10th Street, had seen one of those videos. It wasn’t simply Edwards throwing a flurry of punches: he had knocked his opponent “smooth out.” Many classmates were scared of him.
Edwards could also be funny and accessible when he felt like it. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of music. Rap and country music were his favorites, but he seemed to know the title of any song in any genre. If you put an instrument in front of him, he could play it or quickly learn to play it. He lived with his dad over on West Maple in a house that looked like a jacket stitched together from random pieces of fabric. There was plastic on the front window where glass should have been.
In back was a wooden structure that had collapsed. His dad worked maintenance and tried to make sure he always knew where his son was. But James senior was 61 and James junior was 15. His mother was serving a 12-year sentence in a state prison for obtaining prescription drugs under false pretenses (after violating parole for a previous drug conviction), a subject the son almost never talked about. His half-sister had been in prison as well, also for drugs. So was his half-brother, for second-degree rape.
“About to Go Shoot!”
If there was anything keeping Edwards in high school in the fall of 2012, his freshman year, it was wrestling. This was the only sustained time he did his homework and kept his grades up so he could stay eligible. He wrestled at 160 pounds on the varsity as a freshman, and had the twin gifts of quickness and strength. But one day a classmate took a picture of him on the toilet and posted it for a while on Facebook before deleting it. Edwards sought revenge.
He made a video of the classmate at a urinal and posted it on Facebook, too—a typical tit-for-tat prank. The kid didn’t care, but his father did. He complained to school officials, and Edwards got suspended for cyberbullying. He returned after roughly a month but then was kicked out for the rest of the school year for doing something similar.
Edwards was never the same after that initial suspension. It curtailed his wrestling season, the only positive outlet he really had. He felt that a double standard was being applied. As he told an adult friend, “This white kid. He did the same thing I did. And he did it first. And I get kicked out of school.”
Edwards started selling marijuana, and judging from the hundred-dollar bills he liked to flash, this was more than dime-bag activity. He began hanging around with older guys, who would drop him off in a Cadillac Escalade with blacked-out windows. He bragged to a friend that he was making thousands a week and started showing up around town with a Louis Vuitton backpack. He posted pictures of himself with Chancey Luna in which they both were showing what appear to be Crips gang signs. Edwards told friends that he was a member of a local branch of the Crips that had started up.
In June, three months before his 16th birthday, he posted the following tweets:
Hoes will be hoes
About to go shoot!
She said I fucc better than that other nigga … but when I said Im boutta cum she told me pull the fucc out
I’m mad as fucc
Hoes think STD means “Suck that dicc”
Fucc everybody. Family friends everybody. Bitch I’m on my own. Don’t call me fucc everybody
Edwards may have simply been posturing for public consumption. But in private messages he wrote on Facebook in March to a 37-year-old friend named Mekia Jackson, who had become his surrogate mother, he spoke of the war of identity he was waging within himself between staying straight and becoming a member of the Crips:
I’m fighting a mental battle of success and failing. And I’m running out of options. I have little help! … And I’m at the point where I have no choice but go out and hustle. I’m going to look for a job 2marroo But that won’t do much cus I’m 15.
Jackson wrote back, warning him that he was flirting with prison, that the “hustling” life was “no place for you!”
Yes mam correct. And I am wrong for it I know.… And I gotta get in where I fit in. Take me in if you don’t want me like this. You feed me. You help me get shoes. Oblivious I’m looking for help. #this is the part where everyone says the can’t. And say love u bye.… Next year ill still be a crip and years after that until grave! Wat choice do I got.
Michael Jones, who police believe was driving the Ford Focus, could also be loud, although not nearly as loud as Edwards. A good deal of his personality seemed connected to his height. At 16 he was just five feet three. He got teased about that. A friend asked him on Facebook if he could see over the steering wheel when he got his driver’s license.
Jones sloughed off the jokes. But those who knew him said he had a little-man complex, plunging into conversations as if he knew everything and refusing to back down, the kind of kid you wouldn’t necessarily expect to land in trouble but would not necessarily be surprised if he did.
His parents had divorced in 2008, which had not been easy for him. His mother had moved west to Altus, an hour and a half away. Jones apparently shuttled back and forth between her new place and his father’s, in Duncan. Like many kids, he was obsessed with the issue of respect. When a teacher at Duncan High told him he was lazy because he never did his schoolwork, he talked back even though the teacher was right.
He wasn’t always contentious. He could be polite and well mannered, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” Those who knew him said he was a “country boy” drawn to fishing and riding. If he had a propensity toward violence, they did not see it.
He had dropped out of Duncan High in the fall after being held back twice. He worked some in an auto-repair shop. But as of August 16 he didn’t appear to have a regular job or any other source of income, aside from the occasional 50 bucks his dad would pay him, presumably for odd jobs. There were suspicions by police that Jones, Edwards, or Luna may have been connected to a robbery ring that had held up three Duncan convenience stores as well as a pawnshop over in Stigler, making off with a cache of weapons.
Jones had rapidly lost weight and a family member believed he was using meth. He had gotten his girlfriend, or she may have been his fiancée, pregnant. She proudly posted pictures of the ultrasound as if two teenagers having a child, with the father demonstrating no visible means of support and known to police, were a good thing. She was due to give birth in several weeks. At some point Jones had stopped living with either of his parents, apparently staying with his girlfriend, a cousin, or possibly another friend.
Chancey Luna, in the back of the car, according to police, was the quiet one. He was living alone with his mother. Before that he had lived with an uncle and aunt for a while, but had gotten kicked out of their home for having marijuana. In the last week of 2012, he had been dealt twin blows when his half-brother and stepfather passed away within days of each other.
The half-brother, Justin Dill, had died on Christmas Day after being rushed to a hospital in Oklahoma City. Luna’s stepfather, Manuel Luna, was killed five days after Dill died, when the motorcycle he was riding hit a manhole. According to his mother, Chancey had had very little contact with his biological father. Manuel, who had married Chancey’s mother, divorced her, and re-married her, was the dominant adult male figure in his life.
Jennifer Luna, 38, watched her son become even more introverted after the two deaths. When he did get upset, he became temperamental. He got the flu and missed so much school that at some point during the winter Jennifer decided to just pull him out and have him repeat his sophomore year, beginning in the fall.
With nothing much to do until then, he spent a lot of time hanging around in the streets. His de facto clubhouse was the federally subsidized Elm Terrace apartment complex, down on the southeast side of town. Edwards and Luna were often there together. So were several other teenage kids, including one who people said had left Duncan to go up to Oklahoma City and was believed to have come back as a full-fledged gang member. Despite public officials’ insistence that there was little to no gang activity in Duncan, the school district itself had identified four students they believed had gang affiliations.
Jennifer Luna figured her son was only a wannabe gang member. Chancey had gotten into a little trouble with the police, but it was small-time stuff, like missing Duncan’s curfew for minors. He could still be sweet: when his mother got a cold he doted on her and was protective of her in general.
Jennifer thought he probably smoked weed at Elm Terrace, but she thanked God it wasn’t meth. She had been raised in Duncan and had seen the drug take hold of the community and make people crazy. She saw that it was now trickling down to kids as young as 14 or 15. According to a CNN report, authorities had discovered nine meth labs in town since 2004. There had also been a major bust in 2011, which led to the arrest of more than 20 individuals on charges relating to the manufacture, distribution, or possession of the drug.
The living room of the house Jennifer and Chancey lived in had a Sanyo television and a Bible where she sometimes hid money. Outside, there was a white Kia Sorento up on blocks. Jennifer worked hard to put food on the table. She took care of four mentally challenged adults living at a supervised residence in town. She made eight bucks an hour without benefits. She liked the work. But nobody is ever going to get comfortable in America making eight bucks an hour.
Nine Thousand Miles from Home
By noon on August 16 the temperature had risen to 77 degrees. There was barely any wind, four miles an hour, and the skies were still clear. Edwards had an appointment at the Stephens County Courthouse later that afternoon to resolve a juvenile charge filed against him. His father texted him to see if he needed a lift. Edwards texted back that he did not. Jones and Edwards had apparently spent the night at the house of a friend. Jennifer Luna said that her son had spent the night at home and that she had checked on him at 6:30 A.M. before she left for work.
At some point on August 16, Chancey Luna met up with Edwards and Jones. Police say the three teenagers eventually drove the Ford Focus over to an atypically rundown house on Country Club Road. The location was well known to the police: they had searched it several months earlier, investigating the convenience-store robbery ring.
The house was also in the vicinity of where Chris Lane was staying with his girlfriend, Sarah Harper, and her family for a couple of days before going back to college. The Harpers’ house was on one of those tentacles off of Country Club Road. There was a bay window on the front and then seven symmetrical windows on the side, with a hedge trimmed up tight.
Lane and Harper had met in 2009 at a party at the beginning of freshman year at Redlands Community College, in El Reno. His Australian accent was hard to resist. But what intrigued her more was how he just seemed to deal so well with everything. She was anxious about starting college 75 miles away from home; he was 9,009 miles away from home, on the other side of the world.
Lane had developed good survivor instincts growing up in the Melbourne suburb of Oak Park. Being the youngest in a family with three older sisters will do that. He liked to compete and held his own, but he wasn’t the type who just leapt into new challenges. He worked through things. And he didn’t simply wake up one day and say he was going to college in America. Baseball, which has a small but devoted following in Australia, was to blame.
The affair started when he was a little boy. His father was an accountant, and no matter how long the workday, when he got home Chris would plead for a “throw” in the yard and always got one. He wasn’t a natural. He was much better at Australian-rules football and thought about playing in the Australian Football League one day.
But whatever he lacked in raw baseball skill he made up for with spark and devotion. His mother could nag him for weeks to get a haircut, but he would refuse until one of his baseball coaches made the same suggestion. Then he dragged his mother to the hairdresser.
He played on the Essendon Baseball Club, in suburban Melbourne, which had started in 1893 and fielded competitive teams in leagues in various age groups. He knew some older players who had gotten baseball scholarships to Redlands, and that’s when the idea formed, to continue playing the sport he loved and also receive a paid-for education. He applied and got a scholarship. His family’s reaction was mixed. There were plenty of good universities in Australia, so why even think of going to one in a small Oklahoma town where the biggest event was Fried Onion Burger Day?
Chris was determined. He was always determined, but his drive was quiet, from the heart, not puffed up. He could laugh at himself, like he did standing on first base when he knew he had only gotten on thanks to some crappy blooper. He had rows with umpires, but he forgot about them pretty quickly and held no grudges because in the scheme of things the disputes were not very important. He was also a teenager.
After losing a championship final in baseball he went on a bender with his teammates and disappeared for three days, except for an occasional text to his parents to tell them he was O.K. His high-school teachers wished he might have worked a little harder. But he was never vindictive or disrespectful. At parties or other gatherings, he always made a point to seek out the person in the room who looked a little bit lost and put him or her at ease, the quality his mother liked the most and the symbol in her mind of the man he had become.
In 2012, at Redlands, he played 30 games. As a catcher, he batted a respectable .267, with 20 hits total but also 19 runs batted in and the same number of runs scored, an indication he was good in the clutch and a dogged plugger—maybe not destined for greatness but better than he should have been. He got a baseball scholarship to East Central University, 90 miles away in Ada. He started in 14 games there in 2013 and hit only .250—a meager .158 against lefties—but once again came through in the clutch with a .350 average with runners on. He finished the season on an uptick, going two for three and driving in a run in the final game.
Lane and Harper stayed together even as they transferred to different schools. They had the bond of being athletes. She was a superb golfer with an ooh-and-aah swing. She had led Duncan High to three state championships; then, at Redlands, she had finished eighth overall in the 2011 National Junior College Athletic Association championships; earning herself a scholarship to Oklahoma Christian University. Her trajectory was in keeping with someone whose family lived near the Duncan Golf & Tennis Club.
She and Lane just felt right as a couple, to the extent that any couple in college feels right. You could tell by the easy intimacy of their body language. They liked spending weekends doing nothing but watching TV and movies. They were talking about going out on their own and weaning themselves from the support of their parents. But all of this was still being sorted out. She wanted to continue her education after graduation. He was planning to return to Australia to go into finance, get on his own two feet so his parents would not have to pay his way anymore.
Lane had spent the summer of 2013 back home. He worked delivering auto parts in the Melbourne area. Harper joined him in July. A trip to the resort town of Cairns in northern Queensland, near the Great Barrier Reef, was wonderful, the kind of vacation you would always remember. But the return to Oklahoma became the familiar black comedy of 21st-century air travel: a canceled flight, a missed connection, bad weather, a night spent stranded at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. All told, it took them nearly two days to get back to Duncan, where they arrived, sixteen and a half hours late, on Wednesday, August 14. They were exhausted.
They awoke earlier than usual on August 16 because their sleep schedules were still off. Lane made toast with butter and honey. He wanted some protein powder for fall baseball workouts at East Central, so the couple went over to the GNC in Elk Plaza on Highway 81. They browsed at Hibbett Sports. They went back home. Harper made grilled chicken and vegetables for lunch. She was filling in that afternoon at the country club’s pro shop. They went over early and played six holes.
She began work at two P.M. He went to the driving range. He came back to the pro shop. He told her he was going to start packing for school, which would begin on Monday. Then he was going to run. She asked if he would come back to the pro shop afterward and keep her company. He said he would.
He texted her around 2:30 P.M. to ask her where she had put her earbuds. Then he went out to run. It had been winter in Melbourne, so he loved being outside in the Duncan heat.
The temperature had climbed to 84 degrees.
Lane left the Harpers’ house, took a left onto Elk Avenue, and then another quick left onto Country Club. He wore a Hanes gray T-shirt with cutoff sleeves and the red logo of REDLANDS BASEBALL.
According to the police, Edwards, Jones, and Luna watched him from the dilapidated house on Country Club as he ran by.
For reasons known only to them, they got into the Ford Focus and began to follow.
Lane continued running on Country Club near the intersection with Twilight Beach Road. It was 2:55 P.M. The temperature was now 86 degrees.
The .22-caliber bullet entered through his back, penetrating arteries and both lungs.
The Ford Focus apparently took off down Twilight Beach Road toward Highway 81, spinning past the well-kept homes of red and white brick.
Joyce Smith was driving along Country Club in a white Toyota Corolla when she saw Lane alongside the road. She called 911 at 2:57 P.M. and got the dispatcher.
“There’s a young man. He just fell over in the ditch, and he’s got blood on him.”
Seconds later, the dispatcher asked Smith to confirm whether the young man was in the roadway or the ditch.
“No,” Smith said, “he’s in the ditch. He was standing in the roadway and he fell over and as I come by he just fell over in the ditch.”
A contractor who had reportedly been working on a home on Twilight Beach came around the corner to see what had happened. Smith relayed to the dispatcher what he saw.
“The man that’s come around the corner … says he’s been shot.”
“Tell ’em to hurry!”
The dispatcher wasn’t satisfied.
“What did [the man] say was wrong with [the victim]?”
“He said he’s shot!”
“He says he’s been shot?”
“He said he heard the shot and he knows what the car looks like.”
Roughly two minutes into the call, the operator said help was on the way. Smith told the dispatcher the victim was turning blue. She said he spoke no words, only gasped for breath. She was becoming frustrated.
“I want to hear some sirens.”
Roughly four minutes into the call, the dispatcher said that an ambulance and the police were on the way. She asked Smith if there was any change in the victim’s condition. Smith said he was unconscious and barely breathing.
After roughly five minutes, the dispatcher said once again the ambulance and police would be there shortly.
After almost six minutes they still had not arrived.
“I hear no sirens. I see no lights. Oh my gosh, how long is it gonna be?”
“Ma’am, all I know is they’re coming. I can’t make them go any faster.”
A nurse who happened to be in the area started administering CPR. Help still had not come.
“If you don’t hurry, he’s gone.”
Almost seven minutes. The dispatcher again asked Smith about the young man’s condition.
“Has he stopped breathing?”
“Yes, they said he has.”
It took seven minutes and three seconds before the first emergency vehicle showed up. It didn’t matter anyway. Chris Lane was pronounced dead at Duncan Regional Hospital at 3:47 P.M.
With Nothing Aforethought
After the shooting, according to a later police reconstruction of events, the Ford Focus peeled off Twisted Oaks Drive, through the parking lot of the Don Jose Mexican restaurant. The teenagers continued on to the Duncan Inn, next door, an old-style motel with barracks-like wings and a sign with the words DUNCAN INN fading away.
The teenagers drove all the way to the back, where they stopped and allegedly hid the .22-caliber gun that had killed Chris Lane in a compartment under the Focus’s hood. They got onto Highway 81 going north for a while, until they U-turned and went south, toward the old downtown and the county courthouse. They arrived at 3:21 P.M., 26 minutes after Lane had been shot. Edwards had nine minutes to make his appointment with Roger Wills of county juvenile services. His father was there waiting for him.
Edwards told Wills that he was receiving texts from friends about a shooting and that some had even wondered if he had done it. Wills asked Edwards to repeat what he had just said. Edwards did so. If it seemed odd that Edwards knew about the shooting, even though it had occurred so recently, the matter was not pursued. Edwards then met with an assistant district attorney to make sure there were no further criminal complications relating to the juvenile charge.
The assistant D.A. called the school district on his behalf to ask if he could resume attending Duncan High in the fall. Edwards asked her if he could use her computer to charge up his phone. She said yes. His pictures and videos accidentally began to transfer onto her computer. The computer was later seized and became evidence, the contents not yet made public.
Edwards, Jones, and Luna were taken into custody at roughly seven P.M. in the parking lot of Immanuel Baptist Church, at Second and Ash, after police received a call about a group of juveniles wielding guns. The man who made the call, James Johnson, told reporters that the trio were looking for his son, Chris, so they could kill him. Johnson believed the matter was gang-related.
Duncan police officer Ryan Atkinson arrived. He saw the three teenagers in the parking lot next to the Ford Focus. They were not cooperative. Atkinson knew police were looking for a black car that had fled Chris Lane’s murder scene, and the Focus fit the description. The boys were taken to the Duncan police station. The Focus was secured pending a search warrant.
The car did match the description given to police by multiple witnesses at the scene. It also matched the car seen on a surveillance video from the parking lot of the Mexican restaurant. Another surveillance video showed Edwards being dropped off outside the courthouse. It seemed that, if the three boys were indeed the shooters, they had given neither their crime nor its aftermath much forethought.
At the Duncan police station, none of the boys seemed to care about what had happened to Chris Lane. Edwards clowned around and cracked jokes as he was led into the station. He told an interrogator that he had not been in the car when Lane was killed. Luna also said he had not been in the car then.
Jones was different. He told Lieutenant Joe Shoemake that the three of them were in the car and that a shot had been fired but would not say who had fired it. He said he could not come clean because he was afraid of being killed. But according to court documents he ultimately gave a confession in which he said that it had been Luna who pulled the trigger from the backseat. Police say Jones gave no motive other than that they were bored and decided to kill someone. He said he heard Lane scream when the bullet hit him.
The search of the Ford Focus began at 11:14 P.M. on August 16 and ended at one A.M. Though Jones’s confession described hiding the murder weapon under the hood, the search did not turn up the gun. But it did reveal a spent .22-caliber cartridge and numerous .22-caliber bullets concealed under the hood in the fuse box. It also revealed a 16-gauge shotgun shell and an H&R Topper Model 158 12-gauge shotgun with the serial number destroyed.
Edwards, Jones, and Luna have been in custody since August 16 and are awaiting trial on first-degree-murder charges. Though minors, they are being tried as adults and could face life in prison if convicted. (No one has been charged in the shooting of Jim Brasher’s donkey.)
In a letter Luna wrote from jail, he tried to prepare his mother for what she might hear at a preliminary hearing, scheduled for February. “Don’t believe ANYBODY but me and Bug,” he wrote, apparently refuting Jones’s confession. But then he seemed to suggest possible involvement. “I’m telling you right now that everything that happened was not supposed to happen.… I’m trying to do everything that I can do to get out even if that means I gotta do stuff I don’t wanna do.”
Luna mentioned that he had been placed in a “suicide cell.” But he also wrote that he did not mind since it was quieter than the general population. He got an added bonus: despite their being defendants charged in the same crime and the obvious risk that they might discuss testimony together, he and Edwards had been placed in cells next to each other. “They got Bug right beside me in the other one so I can talk to him all day,” he wrote. Edwards has since been moved to a facility in Lawton.
In a letter Edwards wrote to his half-sister Rachel Padilla, the bravado of his tweets and Facebook messages had disappeared. “I don’t have a lawer I don’t have anything. I’m doing bad sis.” In another letter he naïvely suggested that he would be freed after the preliminary hearing, something that has no chance of happening. “All the evidence they have is that one boy’s lie [Jones’s] and that ain’t enough to charge me nor keep me here.” He expressed confidence that God “will bring me home.”
In November, Jones appeared for a hearing at the Stephens County Courthouse. Clad in orange jail clothes, he was led into the courtroom in handcuffs, past a little sign reading MEN, PLEASE REMOVE HATS. His mother was there, looking wan and absent. His father was present as well. His eyes were tiny knots, as if there was no point in seeing anything more than he already had.
Michael Jones’s girlfriend was also in the courtroom. She had given birth two weeks after the arrest. It wasn’t hard to find out about. She had proudly showed off pictures on Facebook.
Rumors about what happened speed down Highway 81. They play in your mind on Country Club Road as you drive by the little memorial that has been set up for Lane near where he was killed, with a picture of him in his catcher’s uniform and an Australian flag with a koala on top and flowers that still look fresh. You think about the rumors down in Elm Terrace, where the swing set outside has no swings. You hear the rumors echo in the old downtown, where no one stirs as the sun sets.
The boys did it because they were really bored. They did it as part of a gang initiation. They won’t tell who did it because they are scared of their families’ being killed. They did not do it. Someone else did it.
Rumors are exciting in a town like this. They help fill in emptiness. There is only one given:
On the afternoon of August 16, a 22-year-old from Australia named Christopher Lane, who had come to America to go to college and play baseball, went out running and, without warning or knowing why, was shot to death in Duncan.