The anger Crystal Hays summoned before more than 100 people Monday night sprung from a trail of murder in Kansas City, Kan.
A dozen bullet holes still pierce the siding of Hays’ slain sister’s house, less than a year after 36-year-old Natasha Hays died in a hail of gunfire.
A simple pink bouquet rests by the stoop of the apartment building where 15-year-old Brannae Brown died in gunfire just four days later — an assault described as retaliation in court records in the case of Natasha Hays’ son, Michael Adams Jr., charged with that crime.
And now Crystal Hays and Leo Vaughn wept over the murder of their own son — Le’Andrew M. Vaughn — dead at 17, with his cousin, 16-year-old Adarius Barber.
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Two aspiring high school students aimed for college, friends and family said, were shot while they sat in a car Sunday night with another teenager, a family friend, who survived.
Le’Andrew and Adarius are dead, Hays cried out, “because of all this senseless bull****.” The pain, she said, “is unreal … and to know that somebody knows — somebody possibly right here (standing in the vigil) — knows!”
Cicadas sawed the air as the evening settled over the crowd gathered at the Barton-Ross baseball complex where Le’Andrew played games under the nickname “Dash.” Police and prosecutors joined the group that was intent on honoring the murdered teens and riling a community to shake out justice from its shadows.
“But you bull**** mother f*****s want to sit behind your little computer screens, and you can’t come to this man (she pointed at a deputy police chief) or this man (the district attorney) and tell what you know?! Some people’s lying in the grave and their cases are unsolved for years and years.”
Earlier in the day, when a reporter visited the street in the 6100 block of Haskell Avenue where the teens had been shot, the inclination to say nothing persisted.
Three men stepped out of a house onto the scene. One, gripping a pit bull by the collar, pleasantly said he did not know anything. The second stood rigidly silent. The third dismissed the questioning with a wave of his hand.
“Go do your searching on your own time,” he said. “Anyone else you ask is going to tell you the same thing.”
Law enforcement too often encounters the same wall, Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree said as the crowd was gathering for Monday night’s vigil.
The entire string of murders, he said, “are under investigation.”
“I’m going to do everything I can to bring knuckleheads to justice,” he said. “But the DA’s office and the police department can’t do it by ourselves. We need the community to speak up and speak out. The no-snitching rule is old. It’s time for community members to be bold.”
Sunday night’s murders struck down “two angels,” said Cle Ross, the executive director of the Kansas 3&2 baseball program. “We lost two future leaders in the community.”
In interviews and in testimony at the vigil, Le’Andrew and Adarius were mourned as teenagers who left lasting impressions for their hard work and camaraderie in sports, and their charm.
Le’Andrew, who had been preparing for his senior year at F.L. Schlagle High School, was planning to study engineering at Wichita State University and take a shot at playing collegiate baseball.
Adarius was going to be a junior at Washington High School. He had made it into the starting lineup as a lineman even before the end of his freshman year, Washington head football coach Scott Strenk said. He was going to anchor the line this year.
“He was one of our most talented players, yet never boasted about his ability,” Strenk said. “He was one of the most respectful and innocent players I ever coached. There is no reason he should’ve been taken away from us.”
Le’Andrew, from the beginning of his baseball career, was determined to play catcher — a leadership position that fit his loud and jovial personality.
Pitcher Stayjawn Hunter, 19, only wanted Dash to be his catcher. Though he was younger, Le’Andrew knew when to joke with his pitcher, Hunter said. He’d flash nonsense hand signals. Get him laughing when he was too tense.
“He was just a real smart kid,” he said. “He had a future … in engineering and baseball.”
Le’Andrew and Adarius specialized in different sports, but they often talked about how they would be a team trainer for each other’s sport, Crystal Hays said.
Why the three teenagers in the car became targets Sunday night remains under investigation. Authorities aren’t commenting on whether the murders are linked to the previous violence.
The investigation of Natasha Hays’ murder from Oct. 27, 2016, remains open.
Brannae Brown was sitting on the stoop with a cousin and his girlfriend when they were shot Nov. 4, 2016. The cousin was also shot, but survived, said Brown’s older sister, 22-year-old Tanesha Horton.
“I’m still lost over it,” Horton said.
Michael Adams Jr., Natasha Hays’ son, was charged with Brown’s murder. While waiting for trial, when he sought release from jail to attend his mother’s funeral, a court record in the case file noted the request was denied. He has an October trial date.
The reason was that his charged offenses “are alleged to have been in retaliation for his mother’s murder just days prior…, the risk of further gun violence if (Adams) is released and allowed to attend the funeral is too great.”
Dupree demanded that the community work to end the violence, “so we don’t have to cry and mourn our future being buried in front of us.”
At the vigil, Le’Andrew’s father, Leo Vaughn, said his concern went beyond bringing justice to whoever killed the teenagers Sunday night, but carried out to the many children and the parents who stood in the crowd.
“This is about my community,” he said. “This is for all of our children.”