Timothy Durden Jr. made it a habit to throw his arms around his grandmother, plant a big kiss on her cheek and proclaim, “I love you, Grannie.”
The former Park Hill High School basketball and football player had a passion for joking, dancing, lifting weights.
But the 18-year-old also enjoyed "smoking his weed," family wrote in his obituary, and that habit cost him his life when he allegedly tried to rob the teenager who was selling him 2 ounces of marijuana in the Northland.
On the streets, it's called a “drug rip” — or robbing a drug dealer — when the potential buyer is looking to score more than just a bag of weed.
Durden's fatal shooting is part of a disturbing trend drawing suburban young adults, particularly high school students, into a web of danger by turning low-level pot buys into high-stakes violent drug deals, according to Kansas City-area suburban prosecutors.
“Because so many of these crimes seem to involve teenagers, there seems to be a notion among teens that life is somehow a new installment of 'Grand Theft Auto,' ” said Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd. “But the reality is real people get shot and real people die when people shoot real guns during drug deals. It’s not a video game.”
Durden was fatally shot May 8 after Durden arranged through a Snapchat message to meet Dominic Pineda, 17, at a house near Zona Rosa and buy 2 ounces of marijuana for $500 an ounce, according to prosecutors. During the drug deal, Durden allegedly pointed a gun at one of Pineda’s friends. Fearing for his safety and his friends’ safety, Pineda allegedly shot Durden, mortally wounding him.
Police suspect the robbery was a drug rip because Pineda was a known dealer. Pineda and two other teens now face felony charges in Durden's death.
The deadly trend is being played out in other suburban communities.
▪ A pair of 18-year-olds face felony charges in Douglas County District Court after allegedly arranging a drug deal in Lawrence in January and shooting another teen they tried to rob.
▪ In February, Marquise Stokes was sentenced in Johnson County District Court to 12 years and three months in prison for his role in a botched robbery that left two teenagers dead in Overland Park.
▪ Tristian Allen Wilton, a former Excelsior Springs football captain, is spending 15 years in prison after he tried rob a drug dealer of cash and marijuana. The robbery attempt led to the shooting death of his fellow teammate and best friend.
The drug-related shootings once concentrated in the urban core are spreading to suburbia. Many of these so-called drug-rip shootings involve teenagers and marijuana.
"We were surprised about how quickly it has expanded," said Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe. "But when one person has the mindset in that arrangement to take what the other has, you are going to end up with violence because predominantly these people show up with weapons."
And it’s usually over small amounts of marijuana. In other cases, it's small amounts of pills or other illicit drugs.
“Anytime we have people engaging in firearm-related crimes, the chances for death or serious injuries are very high,” said Clay County Prosecutor Daniel L. White. “It goes without saying those who are selling or distributing controlled substances, there is a pretty good likelihood that there is going to be a weapon nearby.”
Damon Daniel, president of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime in Kansas City, notes that just as marijuana has become a more potent drug, "buyers have become more dangerous as well."
Dan Viets, a Columbia attorney who has pushed for relaxing marijuana penalties, said those shooting deaths involving teens like Durden are preventable.
“The same thing happened during liquor prohibition; when you have any kind of illegal market going on, it is an invitation to violence and thievery,” Viets said. “Yes, it is one of many problems prohibition of marijuana brings about."
Similar shootings involving teens have occurred in Boone County where he practices law and other smaller communities in Missouri.
"There is no recourse, there is no regulation and there is no taxation, and this is what results," Viets said. "This type of incident would not occur if marijuana was available and legal just like alcohol. It is no different than liquor."
But Vicky Ward disagrees. As manager of prevention services at Tri-County Mental Health Services in the Northland, she sees the effects of downplaying the potential harm of marijuana.
Alcohol and drug use is down among Northland teens — but marijuana use is up. As states decriminalize marijuana and allow medical marijuana, teens think it's safe.
Drug rips are a huge problem, she said, because sellers deal in cash.
"So ripping off those suppliers are an easy mark, knowing they are dealing in cash," Ward said.
Prosecutors like Zahnd said authorities need to mete out long criminal sentences anytime someone uses a gun during a drug deal.
But they also must reach out to youths before it's too late.
“The notion that marijuana is harmless is a myth,” he said. “You need only ask the families of those who have been killed as a result of the drug trade to understand that it is dangerous.”
It's been nearly a year since Timothy Durden was slain, and the wave of grief and dread still washes over Evelyn Hobbs almost every day as she thinks about the young man she had raised since he was 2.
At Park Hill, Durden played football and later basketball. He worked the drive-through window at Hardee's and did odd jobs for neighbors around their Northland apartment complex to earn pocket change.
His plans to join the Army after high school never materialized.
On May 8, as he walked out the door, Durden turned to Hobbs and said, “Grannie, I love you.”
"He put his arms around me and told me the he loved me, not knowing that I was not going to see him anymore," Hobbs said. "I wasn’t thinking about nothing happening to him because he tells me that he loves me all of the time. "
As Hobbs waits for the murder trials of the men who are charged with killing her grandson, she frequently visits Durden's grave.
Hobbs makes sure the headstone is clean and free of trash and weeds. She adorns the headstone with flowers.
While she's there, Hobbs talks to the headstone, telling Durden how much she loves and misses him.
Sometimes those conversations continue when Hobbs is driving or at home resting.
"I would look out of the window and I would just see him walking out there," Hobbs said. "I could be lying in the bed and start talking to him — boy, come here, close your door. I guess I would be talking to him as if he was here."
Their bond was deep. Durden even had the word "Grannie" tattooed on his arm.
"He really loved me," Hobbs said. "I miss him so much. I miss him so much."