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Left for Dead

When the Aurora cops finished investigating the crime scene, they’d missed one crucial piece of evidence: Alan Conner’s body.

The Shooting

At night, the parking lot outside the King Soopers at Iliff Avenue and Buckley Road in Aurora is a flat field of black asphalt. Thousands of white parking stripes lie useless, while the neon signs above the closed shops next to the food castle cast a fuzzy light.

At about 1:15 on the morning of October 15, 1998, Stephen Dickerson, a 27-year-old tow-truck driver, entered the King Soopers parking lot, sped over the meaningless white strips and stopped just short of the large, bright entrance.

Dickerson hopped out of his truck and, as he entered the store, took notice of two groups of teenagers also nearing the entrance. They were jawing at each other, doing some chest pounding.

Dickerson passed them by, walked inside the cold store and down the aisles. As he turned the corners, collecting his items, he saw the two groups of boys still mugging at one another. When he finished shopping and walked to the cashier, one of the groups waited behind him. As the cashier swept Dickerson's items over the scanner, the tow-truck driver heard the three boys behind him asking each other, "Who are those other kids, anyway? What do they want?" Dickerson continued to listen as two of the boys teased the third for dragging them into King Soopers in the first place: He was there to buy a rose for his girlfriend.

Before Dickerson paid for his groceries, he saw the other two boys -- the aggressors, really -- outside the store talking on a pay phone. He wondered: Were they calling for backup, or were they finished with their trash talking?

Dickerson picked up his bag, left the store and walked to his truck. He got into the driver's seat, slid his grocery bag over to the passenger side and closed the cab door. Looking out his windshield, he saw the two boys from the pay phone getting hostile, challenging the trio to a fight.

Both sides hesitated, but just as the boys finally turned into a ball of fists and kicks outside the supermarket entrance, a yellow Ford LTD sped toward the center of the melee, and five more teenage boys jumped out. Now it was seven on three.

One of the boys, the one getting out of the passenger side, had a gun.

Dickerson watched one of the boys turn and run from the fight. He ran parallel to the closed shops next to King Soopers -- past a liquor store, then a Radio Shack. The boy with the gun, who was maybe six feet tall and 200 pounds, chased the runner and fired. He shot only one time, then returned to the fight, where things were thinning out because a gun had been fired.

Then there was a rapid string of snaps and flares from the gun, and all of the boys scattered back into their cars.

The yellow Ford LTD, now repacked with its five occupants, squealed away, weaving; a white Nissan Sentra, occupied by the two boys who had used the pay phone, took off in the other direction.

Two of the three teenagers who had stood in line behind Dickerson were now on the ground, writhing in pain, bleeding. One had been shot just below his right cheekbone, the other in the right foot. Dickerson left them and followed one of the fleeing cars, but he lost pursuit and returned to the parking lot.

By that time, an officer from the Aurora Police Department was on the scene. The two wounded boys were inside King Soopers now. The boy who was bleeding from his face was asking, "Where's Alan? Where's Alan?" His friend, with a bullet burning in his foot, kept explaining to the cops, "Alan ran that way. Alan ran that way." Dickerson also told the police he had seen someone turn and run.

At 1:50 a.m., the two wounded boys were rolled into ambulances and sent to Columbia Medical Center. Initially, six police cars -- twelve officers in all -- had responded to the call, with more to come throughout the next two hours. Their swirling red lights lit up the black parking lot like a fire in the woods.

The police officers quickly stretched yellow tape around a wide perimeter that included the entrance to King Soopers and the first few rows of parking spaces. They used hand-held floodlights to search for bullet casings the size of eraser heads. They walked shoulder to shoulder in slow lines, sweeping the asphalt for evidence. They questioned employees inside King Soopers. They searched around the back of the grocery store looking for the third boy, the one they were told had run from the scene, but they didn't find him.

Satisfied, somewhere between 3:45 and 3:50 a.m., the last of the Aurora detectives removed the yellow police tape, got in his squad car and allowed the parking lot to return to its empty stillness.

Alan Conner lay beneath the neon glow of a sign advertising two pizzas for the price of one.

The Beating

Five months before Alan Conner was shot, in a baseball game between rivals Central High School and Hinkley High School, a pitcher from Central's team threw an errant pitch that smacked into the side of a Hinkley batter. Players lining both benches stood up briefly, but peace was restored. Temporarily.

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