By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
They figured wrong. Casados went from Denver Health to Craig Hospital in a wheelchair. After three months of therapy and hard work, she could use a walker for a few minutes at a time and had enough strength in her arms to pull herself up and down the stairs back at her mother's house.
She had setbacks. Shortly after her release, the depression almost overwhelmed her. But she talked to a counselor and focused on helping other people. She had two brothers who were reputed gang members, and she was determined not to lose the youngest. She went back to high school, made it across the stage to get her diploma, leaning on two administrators, and won a scholarship to Metropolitan State College. She wrote her application essay about what she'd been through and called it "Beautiful Struggle."
She would not let the disability rule her life. She set up a website, featuring photos of a strong, lovely twenty-year-old woman and no wheelchair anywhere; why couldn't women like her be models, too, and possibly inspire others? "I hit rock bottom bad, like super bad," she wrote to anyone who might discover her portfolio, "and for a minute there I let this get to me and stop me from my dream, but I fought hard and started to get movement and feeling back. I still have a lil ways to go till I'm up walking again, but I promise you I will."
Casados was on the move. The search for her shooter, though, stalled out. Police interviewed witnesses who said that the shooter had been in the crowd that attacked the Kia and was flashing his gun before he slipped behind the wheel of the Tahoe. At least three witnesses appeared to have gotten a good look at the suspect.
The case was pursued for months by a detective from the DPD gang unit. But as often happens in instances of gang-related violence, promising leads had a tendency to evaporate. One involved a veteran gang member with an extensive record who'd been picked up in connection with a 2008 assault in the 1900 block of Market. The suspect and his ride, a white Chevy Tahoe, matched the general description of the suspect and vehicle in the Casados shooting. But the witnesses were unable — or unwilling — to make an identification.
Officially, the case is now listed as "inactive, not cleared." Unofficially, Tiffaine's mother and other family members decided to do some investigating on their own. Julie Baca, her boyfriend and a cousin (who also happens to be Tiffaine's godparent) went to lower downtown shortly after the shooting, trying to understand what had happened and looking for cameras that might have captured the fleeing suspect's vehicle. Baca saw her daughter's blood, still staining the parking lot.
They returned the following July, determined to see the Let Out phenomenon at full blast. They parked in the Central Parking lot around eleven, paid an attendant, then went to dinner and wandered the neighborhood. By the time they got back to the lot two hours later, the attendants were gone. But cars were still coming into the lot, parking and not paying.
The trio got in their car and started shooting video of the gathering throng. The noise level ramped up amid drinking and possible drug deals — enough furtive activity that the investigators got nervous and stopped recording the scene. They could see cops on Blake and Market, but none on the lot itself.
Around 1:30 a.m., people started streaming out of Bash, the bouncers urging them to keep moving. There were police barricades on Market and Blake, and most of the crowd flowed across 19th, right into the congestion of the parking lot. Some had cars parked there; some, like Tiffaine months before, were seeing others off; still others were simply cutting through on their way to somewhere else.
Baca and her companions watched tensely as the crowds thinned out amid hoots and police whistles. Amply educated, they headed home.
The attendants who'd left the lot hours earlier were already well-schooled. Just a few weeks earlier, the lot had been the scene of a deadly Saturday-night shootout between police and two cousins.
Responding to calls about a fight breaking out in the lot, officers had arrived in time to see "a number of individuals yelling and jumping up and down as others were removing their shirts." Two gang-unit officers spotted an African-American male with a handgun exchanging fire with a Hispanic male, later identified as Andres Junior Castillo, who'd retrieved a 12-gauge Mossberg pistol-grip shotgun from the trunk of his car.
Castillo opened fire with the Mossberg on the officers. The blast just missed Officer Jason Simmons, ripping through his shirt. Simmons and Sergeant Vince Lombardi returned fire, wounding Castillo, who handed the shotgun to his cousin, Mark Tabullo, as he fell. Tabullo aimed from the hip, evidently not knowing the gun was empty.
The officers had no way of knowing that, either. They shot him seven times, killing him. A later count of shell casings and shotgun wadding indicated that the man with the handgun (who was never caught) fired six times, as did Castillo. Simmons and Lombardi fired a total of eleven rounds.