The photograph offers a moment frozen in time: Four teenage girls playing dress-up, looking impatiently into the camera. An image nobody would have thought twice about if it hadn't turned out to be one of the last moments of innocence, before terrible things happened.
The photo is hidden away somewhere on Tiffaine Casados's MySpace page, a souvenir of the night everything changed. When you're eighteen, life can turn upside down in a moment.
Especially in lower downtown at Let Out.
What the picture says:
It's October 31, 2007, and Club Bash is having a costume party. Tiffaine has come with her best friend, Christine, and Christine's cousin Melissa and Melissa's friend Bertha, all in high heels and ready to break hearts. Their first stop is the bathroom, to check their hair and ask another girl to take their picture. That's Tiffaine on the right, an exquisite Tinker Bell: hair pinned up, green leotard, fairy wings. Next to her is Christine, in the Little Red Riding Hood cowl, and on the far left is Melissa, dressed as some Harry Potter character. And nobody can tell who Bertha is supposed to be.
What the picture doesn't say:
Halloween is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year, dreaded by every cop in LoDo. And no event of the local club scene circa 2007 was as ripe for trouble as the Boo Bash at Denver's largest hip-hop club, a 12,500-square-foot monster venue at 19th and Blake streets that drew its following from all over the metro area — frat boys and gangsta wannabes, 'hood diehards and the bridge-and-tunnel crowd from far-flung suburbs, many of them under 21 and not allowed in the bar area. Some clubbers considered Bash too ghetto, too packed or too rude, a place where fresh young things could count on getting thoroughly frisked at the door and then thoroughly groped in the booty-to-booty crush of the dance floor.
Tiffaine didn't see it that way. Ever since she'd turned eighteen in June, she'd been coming to LoDo practically every weekend to dance and check out the scene, with regular visits to Bash. She'd met a few jerks, but a lot of nice people, too. A senior who pulled good grades at Hidden Lake High School while working part-time at Rave in the Westminster Mall, she figured she was old enough to hit the club on a school night if she wanted to. So that Wednesday evening she told her mother, Julie Baca, that she was going downtown with friends, and Baca replied, "Be safe."
"Always," Tiffaine said.
The girls arrived at the Boo Bash shortly after ten and stayed through last call. The place was wall-to-wall girls in costumes, smooth dudes in athletic wear and even some genuine athletes; Tiffaine spotted Denver Nuggets Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and Kenyon Martin. Around 1:30 the lights came up, and staff began hustling the eighteen-to-twenty crowd out the door that exited onto 19th Street.
Tiffaine went with the flow, arm-in-arm with Christine. On the sidewalk she ran into Levion, a young man she'd met before in the club, and his brother Nikko. The four of them chatted as they headed south across 19th to the block-long parking lot on the west side of Market, where Levion's car was parked.
Streams of people poured all around them — the Let Out crowd heading for their cars and other people who just seemed to be hanging out around the lot. Tiffaine gave Levion a hug and said goodbye.
A horn sounded. A white woman in a silver Kia honked at a clump of men blocking her path through the lot. The men — mostly black, possibly one Hispanic, several of them dressed in red — surrounded the car and began kicking and thumping on it.
"Blood!" someone yelled.
They smashed the driver's window. One of them started hitting the woman in the head with his fists and kicking her in the face.
The woman's boyfriend, a black man, jumped out of the passenger side. He, too, was quickly surrounded, kicked and punched.
For a moment, Tiffaine and Christine stood there, transfixed. Then they veered away from the fight and began walking hurriedly toward their own vehicle, which was parked a block away. Other people were rushing to their cars, too.
A shirtless black man threw a traffic cone at the driver of a big white Chevy Tahoe. "The only reason you don't get out and fight like a man is because you have a gun on you," the bare-chested one said.
The driver poked a chrome-plated handgun out the window as he took off. He fired once — maybe at the shirtless man, maybe the Kia driver's boyfriend or maybe someone else. But it was Tinker Bell who went down.
Tiffaine lay on her right side on the asphalt. She didn't feel any pain. She didn't feel anything. She put her hand on her back and it came away bloody. Her keys, her cell phone — covered in blood. Then cops and paramedics were all around her, cutting off her costume and telling her to hang on, and she's lying there naked, wings clipped, trying to hold onto the shreds of her leotard and thinking maybe she's going to die.