Girl Crazy

A gray Monte Carlo with a damaged front bumper rolled slowly through the McDonald's parking lot. It was Sunday night, and the fast-food joint on West Alameda Avenue was hopping with teenage cruisers, standing outside their cars munching fries and sipping sodas, listening to music and swapping stories.

Michael Martinez was there, hanging out with Terra Ramirez, a girl he'd met just a few days before, and his cousin David. "There goes your crazy bitch," David told Michael as the Monte Carlo circled the lot.

The car belonged to Monique Trujillo, Michael's former girlfriend, a seventeen-year-old senior at Westminster High School. On this night, April 3, 2005, her graduation was just a month away.

Michael, David and Terra watched the Monte Carlo circle a few times, then leave the parking lot. Terra was waiting for the girls' bathroom to open up. She wanted an orange drink, too.

But then the Monte Carlo returned, pulling up alongside the McDonald's lot. A Dodge Neon was right behind it. Some Latino dudes inside the Neon were all staring at Michael. Monique had told Michael she had crazy friends who could do things to him. Michael tried to avoid looking at the cars.

Then three guys sprang out of the Neon.

The one who jumped out of the front passenger door had an assault rifle like the AK-47 that Osama bin Laden totes in his videos. The guy who came out of the rear passenger door had a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. The guy on the other side had a .38 revolver. The guns started blasting. The assault rifle fired at least ten times, the 9mm at least eleven rounds.

Michael slammed Terra to the pavement. She's not sure if she was shot twice or if the same bullet that ripped through her left leg is the one that ended up in her right. David was shot, too. No one else was hit.

While Terra and David were rushed to the hospital, officers with the Denver Police Department started quizzing the crowd. A member of the Denver Gang Bureau on his way to the scene spotted a Monte Carlo and a four-door Dodge Neon parked outside a house fourteen blocks from the McDonald's. The Neon belonged to Monique's friend, eighteen-year-old Vanessa Marquez. Both girls were standing by the cars. So were three young Latino males. All three claimed GKI gang membership, according to DPD records.

Officers drove Michael over to the house, where he identified the cars.

Monique told the cops that she'd broken up with Michael because he'd been unfaithful but that she hadn't known he was in the McDonald's parking lot that night. She also said she didn't see anything, that she and Vanessa were in the Monte Carlo when the guys just jumped out of the Neon and started shooting.

The three shooters lived in the house where the cars were parked, Monique said; she couldn't explain why she hadn't called police to report their whereabouts.

Monique didn't know Terra Ramirez, the girl who'd been shot.

After they operated on Terra's wounds, doctors warned her mother that the girl might suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. She could act like a victim, or she could act tough.

Terra did a little of both.

Terra had been through tough times before. Her father, Anthony Ramirez, is locked up in the Kit Carson Correctional Facility, doing fifteen years for sexually assaulting his daughter. As a juvenile, Terra was arrested once for theft, when she and a friend got caught shoplifting. But still, she graduated from Arvada High School in 2004 with a 3.3 GPA. The following spring, she was working at Cost Cutters and planning to go to cosmetology school. She had a boyfriend whom she'd met at the Wal-Mart next door to the salon, and they were already talking marriage.

And then she got shot.

Self-conscious about the scars on her legs, Terra thought about covering them with tattoos. But other lingering effects were harder to deal with. Although Terra thought the shooting earned her some street cred, she also worried that she might get shot again. And so she started looking for protection. She also broke up with her boyfriend, a nice guy with no gang connections.

"I wasn't my sweet self anymore," she remembers. "All I wanted to do was go out and not face that I was shot. I hated my bullet wounds and I didn't want to get help. Everybody that I loved I pushed away from me, even my mom."

Terra soon found a new boyfriend, Tomas Martinez. She'd known him since she was fifteen, then got reacquainted at a party about six weeks after the shooting, shortly after she turned nineteen.

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Luke Turf