Backyard Bloodbath, Part 2

What inspires young wrestlers to mutilate themselves with tacks and barbed wire? TV? Or dear old dad?

Rich, who was an honor student in middle school, now ekes out a C average, "just enough to graduate," he says. He attributes his scholastic decline to smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. He says he'll either attend community college or join the army. Like all the EFW kids, Rich has endearing qualities. He's smart, acutely sensitive, and cares deeply about his friends. When something goes wrong during a show -- like the time he accidentally staple-gunned David's forehead or when John seriously injured himself with the razor blade -- Rich is usually the only crew member who shows emotion. At these times he becomes distraught and seems to cry, but with a boyish machismo, he denies shedding tears. "It's a family," he says of EFW. "That's the way most of us look at it. I needed to get friends down here [in Florida], and these guys are like family to me."

At the end of the February 24 show, however, a member of his real family flashed in his mind: his father. And that was not a good thing.


EFW members have a fitting plan for the end of the performance. In the spirit of blending sex and wrestling that works so well in the professional ranks, they are going to propose the girls in the audience participate in a wet T-shirt contest. But Rich has something else on his mind: that orange. He and his friends work way too hard on the craft of wrestling to be pelted with fruit. So Rich confronts the crowd member who he believes tossed the offending piece of citrus, a skinny, dark-complexioned 15-year-old named Frankie. Soon, the two of them square off in the middle of the backyard.

"Fuck you!" Rich yells.

"Like I fucked your mama last night," Frankie shoots back.

Rich gets in Frankie's face.

"Wop!" Rich yells.

"What the fuck are you?" says Frankie, backing off a bit.

"I'm 340 pounds of person who will beat the shit out of you!" Rich replies, his head shaking in rage and his massive belly bumping Frankie backward. Rich then exhorts Frankie to hit him, to provide Rich with an excuse to beat him into the ground.

Some in the crowd seem to believe this is all still part of the show. They laugh and watch in anticipation, perhaps of a body slam onto a bed of thumbtacks. Rich, too, is still caught up in the excitement. He's demonstrative and wild, much like his pro-wrestling idols. Later he admits he was still pumped up from the show and wasn't really prepared for what followed: Frankie, dancing around and appearing understandably nervous, looks away for a moment before shooting a stinging right to Rich's jaw.

Rich, stunned from the blow, stumbles backward. Frankie runs. But the smaller boy winds up cornered between a pool enclosure and a plywood wall. (Almost two months later, Rich will still be a bit hazy about the events that ensued. All he will remember seeing are images of his father.) What the crowd sees is Rich storming up to Frankie, wrapping his huge hands around the boy's neck, and lifting him off the ground. Frankie doesn't breathe. His tongue is forced from his mouth, his feet shake helplessly a foot above the ground, and his eyes roll back into his head.

After a few seconds, Rich lets Frankie fall to the ground like a rag doll. A friend of Frankie's then throws two vicious punches to the same spot over Rich's left eye. Rich falls like a redwood tree straight back into a large bush. The bush doesn't stand a chance; it is broken into pieces.

Frankie gets to his feet and runs onto the street. Rich, as if rising from a dream, stands up and follows him. Blood flows from above Rich's eye. Out on the driveway and street, the two shout taunts at each other.

"I'll lay you out, you fat bitch!" Frankie repeats over and over.

Then three police cars pull up and Frankie escapes down the street. The mere presence of the cops acts as a sedative; the threat of violence recedes. The spectators disperse, and medics arrive. Coral Springs police officer Brian Tarbox finds John; the self-inflicted razor blade wound has reopened, and blood drips down his chin.

Tarbox says there's little he can do to stop the kids from wrestling, so he focuses on John's parents' liability. "Do you know if somebody gets hurt doing this 'rassling thing, their parents are going to own your parents?" Tarbox asks John.

The boy just nods.

"How old are you?"

"Sixteen," John answers.

"Plenty old enough to know this is stupid."

On their radios the police call in medics to treat John and Rich. "This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen," Tarbox mutters. Gio stands quietly in John's front doorway. "I can hardly breathe," he says to one bystander. "I think I may have to go to the hospital."

Officer Rex Kirkpatrick of the Coral Springs gang unit arrived in a bulletproof vest. He announces to EFW members milling about outside: "This is over. You do realize that don't you? You can't do this ever again."

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