Late in the evening on a hot November night, a blue Dodge Challenger rolled to a stop outside a two-bedroom yellow house in Hollywood. A 16-year-old girl with wavy hair and brown, sad eyes sat in the passenger seat. A Samsung Galaxy glowed in her hands. Watching her send text after text, the young man behind the wheel fretted. She was only 16. It was near midnight.
She told her friend not to worry. She was only a text away. "My best friends are inside," the girl murmured. "And I don't want to go home just yet."
Not entirely convinced, the young man pulled away after watching her saunter toward the front door. She was still a kid who loved Twister and coffee-flavored ice cream. She yet considered Wet 'n Wild in Orlando the most fun place on Earth. But this November 1, she didn't move like an adolescent. In a pair of jean booty shorts, the four-foot-eight youth sashayed.
Inside, the house reeked of pot. Cans of Bud Light Platinum littered the hardwood floor, recalls one teenager who was there that night. The girl, we'll call her Jessica, found three boys crowded around a television in one of the two bedrooms smoking weed and playing Grand Theft Auto. She knew them from South Broward High School, though Jessica had rarely attended class in weeks, and when she did go, she mostly slept.
There was six-foot-three Lanel Singleton, a demure but self-assured young man whom one friend describes as "a beast" on the basketball court. The 18-year-old had gotten the wrong end of a fight the night before and was now nursing a nasty shiner. Nearby sat his best friend, Dwight Henry, 17, who'd just dyed a streak of his hair orange to emulate his idol, rapper Wiz Khalifa. Then there was the house's resident, Jayvon Woolfork, a short 19-year-old with a laugh like a jackhammer and a belly spilling over his low-hanging jeans. "Man," Woolfork remarked that night, according to the teenaged witness, "I want a girl for me."
Finally Jessica came upon her two friends, Patricia Montes, 15, and Erica Avery, 16, sitting in the main room. Thin, with waist-length blond hair and countenances dominated by expressive blue eyes, the girls looked almost identical. While the boys played videogames, they settled onto the couch. Jessica found a full can of beer on the floor and cracked it open, recalls the teenaged friend, who left at midnight. Beers, joints, and hours melted into an indistinguishable blur.
Each of the girls liked to fight. And for days, Patricia and Jessica had harbored resentment toward one another over a boy, several friends say. Patricia had begun talking to a young man Jessica had liked for months. Around 1 a.m., according to police reports, after hours of smoking weed and listening to hip-hop, Erica silently slid out a bottle of Mace.
Then, without saying a word, she sprayed Jessica.
"You're a pussy!" one of the blond girls shrieked, slamming both fists into Jessica's head. The surprised girl raised her arms to protect her face. "You're an asshole!" the blonds yelled. "You're a ho, and you're not leaving until you fuck Jayvon! Suck his dick, bitch!"
The girls grabbed Jessica and dragged her limp 75-pound form out the back door and down several concrete steps, where they continued to pummel her. Grabbing hold of Jessica's hair, they smashed her head into concrete. One of the boys asked what was happening, and another answered, "They don't like this girl, bro."
Jessica first escaped to the bathroom. She locked the door and tried to crawl out the window above the bathtub but couldn't. Then she bolted for the front door. Her grandmother lived just blocks away, on the other side of North Federal. All she had to do was get through that door and she'd be free. But one of the boys met her there.
"If you touch that doorknob," Lanel Singleton allegedly growled, "I'm going to punch you in the face."
Singleton clutched an iPhone covered in glitter. It was pointed at Jessica. The teenager had been recording.
"Stop videotaping me!" she cried.
He wouldn't. Throughout the beatings, the pleas for mercy, and the humiliations leading to an alleged gang rape that would capture international attention, the camera would stay affixed on her. This is what kids in South Broward High School do, according to dozens of interviews with students there. It's almost reflexive: When there's a fight, when there's drama, record it and post it on Facebook. It's what Patricia Montes and Erica Avery have been involved in before, and it's what in all likelihood would have happened to Singleton's video as well.
In an emerging teen culture that values substance abuse, misogyny, hypersexualization, and violence, all the kids from this group use social media to annotate every drug score, sexual conquest, and swig of booze. The status updates, posted without concern for consequences, mark one of the few consistencies in the lives of South Florida's impoverished youth, who bounce from household to household without sustained parenting. Facebook for them has become a very public diary of delinquency and criminality — and it's updated no matter the circumstances.