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.
By the time the kids allowed Jessica to leave, barefoot and slipping in and out of consciousness, Patricia Montes' last status update had already materialized on Facebook. "You're a hoe," wrote the blond 15-year-old, who would soon face charges of capital sexual battery. "Stop trynna act like a saint."
Six blocks south of South Broward High School, a knock sounded at the door of a garage apartment behind an atrophying complex of one-bedroom units. A blond head anchored by a pair of sapphire eyes poked through the barely opened doorway. It was Patricia Montes. She smiled widely, revealing slightly crooked teeth that she's insecure about and would never dare flash in a picture.
A stud pierced Patricia's lower right lip, which offered a jarring contrast to an otherwise innocent appearance. She looked like a teenybopper, a babysitter, someone who, if the conditions were different, could climb into a Brownie's sash and start selling Thin Mints. She cocked her head, and her mother appeared at her side.
Patricia Dalecky is from Queens but has lived in Hollywood for two decades. The heavily tattooed mother of four has long, stringy dark hair, darkening teeth, and, as her Facebook pictures show, an apparent fondness for cheap beer. She stood before her daughter, who suddenly hitched up her shirt to show midriff and a bellybutton ring. A baby wailed from inside the cloistered garage.
"How did you find us?" Dalecky asked a New Times reporter, declining to discuss Patricia, who had just gotten out on $100,000 bail following her arrest. "No one's been able to find us since we left our old place. It doesn't matter anyway; we'll be leaving this place soon."
Transience is a defining aspect of nearly every kid who found his or her way into that yellow house that night, interviews and public records illustrate. With parents in and out of prison and households splintered by domestic violence and drug abuse, the teenagers have spent much of their short lives hopscotching through residences across southern Hollywood, where annual household income hovers between $28,000 and $35,000 and the only way to combat boredom, says one high school friend, "is to get in fights and get fucked up."
It's unclear when, precisely, Erica Avery and Patricia Montes started getting fucked up, but it was both early and under unsupervised circumstances.
Throughout most of Erica's teenaged years, she was unmoored and without a steady home or parenting, three separate friends say. Her mom has long had trouble finding work, so Erica split time between her godfather's house and another friend's place nearby on Johnson Street, recalls pal Angie Morales. Erica, who has rounder features than Patricia, was different when she was younger. Sweeter, Morales says. Less given to emotion.
She and Morales, slight and wavy-haired, would spend days wandering malls in Aventura or Pembroke Pines or lying out at beaches in Hollywood or Fort Lauderdale. Erica was always "the good one," says Morales, 19. "For instance, when I was smoking weed or drinking, she wouldn't smoke or drink with me. I would fight girls, but she was scared to. She was never the fighter type."
But the next year, Morales says she "went away for a bit after getting in some trouble," and when she returned, Erica had changed. Her innocence had evaporated. "One time Erica got into a fight with this one girl right down the street, and I ended up leaving because the cops were about to be called," Morales claims.
During Erica's freshman year at South Broward High, she met a girl with whom she had an immediate connection. Patricia Montes was "the sweetest girl I've ever met," one classmate says. According to several friends, Patricia's family was closer than Erica's. Though Patricia's mom and dad didn't live together, both were a big part of her life, and neither has a criminal record in Florida.
Still, despite that small modicum of stability, there was a wildness about Patricia. She represented a confounding mixture of generosity — like the time she bought a friend pizza and ice cream and the two spent hours discussing dreams and summer plans — and discomfort with her identity. "I had science class with her," explains one student. "She looked straight but was trying to act all bad. She tried to act how she wasn't. She was more of a schoolgirl but started hanging with the wrong people."
The "wrong people" included Erica Avery. Erica was arrested in 2012 for grand theft auto after Hollywood Police caught her in the driver's seat of a Nissan that had been lifted from a YMCA parking lot. Police say she and another friend had intended to sell it at a chop shop. "Avery admitted knowledge of the vehicle being stolen," the incident report says. Avery had just turned 15 — barely old enough for a learner's permit — and wasn't formally charged.
Patricia became obsessed with Erica's brazenness. "She's such a beautiful girl," one friend says of Patricia. "She could have been a model. But she started hanging with the wrong people and drinking, smoking cigarettes and pot, and taking mollies. The crazy thing was how open they were about it."
Erica and Patricia, who started living together at Patricia's house on North 20th Court, were equally open about their consuming relationship. "You're the sister I always wanted," Patricia wrote to Erica on Facebook. "LOVE YOU TWIN."
"Your my Everything str8 up," Erica typed to Patricia, who classmates say could show flashes of jealousy involving Erica. "No matter where we end up in this fucked up world, imma always find my way baack to you & that's a promise! So that lil jealous side of you needa Go awaaay cus you should no your muthaa fucking place. I couldn't replace even if I tryed. You're the Otha half to my heart."
Soon after, a thin girl with a tortured past entered their fast-spinning orbit. Jessica lived down the block from Erica and Patricia, though several friends weren't sure with whom. At that time, it was difficult to keep up with Jessica's housing changes. Jessica would later tell the Miami Herald that her father, who's in jail, once tried to pimp her out for $200. Her mother has a violent temper and was arrested in 2002 on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon (she eventually pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of battery). Jessica's grandmother, with whom the girl has lived on and off, once pleaded guilty to deserting her children. And her grandfather had been convicted of three cocaine possession felonies.
The three girls began to experiment, and their budding problems with addiction compounded one another's. "They started drinking and walking the streets," recalls Morales, who says she spent many of those nights with the girls. "They were all about getting wasted and fucked up, and they'd basically do that every weekend."
For many high school students in the neighborhoods surrounding South Broward High, weekends revolve around the pursuit of an "open house" — someplace without adults. Once there, "kids are throwing up all over the place in the kitchen," explains one high school senior. "It's about how fucked up you can get, because the more fucked up you get, the cooler you'll be in our society. People will see you getting fucked up and think you're cool, like, 'I wanna chill with that dude.' It doesn't matter whether it's money or bottles or joints or molly or the amount of weed you smoke, kids just wanna get turnt up."
Erica, Patricia, and Jessica frequently arrived at these parties together. "We called them the Hollywood Hoes," says classmate Margo Daye Trautman. "They had a phrase they used all the time in public: 'Fuck bitches. Get paid.' "
But Jessica would at times separate herself and lose control. "She'd get really drunk," recalls Evan Llatimer, 16. "She'd be popping mollies [ecstasy], Xannies [Xanax], and bars [another name for Xanax]. She'd be turning up; she'd be trying to get crazy. It was always a different group of guys around her."
The substance abuse often spilled into social media. "Bouuuttaa geeett faddedd," Patricia Montes, then 14, posted in the middle of the school day in September 2012. In the accompanying picture, she's giving a closed-mouth smile and holding a bottle of Pucker's cherry vodka. "Get soo drunk chuu forget chuu name :)," says another photo that includes Montes and a vodka bottle.
On Facebook, the girls sketched out plans they said were sure to get crazy. One time, a friend said she couldn't make it. She was busy.
"FuCkk uu," responded a skinny, bespectacled white girl who goes by "Bloowtreez" and "niggernigger13" on social media and whose Facebook profile is festooned with images of her and Patricia smoking weed, hoisting bottles, and giving the middle finger. "Me and Patricia Montes will get Drunkk; more shit for us."
"Yall prolly get drunk eryday lol," the other girl replied.
"Lmfffffaoo," chimed one high school student, whose profile presents her as the "pussy licker" at "Smoking a Blunt Right After Having Sex." It says she "studies" at the "university of getting neck, smoking weed & fucking bitches."
Erica Avery later posted song lyrics on Patricia Montes' timeline: "Smoke alotta Kush & i have alotta sex. Blowin money, stay clean $$. Shawtyy get on ya knees & do yaa job; keep this DiiiiiiiCk hard."
Jessica likewise boasted about drug use but conveyed an ambivalence that went beyond Erica and Patricia's braggadocio. She vacillated between a vulnerable teenager —"All I need is someone who really cares... hearing tears come from my mammas eyes" — to a street-hardened youth. "Life is like a strip club," she wrote when she was 15, adopting a Young Jeezy song. "Throw a lil money, then ya finally get love."
Loneliness often crept into her posts. "I aint gon' lie," she once confided on Facebook. "I need a bestfriend, a lot of people outchea aint trustworthy though. I mean i love maryjane but she dont help me with my problems. She helps me hide from 'em."
"Beat that ho!" the drunk blond girls chanted when the camera phone flickered to life. "Beat that ho! Beat that ho!" On a sodden November day in 2012, the girls crowded around a roadside mud pile, pushing and shoving. They were drunk and bent over in stitches.
"Beat her! Beat that ho, Trisha!" someone shouted on the Facebook video. Patricia Montes, 14 and in black spandex, grappled awkwardly with 15-year-old Erica Avery, tripping her to the ground. The camera jostled as it zoomed in closer to the melee. But what first appeared to be play devolved into something darker. Patricia grabbed a fistful of mud and tried to shove it into Erica's face.
"Get it in your mouth!" Patricia yelled.
"I don't wanna eat dirt!" Erica shrieked. "I don't wanna eat dirt!"
A forest-green truck roared into the frame. It was Patricia's five-foot-five dad, Ray Montes. The girls told him they were just playing. "You don't fucking play like that!" the graying 46-year-old boomed at Patricia. "Don't tell me, 'It's good.' You're my fucking daughter, all right? Look at you — you're fucking filthy! Get your ass home, now!" He gunned the engine, and the truck screeched away. On Facebook, the girls couldn't get enough of the video, which spawned 80 comments and was named, "Drunk Ass Hoess Lmaoo."
The similarities among the children's digital personalities — the deification of violence and drugs and the diminution of women — reflect broader themes in teenage social media. Here, girls are referred to as "bitches," "hoes," and "sluttabugs." Boys of all ethnicities call each other "nigga." Teens tell friends they "totally fucks with" them to express affection. Photo galleries are dominated by the shirtless selfie, which often includes baggies of weed, small piles of cash, blunts, the middle finger, cleavage, and six-packs.
Erica Avery's mother, caught for a moment on the telephone, claims her child's online personality doesn't accurately portray her real one. She says Erica was the product of an archetypal nuclear family. "My daughter is not a gangster," says Avery, a handsome woman with long puffy hair. "She comes from a stable household. There were never problems." Erica's 22-year-old sister agreed with a quick comment before hanging up: "We grew up in a normal house with loving parents."
But such proclamations obfuscate a history that's substantially more complicated. Erica's father, Eric Avery, has an arrest record that reaches back to 1994, when he pleaded no contest to four felonies of using a counterfeit credit card. Adjudication was withheld, and he got two years of probation. Over the next decade and a half, he stayed out of trouble, but his proclivity for petty crime emerged once more when Erica was in her early teens.
A towering figure of 225 pounds, he let his hair grow as long as his daughter's. He loved his two daughters — a tattoo of "Erica" in Chinese characters inks his left forearm — but he could scarcely provide for them.
In 2010, after he says he separated from his wife, the Riverside Mobile Home Park in Fort Lauderdale moved to evict him (the case was eventually dismissed). Over the following few months, according to police and court records, Avery piled up a slew of arrests that netted him 12 felony convictions and at least one year in prison.
In April, he walked into a Pompano Beach Publix, pushed $83.60 worth of groceries into plastic bags, and waltzed out without paying. He shattered the back window of a 2006 Chevy Van and lifted out construction tools, a digital camera, and a Garmin GPS unit. He lifted a black-and-white duffel bag out of a darkened house in Pompano Beach. "I had to do what I could," he told police. "We're about to be evicted."
Avery was booted from another place in 2012, and his legal and financial problems ravaged his daughter, who dropped out of high school. In the summer of 2013, she began dating a new boy and spent most days at his house. His brother, Christian Gonzalez, hung out too. As did Patricia.
"Erica and Patricia were together 99 percent of the time," recalls Gonzalez, who says he spent every day with the pair that summer. By now, they were calling each other "twin," and Patricia referred to Erica's father as "daddy" on Facebook. The teenagers filled their time with TV and playing pool, but Erica would drop everything if her dad called.
On July 31, she found out trouble had caught up to him again. Dania Beach Police say they caught him driving a stolen two-door Nissan without a license. When he was pulled over, police claim he admitted that he'd jacked the car in Hollywood and that he had heroin in his wallet. Avery was arrested on felony charges of grand theft auto and heroin possession. (He's pleaded not guilty.)
In August, Gonzalez accompanied Erica and Patricia to the Broward County Courthouse. They squeezed into a row to watch Eric Avery's arraignment. When the realization hit that Avery wouldn't be released, that he faced years in prison, the blond girls wept uncontrollably. "Erica was most upset that they wouldn't let her see him," Gonzalez recalls. "The car ride home that day was long and depressing."
"Erica just went ballistic when her father was taken away," friend Angie Morales says. "She went crazy and started drinking more and smoking more. She didn't care about herself anymore."
Weeks later, Erica moved out of Patricia's house and in with her godfather, who was renting a small two-bedroom in Coconut Creek.
Jessica wrote Erica a message: "to be honest you my dawg i fucks witchu 1000. ima miss you."
The distance separating Erica and Patricia was difficult. "I'm now surrounded by a bunch of old ass people that look like they gon drop dead any minute," Erica wrote in a Facebook post.
But her new address meant she was only minutes from the Paul Rein Detention Center, where her father awaits trial.
On October 19, less than two weeks before that early November night in the small yellow house, Patricia and Erica posed for a picture in front of that prison. In the photograph, the girls' arms are crossed. They wear matching black tank tops and blue jeans. A cigarette hangs from Patricia's mouth. The picture materialized on Facebook, where Patricia wrote, "#FreeMyDaddy. We miss you forreal. #FuckTheLaw. Erica, I love you babygirl. FOREVER & ALWAYS."
On November 2, Hollywood Police crowded around a bed inside Joe DiMaggio's Children Hospital. Before them lay 16-year-old Jessica, who was "in and out of consciousness" and had "massive facial injuries," "extreme swelling to both her eyes," and "blood coming from her left ear." She was heavily sedated on pain medication, and it wasn't until midnight that her thoughts were lucid enough to state what happened the night before.
"She looked like Rocky Balboa times ten," says Fred Minaya, 20, the friend who had dropped her off that night. "I broke down. We all did."
Hours later, as Jessica wept in bed, she described a night of horrors. According to the statement she gave police, she tried to escape the house, but Dwight Henry, the 17-year-old with the gold streak in his Afro, shouted, "If you leave, I'm going to fuck you up!" Then he and the other four teenagers dragged her into a bedroom and began removing her clothing.
"You better fuck him," she said Patricia, then Erica, hissed at her. "You better fuck him."
They laid her down on the bed. Dwight Henry and Lanel Singleton held down her arms. Patricia and Erica pinned her legs and spread them. Jessica saw a condom flash in the faint light. And then, Jessica told police, Jayvon Woolfork, who until that moment had only minor burglary convictions on his record, raped her. It lasted five to ten minutes.
Q. After they raped you, did they say anything else to you?
A. They called me a dirty asshole.
Q. Called you a dirty asshole?
A. They were constantly calling me names. They told me to get the fuck out of there, and they spit on me. Erica spit on me, to be exact. On my hair.
They allowed Jessica to leave, but without her shoes. Around 3 a.m., Jessica was found by her mother's friend stumbling barefoot through the streets she once haunted with Erica and Patricia. Both her eyes were swollen shut.
"What happened?" the friend asked. "What happened?"
"They just raped me!" she sobbed.
He brought her to her grandmother's house nearby, a cluttered and cigarette-smoke-clogged affair on a leafy, suburban street. They ran a hot shower for her and called the cops.
The next day, after Jessica had identified her attackers by their Facebook profiles, several squad cars pulled up to Patricia's house, where they found and arrested Patricia and Erica. Patricia's father handed over his daughter's iPhone, which was covered in decorative glitter. Police had never seen anything like what they found on the phone.
A video showed two blond girls delivering several punches to Jessica's face until her eyes swelled shut. "They are observed stating 'suck his dick, bitch,' several times," states the police synopsis of the clip, which Broward County Circuit Court has now sealed. "The victim stated she would comply if they stopped hitting her. The defendants are observed forcibly taking off the victim's clothes while telling her she has to 'fuck' him. The victim eventually told them she will do what they wanted if they stopped battering her."
That same day, police obtained a search warrant and rummaged through the yellow house. In the backyard, they found Jessica's white metal loop earrings in the grass and her belly ring on a patio chair. They also came upon a stolen gold Jaguar, stripped of parts, and a black backpack that contained three handguns, ammunition, and "miscellaneous drug paraphernalia."
The girls confessed to police they had savaged Jessica but denied they had removed her clothing or forced her to have sex. The boys, arrested on November 3, also claimed rape didn't occur that night. They say Jessica's story doesn't add up.
At 8 a.m. on a Friday, Jayvon Woolfork quivered inside his orange tunic at Broward County Main Jail. He was near tears, shaking, grabbing at his dreadlocks as though those tangles held some clue that would lead to his freedom. But Woolfork wasn't going anywhere, and he knew it.
"I can't even believe this is happening right now. People have always said I'm full of love. I'm happy. I'm goofy," whispered the 19-year-old, who departed his hometown near Naples to live with his sister in Hollywood after their mother's death last January. He never graduated high school but said he came to South Florida wanting to make something of himself. He had thought about opening a restaurant, maybe Bahamian. He said he knew a guy "from the islands" who could help. But now? "My face is destroyed. People who don't even know me will think I'm a monster."
Woolfork says he didn't know anyone when he moved to Hollywood and was lonely and bored when he met a tall boy named Lanel Singleton at a 7-Eleven on North Federal Highway.
Singleton knew what it was like to move to South Florida not knowing anyone. He had come to Hollywood from Marietta, Georgia, several years earlier. Soon after Singleton's arrival, he started getting in trouble. Around the same time he met Woolfork, police busted him for marijuana possession.
After that arrest, there were terrible fights with his mother, Nan Ross. She says she split from Singleton's dad following a bout of domestic violence. "My separation and divorce with his father was nasty," she explains. "And I don't know if it was resentment or if Lanel was mad or what. I've never gotten a straight answer out of him... He's just so young and naive and doesn't see consequences."
Woolfork's house didn't have any parents around, and soon Singleton and Dwight Henry were coming over to play Grand Theft Auto, smoke weed, and drink. Friends say Singleton eventually moved in with Woolfork.
Then on the night of November 1, Woolfork says, Singleton invited over "some females" from school to hang with them and Henry (who declined a jailhouse interview). Woolfork didn't know the girls that well but says he thought they were "cool, chill kids."
Jessica's behavior, however, gave him pause. "She was saying she needed some place to stay," Woolfork claims, fidgeting inside his chair. "She said she got kicked out by her peoples and didn't have nowhere to go. She was trying to say she wanted to stay with me, and I said, 'I'm not on that. You're too young.' She was first telling me she was 17, then 18, then that she just turned 18 that day and needed a place to stay."
When asked whether he sexually assaulted Jessica, Woolfork said, "Man, all of this is crazy. This is crazy, man." Asked again, he lowered his head and yelled, "No, I didn't rape anybody!"
Lanel Singleton, also speaking from a jail cell, declined to comment on any specifics of what happened that night beyond saying, "I didn't do anything. When it was happening, I knew sort of that what was happening was wrong, but I didn't do anything. It's not illegal to just be there."
He alleged Jessica is very sexual — "she has her ways" — and is lying.
"But I should never have stayed there that night," he says. "I wish to anything that I hadn't."
In the quiet following the girl's departure, Singleton says he looked at his friends. Morning was still hours away. The cloud of inebriation had lifted. "This is going to come back at us," Singleton told them. They disagreed.
Singleton shook his head. "No, man, this is going to come back at us."
On November 15, all five teens were charged with two counts of armed sexual battery and two counts of kidnapping. In Florida, it's unconstitutional to sentence a minor to life in prison, which means only Jayvon Woolfork and Lanel Singleton face that punishment. Following their initial court hearing in mid-November, Patricia was freed on $100,000 bail. Erica's family couldn't afford that sum, and she remains in custody. The five teens will be tried together.
The response on Facebook to the charges was immediate and crushing. Longtime friends quickly distanced themselves.
"To think someone as low and disgusting as you tried to be my friend makes me sick," one girl wrote on Patricia's wall in a post that mopped up 412 likes. "You are the scum of the fucking earth. I hope you fucking rot. I spit on bitches like you."
"You dumb fucking bitch," wrote another. "I hope you suffer your whole life!"
"Erica USED to be my friend, but in MY eyes Erica Michelle Avery is DEAD to me," another said.
Erica's family, however, had remained more loyal. On a recent Thursday afternoon, her mom and sister clamored around a counter at Paul Rein Detention Center to see Erica — and her father.
Upstairs, Eric Avery settled his 225-pound frame before a glass window. He'd shaved his long hair down to a short crop. When his daughter's name was mentioned, his hardened features softened. "She's a great kid, man," he said, pausing for a moment. "She just got mixed up in the wrong situation." Then Avery stood without another word and lumbered away.
Days later, a scheduling hearing arrived for the five teenaged defendants. Sitting in the back of that courtroom with her mom, Patricia Montes wore a black-and-white dress and charcoal cardigan. An absurdly large ankle bracelet was wrapped around her thin ankle. In her hands was a gold crucifix.
But the conversation with her mother wasn't so pious. "I don't want to be here," Patricia whispered. "Where's Erica? Where is she?" Patricia sighed. "I bet she's sitting in some random fucking nasty holding cell."
Her mom, wearing long fake purple fingernails, wasn't listening. She watched a lawyer arguing in front of the judge and opined, "That's dumb what they're doing. So fucking dumb."
Patricia agreed: "It's fucking dumb."
Moments later, Broward County Circuit Judge Judy Porter, who has said Patricia and Erica are involved in the most "depraved" crime she's seen, called Patricia to the front. The blond child glided to the stand. She received her next court date — May 1, the same as the other kids — and fluttered out of the courtroom. She paused to talk with Erica's mother, who wore a low-cut black dress and pouffy hair. Erica's sister sat beside them in ripped jeans. Her nose crinkled. "It smells like butt in here," she said, then was quiet.
Then Patricia was gone. Today, thanks to her bail, she's allowed to bounce between her mother's and grandmother's houses. But on one condition: She can't use the internet.
The only kid from that yellow house, in fact, who still maintains a social media presence is Jessica. The child, who declined an interview request "because I've had bad experience in talking to reporters," was silent on social media for weeks following the alleged rape.
Only on December 3 did she pick it up. "Girls with smart ass mouths just want a nigga that can tame they ass...," she wrote in her first post in more than a month. "Put her in her place... Have her speechless... Trust me, They like that shit! #REALSHIT."
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She hasn't returned to school, which still pulses with gossip over the incident, and few have afforded her much compassion. Among the dozens of students interviewed by New Times, not one defended her. Most criticized her, citing her reputation at school. Nor has her family been a source of empathy. According to a police report, Jessica's grandmother warned the authorities that Jessica's mother is a "homeless drug user who will try to take away any benefits [Jessica] may receive as a result of this incident."
Then on a Tuesday afternoon last month, Jessica's grandfather answered the door to the apartment he shares with the child's grandmother. It was black inside. A television faintly played somewhere in the dark. "She brought this on herself," the gap-toothed man said of his granddaughter. "She put herself in harm's way, and that's just how I feel."
He declined to say where Jessica is now. Who's taking care of her? Was she all right?
"She's been put away, and that's all I'll say," he said curtly, shaking his head, and closed the door.