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"People come to these things just to steal sometimes," she explained. "There's actually one main group that does it. Everyone knows who they are, but people still invite them. There are six or seven of them — it kinda changes on a monthly basis. There will be a coat room, and they'll just go in the coat room and just take the coats. ... Some of them are attractive guys, so the girls don't get that they're just there to steal stuff. So they'll go and talk to them anyway."
Parties occasionally devolve into violence, as drunken arguments escalate into full-out beatings. Michelle said she has come home with bruises and not known where she got them. Some hosts hire big guys in their twenties for damage control, and then find that their bouncers are shadier than the kids they're supposed to keep in line. Michelle said some buy alcohol for underage girls, which they then try to trade for sexual favors. Max said some carry guns.
The changing nature of high school parties was fully evident by February 2006, when El Cerrito High School graduate Juan Ramos was stabbed to death in North Berkeley. Albany High School junior Annalise Oppelt had advertised her party on MySpace.com for at least a week beforehand. "Students who knew students from different high schools got the word around," recalled Albany High grad Joseph Chung, who sustained knife wounds in the fight that killed Ramos. "With the use of MySpace and cell phones, the word got around pretty fast." Albany High journalism teacher Ned Purdom concurred. "That Friday in my journalism class, that was the talk of what they were doing that weekend."
Roughly a hundred kids from Albany, Berkeley, and El Cerrito wound up at the party, resulting in what students describe as an unlikely assortment of "preps," "skaters," "hoochies," and "thugs." Many were drunk or high. Around 11:15 p.m., a fight broke out in the yard, allegedly over a skateboard. People inside heard a window shatter, followed by screams. Then Chung staggered in the kitchen with blood on his clothes. He said he'd been stabbed. Nobody called an ambulance.
In fact, authorities say four teens were stabbed that night. A group of Ramos' friends put him and two other victims in their car and drove them to the Albany police station, where students said officers met them with guns drawn. Ramos was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital roughly forty minutes later. Within two days of the incident, bulletins went up on MySpace instructing people "to not say anything" and to delete any MySpace e-mails that pertained to the party, one student said during a class discussion at Albany High a couple months later. To this day, no one will talk. Berkeley police have a suspect, but Lieutenant Wes Hester said his agency can't get any witnesses to cooperate.
September 14, 2007, Galvin Drive, El Cerrito
The September 14 party on Galvin Drive in El Cerrito is now infamous at Berkeley High. Andrew, the party's genial host, created a special Facebook group for the guest list. "It was an 'invite only' group," he explained in an e-mail interview. "But I'm sure that didn't stop anyone who wasn't initially supposed to from hearing about it."
Michelle heard about the party through word-of-mouth. And when her friend Stephen called to ask what she was doing that night, she invited him along. Stephen invited five more friends.
By 8:30 p.m., when Michelle arrived at Andrew's modest two-story home near Sunset View Cemetery, all the alcohol and food had been consumed. The lights in the den were shut off and the door was closed, although Michelle could hear people talking inside. Three bouncers were stationed at the door, although one later left his post to dance with some girl.
Michelle said the party started off pretty whack. "The people offered us what was left: an assortment of drugs; weed; I think they had Ritalin — stuff like that." Michelle said she and her friends weren't interested in that, so they went looking for a drink. Their best bet was the bouncers.
"We went outside," she said. "The bouncers said, 'Do you want some alcohol?' They claimed to be over 25. They were definitely over 21, and spending their time getting paid to sit outside a high school party. They said 'Okay, we'll give you some alcohol and see what you can 'trade' for it later.'"
Michelle and her friends bought brandy from the bouncers and managed to forestall the proposed trade. "They just gave us a straight bottle; we were sharing it — taking straight swigs," she said. "At the majority of senior parties they have kegs, but at the underclassman parties we don't have connections yet, so we end up with a ton of Gatorade bottles filled with stuff from your parent's liquor cabinet."
Even once people got into the mood, some weren't satisfied with the party. "It was, like, one room with, like, a broken CD player ... and it was, like, playing the radio with, like, zero volume," Max recalled. "And, like, the light was off and it was a busted-ass house." Kids were squabbling out front.
By 10 p.m., Andrew had moved the party from his living room into the street. "My neighbors came out on the deck and told me they were calling the police," Andrew recalled in his e-mail. "So I kicked everyone out, at which point there were one or two more fights."
Stephen and his five friends — Daniel, Luke, Paul, Maria, and Bobby — got a ride from Daniel's foster mom. Stephen is a willowy seventeen year old, the kind of kid who corrects his teachers when they get their facts wrong and declines to have his picture in the high school yearbook. He likes playing Canasta and Risk, and wants a job that involves keeping systems organized. His Facebook profile lists his favorite activities as: playing racquetball, Airsoft battles, and "calling the police when friends get hit with baseball bats."
When he and his friends arrived at the party, they joined the crowd of about a hundred teens doddering in front of Andrew's house. Disenchanted by the spectacle, which several attendees described, Stephen took off down Moeser Lane to find something better to do. His friends straggled along after him.
Stephen said they'd gone just a few paces from Andrew's house when they ran into a group of kids he recognized from his South Berkeley neighborhood. He privately calls them "the Droogs," in honor of the hostile teenage gang from Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. He said the group's leader grabbed his shirt and demanded money. Stephen, who said he has been "pocket-checked" in this manner plenty of times at school — i.e., robbed, in Berkeley High argot — obligingly handed over the fourteen bucks in his wallet. Then, he said, he looked across the street and saw someone going through Bobby's pockets to steal his cell phone.
When Michelle caught up with them and found out what happened, she offered to mediate with the muggers, if only to get the cell phone back. Given that she had been partying with the Droogs for a while, Stephen's group headed back toward them with their new envoy in tow. "She knows these people," Stephen sneered while recounting the story a few months later.
They were soon stopped by another Berkeley High student who'd been with the group robbing people. "He says, 'You got anything more to say to me?" Stephen recalled. "Say it to me. Say it to my face.' Something like that. And he punches Daniel in the face."
When the assailant's friends saw the altercation, they ran to back him up. Stephen said the group included Max. After thirty seconds, Daniel's head was swollen from eight kids beating him. Then, Stephen said, the boy who robbed him took a baseball bat out of his backpack and whacked Daniel in the leg, right above his kneecap.
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