On Sept. 11, Killeen police officers found Taron Marquise Tillman-Ratliff lying in the road of the 2900 block of Cantabrian Drive with a gunshot wound.
Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown pronounced the 20-year-old dead at 11:59 p.m.
By 9 a.m. the next morning, there wasn’t a trace of the crime on the street east of South Fort Hood Street and north of Elms Road. There was no police tape or any other sign that someone had been killed. Neighbors didn’t want to talk about what happened the night before, or didn’t know what happened.
About a month and a half later — and after at least 15 calls to the police — Killeen police returned to the same block on the same street. This time, authorities with the U.S. Marshals Service came along.
Together, they arrested Lazarus Israel Duquon Bush, a 17-year-old who was charged with several burglaries and robberies throughout Killeen and Copperas Cove. On Nov. 15, a call came over the police scanner about a suicidal man running around Cantabrian with a kitchen knife.
In short, the neighborhood is no stranger to police.
'NEVER LOOKED BACK'
Ashley Brown moved to Cantabrian Drive in March 2015 with her two children.
Soon after she moved in, she received a phone call from a woman who had just driven by her home. Her car — which she described as “nothing special” — was up on cinderblocks, and the wheels were gone.
Later, she said, the consistent sound of gunshots scared her enough to make her and her children sleep on the floor so they’d be lower to the ground and at a reduced risk of being hit by a stray bullet.
“It was to the point my kids weren’t allowed outside,” she said. “As soon as my lease was up, I got out of there and never looked back.”
Since Nov. 14, police have responded to close to 100 calls in the 1-square-mile neighborhood. In the past year, there have been 28 assaults, nine drugs violations, six home burglaries, five car burglaries and seven thefts reported to police in that area.
Residents who still live on the street are hesitant to reveal their names because they don’t want to be targeted by neighbors if they bring attention to the neighborhood’s problems.
The day after Tillman-Ratliff was killed, a resident coming out of her home on Cantabrian in U.S. Army fatigues said that she heard gunshots the night before, but didn’t think much of it.
Sometimes, if she’s watching a movie, she had to lower her television’s volume to see if the gunshots are coming from outside or from her TV, she said.
The design of the neighborhood encircled by Cantabrian Drive — called Loma Vista Estates — is a bit unconventional.
There are four entry points to the neighborhood that looks like a race track sliced with vertical streets from above: one each from the north, south, east and west. But representatives from Jim Wright Company and Michael Linnemann, a local realty company owner, did not think the design had anything to do with the street’s problems.
Cmdr. Reese Davis, a Killeen police officer who oversees patrol, said there’s not one thing that makes Cantabrian Drive an area with high crime. If there were, it would be easier to take steps toward solving the problem.
Sometimes, KPD will have an increased number of officers patrol the area, but those details are tough to maintain long-term.
“If I had this, I could attack it,” he said. “If it was the street’s layout, I’d get with the city and we’d work on the layout.”
When the neighborhood was first built, it was intended to be a tight-knit neighborhood for modular homes — houses that are built in a factory elsewhere and then transported and assembled on location, according to Linnemann.
But in the 1990s, those homes, along with mobile homes, began to garner a bad reputation in the housing world. As a result, no one purchased these homes, and the lots — which were specifically zoned for modular homes — sat empty. In an effort to change that, the neighborhood was rezoned, and fourplexes were brought in, Linnemann said.
Low rental prices attract potential tenants who are new to the area and don’t know much about the neighborhoods.
A three-bedroom apartment in the 2800 block of Cantabrian Drive is listed to rent for $595 a month on Hotpads.com. A three-bedroom apartment on Toledo Drive — one of the streets that runs through the middle of Cantabrian — goes for anywhere between $635 to $700.
Linnemann said his company is moving away from managing fourplexes, which describes many of the units in the neighborhood.
“I think a large part of your problem might not just be Loma Vista Estates, but just four-unit buildings are much more difficult to manage,” Linnemann told the Herald. “We stopped taking them into management about two years ago, and we would not offer management to the new owners. We were just having some difficulty like that, not always on crime basis, but it’s a transient population and there’s more turnover, generally more up-keeping.”
'A WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY'
While the Loma Vista Estates neighborhood has seen close to 100 police calls in the past year, the neighborhood directly to the north has had just 27 police calls in the same span.
From the beginning of Alpine Street to the intersection of Botanical Drive and Orchid Drive is a half-mile stretch with a very different layout than Cantabrian. However, it’s less than a 10-minute walk from the most crime-ridden portion of Cantabrian to the start of Alpine Street.
“Living space that doesn’t have a dedicated yard, garage, closet space, those are generally living spaces that people aren’t going to live in for a long period of time,” Linnemann said. “It’s funny, this town, what’s crazy about this whole area is you can live on a block peacefully and quietly for years, and you go two streets over and there’s a whole different story.”
Tarah Moore came to Killeen when she was stationed at Fort Hood with the U.S. Army. She had grown up in Houston and was all too familiar with the type of violence that goes on in rough parts of town. She acts as a guest speaker and talks about parenting techniques at events put on by groups like the NAACP.
“So many of the people I grew with up are either dead or in jail,” Moore told the Herald.
“I look at this violence like it’s the chicken pox,” she said. “It starts here, and it spreads.”
Moore moved into a home on Cantabrian in 2008. Her son was just a toddler when they first moved in, and she quickly noticed the kind of criminal activity that went on at night. She was already hesitant to take her son outside when it was dark — but when 18-year-old Karon Counts was shot and killed outside of a party in January 2010, she knew she needed to leave.
“When that happened, I knew I didn’t want my son to grow up around that,” Moore said.
Willie Lee Netter, 31, is currently serving 15 years in prison for manslaughter in Counts’ death. That’s not the only strange and high-profile incident in the neighborhood, though.
In December 2015, a 25-year-old man suspected of firing gunshots ran into his home in the 3000 block of Cantabrian and barricaded himself in when police arrived on scene. That led to a standoff between him and police that didn’t end until police forced their way into the home three hours later.
In January of that same year, 24-year-old Fort Hood soldier Spc. Kendrick Vernell Sneed was found dead outside his home. It was later determined that he died from an overdose of synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice. Originally, it was suspected that he could have died from Ebola, as he had been deployed to Liberia and was back in Killeen on emergency leave.
In 2014, Larry Deon Moore Jr. was arrested after a fight in which police said he bit off 40 percent of another man’s ear and “spit it into the bushes.”
On Sept. 25, 2012, Patrick Edward Myers shot and killed fellow soldier Pfc. Isaac Lawrence Young after a night of drinking. Police said Myers tried to scare Young, who was hiccuping, by pointing a gun at him and pulling the trigger. Myers said he thought there was a dummy round of ammunition in the pistol, but instead, a bullet struck Young under his left eye and killed him.
Myers was sentenced to 38 months in jail.
Tammy Moseley is the crime prevention coordinator for Killeen police, and a large part of her job is promoting the neighborhood watch program, a method of self-patrolling neighborhoods to ensure safety. She said when incoming or new residents contact her, asking about the safety of certain neighborhoods, she encourages them to take a look at the Community Crime Map website, where every call police has responded to in recent years is visible on a map.
The website, CommunityCrimeMap.com, will also provide a breakdown of what the crime is, and give further details such as what days of the week or times of day are more susceptible to crime. She also recommends that the person gets involved in their neighborhood watch.
Those calls don’t come often, though.
“Not really,” she said when asked if she received a lot of inquiries. “Maybe once a month.”