Twenty-three years after her 14-year-old son died after being hit by a train, Carla Martin is still seeking closure.
Martin’s son, Christopher Kelsey Hagerman, his girlfriend, Manessa Fawn Cartwright, 16, and their good friend, Joshua Post, were all killed Sept. 2, 1990, after being hit by a train near Lampasas.
Martin is still haunted by the incident and the conclusions investigators at the time drew, that all three had been asleep on the tracks at 4:30 a.m. that day when a Santa Fe Railroad train crushed them and tore their young bodies to pieces.
“There’s no way three kids are going to lay there and let a train hit them,” Martin said. “That’s the problem I’ve had all along. Nobody wants to talk about it.”
Martin and her husband, Carlton Dean Martin, came to the area from North Little Rock, Ark., this week to visit her son’s grave for the first time in four years. He is buried in the same plot as Manessa, an inseparable couple in life who now share a grave alongside a small, white Baptist church off State Highway 195 south of Killeen.
The three teenagers met at a psychiatric facility in the Killeen area and became fast friends. Kelsey and Manessa were placed in the facility for various behavioral reasons. Joshua Post’s family was unreachable for this article.
In Manessa’s case, she had been struggling at home with a combative relationship with her half-sister — “It was a love-hate relationship,” her father, Bruce Cartwright, said.
Kelsey had been acting rebelliously and hanging around with kids from the wrong crowd. So Martin placed him there to “nip it in the bud.”
Their meeting blossomed into a teenage romance. A year later, they pledged their love for each other and had engagement rings.
But then Kelsey learned he would be moving to Germany, where his father was already stationed.
The two became desperate, and one night in late August, Kelsey snuck out of his home. The following day, both Manessa and Joshua were reported missing.
“It was killing her,” Cartwright said. “That’s what this was supposed to have been, their last hurrah.”
The three made a winding path from Copperas Cove into Lampasas County, eventually passing Kempner, where they were last seen sharing a can of tuna and drinking from a fountain.
What happened between then and the discovery of their bodies by a train engineer the following day remains a mystery. About a week after they were found in Lampasas County, then-sheriff Gordon Morris said evidence showed the three had fallen asleep on the tracks, according to Herald archives.
None of them had been drinking alcohol or on drugs, leading both Martin and Cartwright to question investigators’ conclusions.
“It’s very suspicious, yes sir,” Cartwright said when reached by phone in his Clovis, N.M., home. “I wish there was some way to find out exactly what happened.”
Small details bother Cartwright and Martin. That it was incorrectly reported that the teens suffered stab wounds prior to being hit by the train and that Manessa’s purse was found more than a mile from the site of their deaths made Cartwright believe something was not right.
Over the years, he said, he has spent more than $90,000 on private investigators. He’s walked what he believes would have been the youths’ path.
Neither family has turned up evidence to support their claim, yet both strongly suspect some sort of foul play occurred. It has weighed strongly on both families, which were both riven by divorce since the teenagers’ deaths.
“That’s what they kept saying and three kids don’t fall asleep on the railroad tracks,” Martin said. “You can feel the rails shake. ... There’s no way three kids are going to lay there and let a train hit them.”
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.