INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dominique Allen was a girl some knew as the bubbly teenager with 3,000 Facebook friends, a girl who loved fashion — especially leopard skin patterned pants — and who dreamed of someday being a model.
But she was also a girl struggling to shake off the past. Two years earlier her mother had died of Crohn’s disease. A short time later, she lost two close friends to street violence.
As school began in August at the Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center, faculty noticed a girl who was pretty but whose eyes often were hidden beneath her hair and whose head was downcast. She was a reluctant participant in class. Almost immediately, she was failing algebra.
Then, Dominique did something that’s hard for many 15-year-olds to do. She reached out for help. She told guidance counselor Anita Swaner-Templeton that she knew how important it was to get off to a good start in high school, but she needed a guide, The Indianapolis Star reports. Pointedly, she asked the counselor: “Will you be my mom at school for me?”
Swaner-Templeton agreed. She began seeing Dominique each day. She talked to her teachers, checked up on her work and supplied Dominique with what she seemed to appreciate most — hugs. Soon, the girl with the troubled back story had a spring in her step. With tutoring, her algebra was improving. She was beginning to hold her head high.
Then, barely a month into the school year, Dominique was dead.
Police believe she was abducted from the sidewalk in front of her sister’s Westside home early on the morning of Aug. 31. Her badly burned remains were found the same day, a mile away. She’d been strangled and then burned, most likely to destroy DNA evidence.
The brazen abduction left the Allen family devastated by her loss and grappling for answers. Her death also brought pain to people, such as Swaner-Templeton whose lives she touched. And the burning of the girl’s body left people who never knew Dominique appalled by such a desecration and insistent that the culprit to be brought to justice.
Almost two months later, there’s no such relief in sight. Police have no witnesses and no suspects in what appears to be a random killing. That’s left them, along with family and community leaders, convinced someone with vital information simply hasn’t come forward.
“We’re jeopardizing the community by keeping this person out there,” said one of Dominique’s sisters, Shenika Poindexter. “Somebody knows something.”
Several circumstances make that more than just a sister’s desperate plea.
First, the Westside neighborhood of Haughville was a busy place the morning Dominique disappeared, sometime after 4:30 a.m.
A nearby strip club on 16th Street had closed its doors at 3 a.m., but patrons frequently spill over to the convenience store across the street. At 4 a.m., gunfire erupted outside that store, bringing at least four police cars to the area for the next two hours. Long’s Bakery, a Westside landmark just around the corner from the house, opened at 5:30 a.m. for the Sunday morning doughnut crowds. Workers had been there most of the night.
Even if her abductor avoided all that by taking her away down the less trafficked end of North Mount Street, police say the killer’s next stop — at an abandoned house where they suspect she was killed — was an address on West 10th Street that gets traffic around the clock. And instead of leaving the body there, the killer tidied up her personal effects in the backyard — positioning her sandals together and leaning them against her purse — before taking her past a fire station and a couple of blocks deeper into a residential neighborhood. There, he set fire to the body in the backyard of an occupied house.
The behaviors were unusual and inexplicable, said Detective Marcus Kennedy, who is leading the investigation for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. They also put the killer at risk of being discovered.
“There was lots of chances there,” he said.
All those chances have led the detective to surmise that Dominique’s killer was older — a teenager likely wouldn’t have been so meticulous. Also, burning the evidence seems more like the work of someone who’s has been through the prison system, with knowledge of how to hide evidence. Above all, the killer is someone who seems to know his way around Haughville, the Westside neighborhood where all this took place.
This part of the neighborhood was new to Dominique. She lived with her father, Louis Allen, on the Far Westside, but often spent weekends staying with her older sister, Mareeka Allen, who had moved to the house on North Mount Street just two months before.
Mareeka Allen said her sister frequently went outside on the porch to make phone calls, to blow off steam or to just get some air. It was unusual, though, for Dominique to go as far as the sidewalk, where she was last seen sitting on a low concrete block retaining wall in front of an adjacent house. Also, it wasn’t like her to be out at 4:30 a.m.
But Dominique had a couple of girlfriends staying with her that night. They’d gone to Circle Centre mall earlier in the evening. Around midnight, they took a walk around the neighborhood with some boys they knew searching for a house party. By 1 a.m., they were back at Mareeka’s house and the boys were gone. Sometime that night Dominique got into a spat with one of the girls over a lost cell phone. That prompted her to go outside.
After shots were fired at the convenience store at 4 a.m., Dominique walked the short distance up to 16th Street to have a look at the commotion. Kennedy said a neighbor saw her return to her seat on the low block wall at around 4:30 a.m.
The reality of a teenage girl being outside so late by herself may be troubling, but it is not as unusual as some might think. Kennedy said many of the teens he’s interviewed as part of the investigation say they’re often out as late. Swaner-Templeton said many of the students she counsels — and their parents — acknowledge that their teens are out deep into the night, sometimes by themselves.
That’s not a safe proposition in and around Haughville, one of six areas in the city that public safety officials have identified — based on crime data — as trouble spots.
Residents in the area bordered by 16th Street, the White River, Michigan Street and Olin Avenue — slightly larger than what neighbors consider the boundaries of Haughville — are more than five times as likely to be shot as people elsewhere in the city. They’re more than twice as likely to be the victim of a criminal homicide. Just a mile west on 16th Street is where Nathan Trapuzzano, a 24-year-old newlywed and expectant father, was gunned down in April after going for a walk at about 5:45 a.m.
When police found Dominique’s body, they found a pendant around her neck. They brought it to her sisters as an initial step in identification process. It was a lion’s head pendant and it had belonged to their mother. Dominique had been wearing it for a while.
“It was surreal. I couldn’t believe it,” said Mareeka Allen. “It took a while for me to believe it was her.”
Dominique had just joined a club at school called Students Against Violence Everywhere, or S.A.V.E. Part of the club’s purpose is to encourage kids to make safe choices, Swaner-Templeton said, but it had just organized and the first issue was bullying.
Dominique’s enthusiasm for the club and its purpose was part of her transformation.
After her mother died, Dominique had been angry. She was still in seventh grade and an honor roll student, but losing her mother sent her into a tailspin. She became aggressive and, eventually, got into a fight that left another girl injured. The incident resulted in her expulsion, but it also scared her. She knew what violence at school looked like and she was eager to stop it. She had moved beyond her anger.
“She pretty much had gone from a caterpillar to a butterfly,” Swaner-Templeton said.
The last time she saw Dominique was two days before she died. The girl came up to her in the lunchroom and gave her a hug and a kiss. To Swaner-Templeton, it appeared that Dominique was figuring things out, that she was on her way.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
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