Teen in coma after reported gunplay

Staff WriterJune 5, 2006 

— All Ken-Trail Fowler wanted for his 16th birthday was a cookout -- enough hot dogs and chicken for the whole neighborhood, dancing and honey-bun cake.

On Thursday, carloads of people came to the party night at his home on Keystone Place in northern Durham.

And at Duke Hospital, the birthday boy's father held his limp hand and sang "Happy Birthday" in a whisper. He believes the teen heard him.

It has been a week since, police say, Ken-Trail got his hands on a .38-caliber revolver and shot himself in the head at the Oxford Manor housing complex. He has since been on life support at Duke Hospital.

Two teenagers in the apartment told police the boy was playing Russian roulette.

Police are investigating the source of the gun.

The teen's mother, Tasha King, says her boy would never do something so reckless.

"There's so many stories going around," she said. "We're waiting for him to wake up so he can tell us what happened."

For the past week, Ken-Trail has lain in the intensive care unit, where machines help him breathe and eat. Nurses bathe him and clip his toenails. His mother and father sit in a windowless waiting room on the hospital's fourth floor, where they and other patients' families stare blankly at cartoons on a television.

"He'll come home soon," his mother said.

Just a normal kid

Ken-Trail is a "happy-go-lucky," average 16-year-old boy, said his father, Ray DeBerry. He was not depressed. He is respectful. He stays mostly in his own neighborhood, plays video games and loves his mom's big Sunday dinners, the father explained.

Despite some trouble at school that landed him at Lakeview School, an alternative program, he is not a troubled teen, his family said.

"We prepare our kids to go out in the world," DeBerry said, "but some things are unforeseen."

In the hours before the shooting May 26, Ken-Trail was at home, briefly watching his mother prepare his little sister Jasmine for the eighth-grade dance.

Ken-Trail eyed his sister's beaded black cocktail dress, the fringed hem grazing her knees.

"It's too short," he said. He was being overprotective, his mother later explained.

Ken-Trail said he was going across the street to a neighbor's house at 3620 Keystone Place.

As King started applying Jasmine's makeup about 5:30 p.m., she heard a bang.

"I thought one of the air conditioners had popped," King said.

A flood of schoolchildren came through her front door, saying her son had been shot.

King ran out the door into a crowd across the street.

Paramedics pulled Ken-Trail from an upstairs room in the townhouse, and she ran to him.

"What happened? What's going on?" King asked her son.

His lips were moving, but there was no sound.

A neighborhood waits

Doctors immediately operated on the teenager, washing bullet fragments from his brain, said his aunt. He was placed in a drug-induced coma so he can rest and the swelling in his brain can subside, his father said.

An entire neighborhood is waiting for Ken-Trail, who is better known as "Fatty." He was a chubby baby, explains his sister Jasmine.

On Thursday, Jasmine stretched a pale blue twin-sized sheet across the kitchen table at home.

"Get well soon," she scrawled in black letters. His mother, uncle and aunt signed their love notes, leaving plenty of space for well wishes to come.

Residents at Oxford Manor are often mourning a boy's life cut short.

Just before Christmas, a 22-year-old who regularly could be found smoking cigarettes with friends in a Keystone Place courtyard was found dead by his grandmother. He overdosed on heroin.

Just before his overdose, that man was mourning another death. His friend Michael Bailey, 24, had just been fatally shot while standing in the same courtyard.

In November, a 7-week-old baby boy died from head trauma police say he suffered at the hands of his own father.

In October 2004, Demario Williams, 17, was shot dead while playing a game of dice in a parking lot on Keystone Place.

And in August 2004, a 15-year-old boy was killed in the woods behind Oxford Manor in a scuffle with a police officer. William "Tony" Rochelle fired a 9 mm pistol at the officer first, investigators ruled.

Ken-Trail's family isn't mourning, although some friends thought he already was gone. One teenage girl stopped by the house to ask about the funeral, King said.

"He's still with us," King gently informed her.

Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or skhanna@newsobserver.com.

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