An excerpt from:

 WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?

 By Lois Duncan (Kaitlyn Arquette’s mother)

(published by Delacorte, 1992; currently available in paperback from on-line bookstores)

Copyright:  Lois Duncan, 1992

 

Chapter 3

 

     The day that began like a surrealistic nightmare continued on that way.  We staggered around like zombies – bumping into each other, dropping things, making lists of things that needed to be done and then losing the lists – dependent upon kindhearted friends to guide and direct us.

     The first of those friends to arrive on that terrible morning was a recent window who knew firsthand how the grief process worked.  She took one look at our faces, realized we were dysfunctional, and loaded us into her car to go shopping for a cemetery plot.  Other friends took over our telephone, answered the doorbell, kept records of people who brought food and flowers, and offered to house out-of-town relatives who came for the funeral.

     Kait’s murder received extensive coverage by the media.  Both the morning and evening papers ran banner headlines -–HONOR STUDENT DIES FOLLOWING CAR SHOOTING and BRIGHT FUTURE OF SHINING TEEN DIES IN GUNSHOTS – with Kait’s smiling senior picture prominently featured.  Television cameramen materialized on our doorstep, targeting in on Kait’s sister, Kerry in particular.  A former hostess for the P.M. Magazine New Mexico television show, she was well remembered in Albuquerque, and reporters threatened to trample each other down as they competed for interviews.

     The police did not contact us.  Like everyone else we learned the facts about the shooting by reading the newspapers:

 

Albuquerque Journal, July 18, 1989

     Eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette died Monday night of two gunshot wounds to the head.  She was discovered in her car at about eleven p.m. Sunday by police officers investigating what they thought was a routine car accident on Lomas near Broadway NE, said Albuquerque police spokeswoman Mary Monina Mescall.

     Mescall said someone apparently had pulled up alongside Kaitlyn’s car as it was moving and fired three gunshots through the side window.  Two bullets struck her head.  The car went out of control, veered, and struck a telephone pole.

     Kaitlyn, a University Of New Mexico student who recently graduated with honors from Highland High School, had been returning home from dinner with a girlfriend.

     Police, late Monday, had no witnesses, no suspects, no weapon, and no explanation for what appeared to be a random shooting.

 

Albuquerque Tribune, July 18, 1989:

     The national test scores arrived on Monday.  As expected, Kaitlyn Arquette had passed “with flying colors.”

     Teacher Jo Colvard tried to call the 1989 Highland High School graduate with the good news, a but there was no answer.

     Arquette was shot in the head Sunday night as she drove home from having dinner with a girlfriend.

     The eighteen-year-old student, whose mother writes critically acclaimed teen books under the name Lois Duncan, died Monday night at University Hospital.

     Police have no leads in the shooting.

     “When these things happen you say, ‘that person was probably involved in drugs,’” said Arquette’s sister, Kerry, of Dallas.  “But not Kait.  She was a straight arrow.  She worked throughout her senior year and still held down shining grades."

     Kerry said her parents, Don and Lois Arquette, were “doing as well as could be expected – lousy.”

     Colvert, the Highland teacher, called the shooting “a freak thing, especially after those other traffic things.”

    

There followed a list of fatalities that had occurred during physical conflicts over traffic disputes.

Don and I read the articles aloud to each other and tried to make sense of their contents.  To us the terms “freak” and “random” seemed inappropriate for Kait’s shooting.  They implied that her death had been caused by an act of nature, like being struck by lightning or crushed in an earthquake.

“None of the deaths they’re comparing it to were ‘random,’” Don commented as he read through the list.  “All of them occurred during fights.  Kait didn’t have enough time to get involved in a confrontation.  She was shot just minutes after leaving Sharon’s house.”

“And three shots were fired,” I added.  “That’s too many for an accident.  And the shots weren’t fired from the sidewalk.  The police say somebody pulled up next to her and fired from a vehicle.”  Although an empty Budweiser can had been found in the gutter next to Kait’s car, the autopsy had turned up no trace of alcohol in her blood, and the fingerprint on the can had not been hers.

The fact that our world was a madhouse actually proved a blessing, because it allowed us more time to accept the unacceptable.  The telephone rang nonstop; people streamed in and out of the house bringing casseroles and condolences; Don’s brothers and their wives flew in from Ohio and Michigan, and my brother arrived from California.  There were planes to meet, Kait’s obituary to compose, a minister with whom to confer, and a funeral to orchestrate.

At one point I realized it had been hours since I’d seem my daughters.  I went in search of them and found them in Kait’s room, deep in conversation on the bed.

“What’s going on?” I asked.  “Is this a private conference?”

“Actually, no,” Robin said.  “We need to talk to you.  Will you, please, come in and shut the door?”

I did as she asked and joined them on the bed.

“Mother, Robin and I have been talking and – well – the thing is, we don’t think Dung should be staying with us right now,” Kerry said.

“Why not?” I asked in surprise.

“There are some things that are bothering us.  We have no idea who shot Kait, but we do know she was having problems with Dung.  They were having a lot of fights, and she was looking for a new roommate.”

“That’s hardly a reason to suspect him of murder!” I exclaimed.

Robin and Kerry exchanged glances.

“There’s something else,” Robin said.  “Something’s come to light that makes us believe Dung’s not the simple, honest person you seem to think he is.  Tell her, Kerry.”

“A friend of Kait’s told me something weird,” Kerry said.  “She said that back last summer Kait confided to her that Dung was involved in some sort of car-wreck scam in California.  Kait didn’t understand how the thing was set up, but Dung went out to L.A. with a bunch of his friends, and they staged wrecks in rental cars.  Kait said she thought each of the guys was paid two thousand dollars.”

“Who told you that?” I demanded.

“I don’t remember her name.  It was one of the girls Kait worked with.”

“I can’t believe anybody would be such a troublemaker,” I said.  “Especially at a time like this, when we’re so vulnerable.”

“But what if it’s true?” Kerry persisted.  “I know Dung’s been over here a lot, but what do we really know about him?  When Ken and I came for Christmas, there he was, scarfing down turkey like one of the family, but nobody ever told us where Kait came up with him.”

I tried to recall exactly what Kait had told me.

“She met him at a coffeehouse across from the university.  He hasn’t had an easy life.  He was one of the boat kids, and from what Kait told me, his journey to America was horrendous.  He lived for a while in California, then he and his best friend, An Quoc Lee, decided to move here. He has a sister who owns an import shop in Orange County.  He and Kait stayed with her in March when they went out to do Disneyland during Kait’s spring break.  The rest of his family is still in Vietnam.”

“How has he been getting his money?” Robin asked.  “I know there was a long time there when he was out of a job, and the only reason he finally got one was because Kait wouldn’t let him move in with her unless he was working.”

“He did have a job when Kait first met him, but he got fired,” I said.  “Work isn’t easy to find when you don’t speak the language well.  Kait told us the Vietnamese take care of their own.  Dung’s sister in California was sending him money.”

“Well, under the circumstances, I’m not comfortable with it, and I think we should have him stay someplace else until we figure this out,” Robin said.

“You’re being ridiculous,” I told her.  “And it’s a moot point anyway.  He’s not here now, and he wasn’t here when we got up this morning.  Brett said one of his friends came by at dawn and picked him up.  For God’s sake, girls, your sister is dead!  Can’t you find something better to do than backbite her boyfriend?”

I got up off the bed and stalked out of the room, leaving my daughters staring after me with stricken faces, and three minutes later I couldn’t remember why I was angry with them.

The rest of the day went by in a meaningless blur as I moved in a daze from one pressing demand to another.  It was late afternoon when I dropped down on the couch in the family room and looked up to find Dung standing over me.

“I got problems,” he said in his awkward English.  “I just come back from the apartment.  The manager changed the locks so I can’t get in.  Will you tell him it’s okay that I still be sleeping there?”

“Of course,” I said.  “I can’t believe he’s done such a thing.  He had no right to change the locks.  All your things and Kait’s are in that apartment, and I know Kait paid the rent through the end of the month.”

“I want to sleep in our bed again,” Dung said softly.  “I want to smell her cologne on the pillow like roses.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll call and take care of things,” I told him.  “It’s just a silly mistake that can be easily corrected.”

I looked up the number of the Alvarado Square Apartments and put through a call to the manager.

“I’m Kaitlyn Arquette’s mother,” I said.  “Her boyfriend tells me you’ve locked him out of their apartment.  I’m calling to give our permission for him to continue living there until the lease runs out."

”I know this is a tough time for you, Mrs. Arquette,” the manager said apologetically.  “The last thing I want to do is to create more problems for you, but there’s no way I’m going to let Mr. Nguyen back in there.”

“Why not?” I asked in bewilderment.

“Because that guy’s bad news.  I rented the place to your daughter, not to him.  Kait was a real sweet kid – both my wife and I thought the world of her – but Nguyen and his cronies are something else again.  I don’t know what was going on in that apartment, but there were times when Kait would come running over to our place, begging to sleep on our couch because she was scared.  She asked me to change the locks to keep the guys out.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Did you do it?’

“Yes, but they smashed a window and got in that way.  Another time she locked Nguyen out, and he kicked in the door.  Now I’ve changed the locks again, and if Nguyen tries to tamper with him or goes in through a window or does any more damage to our property, I’ll have him arrested.  He can come and get his things, if one of you people comes with him, but I don’t want him in there unsupervised, and I don’t want his friends there.  If you’ll come to the office, I’ll give your family the new key.”

“All right,” I said, too shaken to put up an argument.  “One of my sons will be over there in a few minutes.”

I hung up the phone and turned to Dung, who was standing expectantly at my elbow.

“It’s okay?” he asked.  “Did he say he will let me go home now?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “It’s more complicated than I thought.  The manager tells me your name isn’t on the lease, so legally you don’t have the right to keep on living there.”

“But I hear you say it’s okay!”

“I guess I don’t have the authority to make that decision,” I said.  “I didn’t sign the lease, either, you know, only Kait.  I think it has something to do with liability insurance.  I’m sure we can straighten it out, but it won’t be today.  For now, it would be best if you stayed with one of your friends.”

I asked our oldest son, Brett, to take Dung over to collect his belongings and to drive him from there to wherever he wanted to go.  When Brett came back I asked him what Dung had taken from the apartment.

“Not much,” he told me.  “Just clothes and some pictures of Kait.  Just for the record, I think you’re treating Dung rotten.  First he gets kicked out of his apartment, and now you kick him out.  Why won’t you let him stay here until he finds a new place?’

“I have my reasons,” I said.  “We’ll talk about them later.”

That time didn’t come until dinner was over that evening and visiting relatives had been dispersed to the homes of friends.  Our younger son, Donnie, had gone back to sleep at his own apartment, but I called the rest of the family together in the living room.

“We have things to discuss that are very disturbing,” I told them and repeated my conversation with Kait’s apartment manager.

After I’d finished there was a long moment of silence.

It was Brett who broke it.

“That’s a bunch of bullshit!” he exploded.  “That guy must have something against Orientals!  He fed you that crap as an excuse to force Dung out!”

“Wait, there’s more,” I said, and motioned to Kerry, who repeated the story Kait’s friend had told her that morning.

Brett reacted with disbelief, but Don turned pale.

“My God! He exclaimed.  “Could that have been what that call was about?”

“What call?”

“It was back when Kait and Dung went to Disneyland.  A rental car company called to say there’d been an accident.  Kait had rented a car out there, and since the credit card was in our name, they had to inform us, even though the accident was a minor one.  I didn’t think much about it at the time, because they told me nobody was hurt and the wreck was just a fender bender.  After the kids got back, I asked Kait about it, and she said Dung and An Quoc Le went out for fast food, and somebody rear-ended them.  They were covered by insurance, and the accident wasn’t Dung’s fault, so they took the car back to the agency and were given another one.”

“Even if Dung was involved in some sort of scam – I don’t buy into that, but let’s just say he was – why would that be a reason to murder Kait?” Brett demanded.

“It wasn’t just Dung who was involved in the wrecks,” Kerry said.

“So you’re accusing his friends of killing her?  Kerry, get real!  If that were the case, why not knock her off in California?  Why wait until four months later and do it in Albuquerque?”

“Back in March, Kait wasn’t breaking up with Dung,” Don said.  “As long as the two of them were solid, she wasn’t a threat.”

“Maybe Dung didn’t pull the trigger, but somebody did,” I said.  “Those shots didn’t come out of nowhere.  If Kait wasn’t afraid of Dung’s friends, why did she run to the manager asking for protection?  Why did she have the locks changed?  Why, on the night she was shot, was she so insistent that if Dung called here looking for her we weren’t to tell him where she was?”

“I’m going to call the police,” Don said, getting to his feet.

“You’re all crazy,” Brett insisted.  “It was a random shooting!”

“We’ll let the police decide if we’re crazy,” Don said.  “To me, two well-placed shots in the head don’t add up to ‘random.’”

It was hours later before any of us got to bed that night.  Detective Steve Gallegos and another detective from APD homicide came to our home and spent several hours listening to us.  They seemed interested and attentive and took copious notes.

When they were getting ready to leave, Detective Gallegos told us that if we thought of anything he wanted us to call him.  Day or night or on weekends, he could be reached on his pager.

“Your input is very important to us,” he said.

I locked that statement in my mind and didn’t forget it, despite the fact that we never heard it again.

 

 

Gallegos’s report of that meeting – (the only APD interview ever held with the Arquette family) – has been withheld from Kaitlyn’s case file.