Reprinted from The Galena Park Tribune – October 1996
This is the story of Kristie Martin. Kristie was a vibrant, out-going college student who had tremendous potential. She had excelled in numerous ways in her young life. She was on the path to a successful career and was loved by everyone she came in contact with. On a tragic night last December, Kristie was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The following story is a Tribune exclusive. No money was exchanged for the story and profit if any, from the story will go to the Kristie Martin reward fund to help catch her murderers. We write this story in hopes of finding the killers and to remind parents and young people in our area that it can happen to you
December 20, 1995 Wednesday
The crisp, clear air was chilly and Kristie was excited about finishing classes at San Jacinto College. She had been attending the North campus on Uvalde and would be finishing her third semester. She made good grades, too. There was a sense of relief that all the exams were over. She could finally relax a bit and enjoy the coming holidays.
Kristie was working for Higgins Photography, but her former employer, Ticket Attractions, called and asked her to work for a few hours. More Christmas money! Kristie couldn’t refuse. The money could be used for a lot of things. She was experienced and good at her job and so she could step right in and help her former employer without any problem. Her mom, Judy, reminded her that she also had to work that evening from 6:00 until 9:00 p.m. at Higgins and she shouldn’t overload herself. “No problem, Mom. School’s out and I can handle it,” she said as she hurried out the door to work.
Kristie worked at Ticket Attractions that day from about 1:00 until 5:00 p.m. She clocked out and then headed to Higgins Photography where she would help until 9:00 that evening. When she got home she kicked off her shoes and relaxed for a while watching the television. Sometime before the national anthem, she fell asleep.
December 21, 1995 Thursday
This morning would be special. Kristie’s Paw Paw, Earl Branch, collected cans and newspapers. The money he gained from selling them he always gave to the grandchild who helped him. Kristie got up that morning to go and help her Paw Paw. No one knows for certain if it was because of the bright yellow truck he drove or because of the boundless love she had for him, but it was time well spent while selling his goods. Paw Paw took the money and gave it to Kristie. With gratitude, Kristie took the money and went back to San Jac and paid for her next semester’s tuition. After she returned from the college, she dressed up and went to work for Higgins again. This would be a short day since friends and family would come over in the evening. The work day at Higgins would be her last there. She worked from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. After leaving, she drove home and helped mom get ready for the guests coming over that evening. Kristie enjoyed the party and treats with family and friends. Wendy Wright, one of her friends, and Kristie spent most of the evening upstairs listening to music and talking on the phone to boys. It was a neat day.
December 22, l995 Friday
Finally, the weekend had come. Only a few more days till Christmas! Kristie and her mom, Judy, got up early because they had a lot of things to do that day. They left the house at about 8:30 a.m. and went straight to Higgins Photography. The week before, Kristie and Stephanie had their pictures taken with Santa. They went by to say hello to fellow workers, picked up their pictures, and ate cookies and wassail. When they left Higgins, Kristie drove because mom wanted to finish drinking her wassail. They went to Baybrook Mall off I-45 south of Houston. They split up when they first got there. Kristie went to Macy’s and bought a new pair of pants and two blouses. Later, Kristie and her mom reunited and shopped together for last minute gifts. Kristie helped mom to pick out a beautiful sweater for her grandma Polly Branch. It was about 2:00 p.m. and they were both starving so mom treated Kristie to lunch at the Olive Garden close to Baybrook. After eating, they headed back home. Kristie left quickly to go have her nails done at K J Hair Design. She got home by 5:30 and started getting dressed. Mom was on the computer trying to print a calendar. Not knowing what she was doing, she would ask Kristie questions while she was getting dressed to go out. She put on her new clothes and asked her mom “Do I look pretty?” to which mom would reply a resounding “Yes!” Kristie’s Christmas present was a brand new leather jacket. She already knew she was getting one because it was what she wanted for Christmas. It was cold outside and Kristie began to bargain with her mom to let her wear it that night on the date. “It’s for Christmas. Besides, you have other jackets, including your letter jacket that you could wear” said mom. Kristie was bent on wearing that jacket. Soon she appeared with the jacket on and her mom gave in. Judy was parked behind Kristie so she asked her mom to move her car. Mom got the keys and they both started down the stairs. Kristie stopped when she heard the music on the radio. It was one of her favorite Christmas carols, “O Holy Night.” She began singing it for her mom. When she finished, her mom told her how lovely it was and that she should use her voice for the Lord. The Martins had come from a very religious background and Kristie was a good Christian herself.
Kristie had made plans to go out with her friend Wendy, Wendy’s friend Joe, and Joe’s brother, Sal. They met at Wendy’s and left around 8:00 p.m. to drive to the Trail Dust Steak House on Richmond in Houston. It was a place that Kristie was familiar with since she had been there before. The couples enjoyed a terrific steak dinner and then left to go back on their side of town. They went to River Terrace Park on Market Street in Channelview. It was a secluded park with very little lighting. They got there at about 11:30 p.m. After they parked, Kristie and Sal got out of the car and went for a walk in the park. Wendy and Joe remained in the car.
“…shots rang out through the cold air…”
After about 45 minutes had passed, Kristie and Sal made their way back to the car. A pickup truck drove up very quietly with the headlights off. Neither couple was aware of the presence of the truck until a young man named Jose yelled out something to Kristie. “Hey, come here!” he yelled. It was garbled and no one clearly understood what was said. Kristie told Sal “I think we’d better get out of here.” They scrambled to get back into the vehicle and as Sal tried to help her, Kristie said anxiously “I’ve got it, I’ve got it.” Sal rushed around to his side of the vehicle and managed to hit the ground just as shots rang out through the cold air. Several rounds were fired and glass was flying everywhere. When the firing had stopped, Kristie had been shot by a bullet that shattered the back window and went through the seat and struck her in the back. She slumped out of the car seat onto the pavement in the parking lot. The truck sped away. They put Kristie back into the car so they could rush her to the hospital, but Sal couldn’t get the car to start (maybe the engine had been hit by the gunfire). Both boys got out of the car and they laid Kristie out on the pavement and covered her with her new leather jacket. Wendy stayed with Kristie, coaching her to continue breathing. Sal and Joe ran up the hill in the park onto Market Street and flagged down a truck. The driver happened to have a mobile phone and he called 911. They ran back down the hill to Kristie. Sal took her and held her in his arms. Her breathing was labored, but she was unconscious. They were panicked with fear. Sal kept screaming to her “don’t die, Kristie, don’t die.” She took her last breath and died. Sal immediately tried to resuscitate her, but she was gone.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Department was the first on the scene. The ambulance arrived shortly afterward. It was too late. Kristie Martin was dead at the youthful age of 19.
Wendy had been hit in the thigh by shrapnel and was taken to Hermann Hospital in another ambulance. The police began to question the boys. They were taken down to Harris County headquarters and shown over a hundred photos of gang members. According to information gained from the Sheriff’s Department and the eyewitness accounts, they were able to identify Jose Luis Rios, or “Flaco” as he was called. (“Flaco” in Spanish means “skinny”.)
“…she knew something very wrong had happened…
Brian, Kristie’s dad, had gone hunting in Magnolia, Texas and Kristie’s sister, Stephanie, spent the night with her aunt. She had gone to bake Christmas cookies – an invitation Kristie turned down in order to go out with her friends. Mom, Judy, sat at home alone and filled out Christmas cards for hours. Weary with the task, she laid down and woke up at 12:15 a.m. and realized that Kristie had not returned home. (Call it mother’s intuition if you want, but she woke up at approximately the same time Kristie was killed.) Judy decided to stay up and wait for her. She took out a book and began to read.
Kristie’s curfew was at 1:00 and she was never late. When she didn’t show up, mom got worried. Shortly after 1:00 a.m. Judy called Wendy’s house but only got the answering machine. She knew something was wrong. She decided to call the Houston Police Department and they had no information. They suggested she call the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. Still unaware of Kristie’s whereabouts, she was becoming frantic. The phone rang. “I got the message that you were looking for Kristie,” said Wendy’s father. He had called home and gotten the message off of the answering machine. “There was a drive-by shooting. I’m at the hospital with Wendy. She’s going to be all right,” he said. “What about Kristie?” Mrs. Martin asked. “As far as I know, she’s still there,” he responded. No doubt, he didn’t want to be the one to tell her what had happened.
Judy began to frantically page Kristie. After no response, she knew something very wrong had happened. She then paged her husband, Brian, in hopes that he would hurry home from his trip. She called the Harris County Sheriff’s Department to find out what had happened. They confirmed a drive-by shooting, but wouldn’t give any details. Shortly afterward, she heard car doors closing outside the house. It was a detective’s vehicle and a Sheriff’s’ car.
As ‘Mrs. Martin opened the door, she didn’t see Kristie and asked “where is she?” The detective spoke up and asked “Are you Mrs. Martin?” “Yes.” “Is there anyone with you?”
“Sometimes things happen and we don’t know why…” the detective continued. It all became blurry as Judy broke down and cried. “This can’t he true” she thought, “How can this be happening?”
The detective and the officers tried to console Mrs. Martin and offered to call family and friends to come and assist her. Her pastor and associate pastor were out of town, her husband gone hunting, and her other daughter, Stephanie; needed to be contacted.
The Plemmons, friends of the family, were reached and Detective Leightner made arrangements for Mrs. Martin to go to the morgue to identify Kristie. Mr. Plemmons called the morgue but found out that the two boys had already identified her at the scene and it would not be necessary for Judy to come down.
Arrangements had been made to immediately pick up Stephanie from her aunt’s house across town and Brian arrived at about 5:30 a.m. By this time, many friends and family had begun arriving to try and help the family through the grieving process.
Both Sal and Joe were released at approximately 8:00 am that morning and went home to try and put the pieces of their lives back together. Both tried to get some rest, having been up all night, but neither could sleep.
Funeral arrangements were hastily made and the day was spent in shock and horror of the reality that Kristie’s life had been snuffed out so quickly. Hundreds of friends and family poured into the funeral home to lend support to the stunned family.
Funeral services were held at Woodforest Baptist Church at 1:00 p.m. on the day before Christmas. In what was the largest funeral ever held at the church, over 1200 mourners packed the church to say good-bye to their friend. The support from the community – school teachers, administrators, friends from high school and college where Kristie attended, co-workers, church members and friends would be needed to help strengthen the family over the coming days, especially on Christmas Day.
Christmas Day was difficult. The emotions were almost unbearable. There was sadness, loneliness, bitterness, anger, and dismay. Yet, their Christian faith sustained them.
The day after Christmas, a pile of unopened presents lay under the Christmas tree. The joy of opening the gifts was gone and unbearable pain lingered from the weekends’ events.
The odyssey continues for the Martin family. Each day brings new challenges as they face the reality of Kristie being gone from them. “I think we are able to deal with it a little better than some because we have our faith in God to prop us up,” said Brian, Kristie’s father. “We will feel closure when the two suspects are brought to justice in court. It’s in the Lord’s hands now,” said Judy. Both have returned to their jobs and try to live a somewhat normal life, whatever that can be after such a tragedy.
Sal and Joe live one day at a time. Still reeling from the shock of such a loss, “my perspective on life has changed now,” said Sal. “Life has always been precious to me, but now I don’t fear death. I just wait my time. We will all have an appointment with death,” said Sal.
Wendy has recovered from her wounds and has moved out of the city.
In February, before the burgeoning spring, Kristie’s granddad planted a tree in her memory. Now she’s resting under the shade of the trees.