Inside the Houston area’s violent year: 12 stories offer a glimpse into trauma, loss experienced in our area in 2021

From top left: Benjamin Elliott, Gerald Wayne Williams, Brian Coulter and Gloria Williams. From bottom left: Ahmedal Tayeb Elnouman Modawi, Theresa Balboa, Robert Barnes and Willie Brown. (Mugshots provided by various law enforcement agencies)

Road rage shootings, beating deaths, and robberies turned deadly -- the Houston area witnessed an onslaught of unimaginable crimes this year.

Houston alone has seen nearly 80 more murders in 2021 than it did through the same point in 2020 -- a respective increase of 22 percent. Through Dec. 7, Houston police have reported 456 homicides this year -- 78 more than in 2020 and 200 more than in 2019.

Though the tally makes clear in concrete terms how violent 2021 was, it doesn’t even begin to capture the tragic stories of trauma and loss experienced in our city this year -- the toll it took and still takes on families and communities.

The facts and figures are poor stand-ins for the lives cut short this year-- like that of 5-year-old Samuel Olson, whose body was found in a plastic tote in an East Texas motel weeks after he had been reported missing by the woman now accused of killing him. Or, 8-year-old Kendrick Lee, whose remains were left to decompose in a West Harris County apartment for nearly a year after he is believed to have been beaten to death in front of his siblings. Or 17-year-old David Castro, who was killed in an alleged road rage shooting while his family was on their way home from an Astros game.

Here, we take a look back at some of the most heinous Houston crimes that have come out of this particular calendar year, the deadly acts of violence too horrendous to comprehend, the cases so shocking that seasoned investigators ranked them among the worst they’d ever seen, the stories we’d all like to forget but shouldn’t.

Though arrests were made in almost all of these crimes, justice, convictions, or at least some semblance of accountability remains to be seen while many of these cases make their way through the criminal justice system. In a handful of these cases, the suspected killers took their own lives rather than face the crimes of which they were accused, in others, they remain behind bars -- or out on bond -- awaiting trial dates and court appearances.


Teen shot in head the while heading home from Astros game

Family shares photos of 17-year-old David Xavier Castro who was shot during a possible road rage shooting after sn Astros game on July 6, 2021. (KPRC 2)

The July 6 game was a victory for the home team. The Houston Astros scored nine runs to Oakland Athletics’ six. Yordan Álvarez hit two homers and drove in five runs. It was the team’s fifth-straight win over the Oakland Athletics and baseball fans filtered out of Minute Maid Park quite satisfied. Among them were Paul Castro and his two sons.

While the trio was driving home from the game, they reportedly encountered a hostile driver in a white sedan who cut in front of the Castro family’s truck as they were merging into a single lane. At some point, the man opened his car door and yelled at Paul. The drivers exchanged hand gestures. The altercation should’ve ended there -- but it didn’t. The man in the white sedan allegedly pursued the Castro family for several miles on I-10. Paul exited the freeway in an attempt to lose him. While he was making a U-turn at an intersection, the hostile driver fired several shots into the Castro family’s truck, striking one of the Castro boys, 17-year-old David, in the head.

After some time on life support, David died the next day, his death another statistic in a growing tally of road rage homicides in Houston.

“One of the gentlest souls to walk the earth was taken from us,” Paul wrote in a Facebook post after his son’s death. “David will be missed by a world that barely got to know him.”

Gerald Wayne Williams, the man accused in David’s death, turned himself into police after a month-long manhunt. Two months later, Williams made bail.

“David’s senior year is over as is my life as I knew it,” wrote Paul in a Facebook post after Williams was released from police custody. “Gerald Wayne Williams is free. David is dead.”


8-year-old boy believed to have been beaten to death in front of his brothers

Gloria Williams, left and right inset, with family. The child that is not blurred is Kendrick, the boy whose body was found in the apartment by authorities. The photos are blurred to protect the relatives' identities. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Young Kendrick Lee is believed to have been beaten to death in front of his siblings in November 2020, authorities said. His body was left to decompose in an apartment in west Harris County, where for nearly a year, his three surviving brothers were forced to live. Rather than report her son’s death, investigators say Kendrick’s mother Gloria Williams moved away with the man accused of killing Kendrick, her boyfriend, Brian Coulter. Authorities were alerted to Kendrick’s death in October 2021 when his 15-year-old brother called authorities and reported that he and his brothers had been living alone in an apartment with Kendrick’s decomposing body for some 11 months.

When deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office arrived, they made the gruesome discovery -- they found little Kendrick’s remains under a blanket in one of the bedrooms of the squalid apartment. Even seasoned investigators said it was one of the worst cases they had ever seen.

“For many agency veterans, it was the most disturbing case they had worked in their entire law enforcement career. It seemed too horrific to be real,” said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “Been in this business a long time and I had never heard of a scenario like this. It really caught me by surprise.”

The reason Kendrick’s mother didn’t report her son’s violent death -- she was worried she’d go to prison, authorities said.

As of this writing, Williams and Coulter remain jailed pending court appearances -- Coulter is charged with murder in Kendrick’s death while Williams is charged with injury to a child by omission, injury to a child causing serious bodily harm, and tampering with evidence, namely a human corpse. The first judge assigned to the case recused himself, citing personal reasons.

“This was happening in an apartment complex where there were neighbors all around,” said legal consultant Chris Downey of the Downey Law Firm. “In the nature of the modern world, perhaps, we don’t spend as much time or come into contact with each other as much as we should but it’s a wake-up call to all of us to pay attention.”


5-year-old Samuel Olson killed

Brandon Walker shares a timeline of the Samuel Olson case.

Five-year-old Samuel Olson was obsessed with dinosaurs. He could tell you which were carnivores and which were herbivores and he used to place his miniature dinos in the hibiscus trees outside his grandparents’ home to “let them eat.” His paternal grandmother said he had “a really funny personality” -- he used to call her his egg.

Little Samuel died from homicidal violence on May 10, weeks before his father’s girlfriend Theresa Balboa, 29, reported him missing on May 27. Balboa told authorities Samuel’s mother and a man dressed as a police officer took Samuel away. She even participated in searches for Samuel and claimed in multiple interviews she didn’t know where he was.

On June 1, authorities found Balboa in an East Texas motel over 100 miles from Houston. With her were Samuel’s remains, which she had placed in a plastic tote, authorities said.

“It was a huge shock to everybody in the family, but I don’t think it was a shock to anybody outside the family,” said Tim Miller, whose organization Texas EquuSearch helped search for Samuel after Balboa reported him missing.

“I let that family know, no matter if Theresa comes out and says how and why it happened, there is never going to be an answer that is satisfying,” Miller said.

Balboa is charged with capital murder in Samuel’s death. Her first court-appointed attorney did not want to represent her and withdrew from her case.


Teen claims he was sleeping when he stabbed his twin sister to death

Meghan Elliott and Benjamin Elliott (Family photo via KPRC 2 Investigates)

A Katy teenager claimed he was dreaming when he stabbed his twin sister to death in late September.

Benjamin Elliott, 17, was charged with murder in the death of his twin sister, Meghan Elliott, 17. He told officers he awoke in her bedroom holding a knife to her neck. Elliott claims that when he realized he wasn’t dreaming, he put the knife down, turned on the lights and applied pressure to his sister’s wound. He called 911 and performed CPR until EMS personnel arrived on scene.

Investigators are still trying to piece together what exactly happened in Meghan’s room that morning.

Elliott was arrested and booked into the Harris County jail. His bond is set at $100,000.

The Elliott family released a statement to KPRC 2 about the incident through their attorney.

“We are still gathering all of the facts and details of this tragedy. There is no question Benjamin loved his sister very much. They were extremely close and the best of friends. The family is asking for privacy as they process this heartbreaking event.”


Teen valet’s drive in customer’s car ends in deadly crash

Vigil held for 3 valet drivers who were killed

Three men were killed in early October when teen valet Ahmedal Tayeb Elnouman Modawi, 17, crashed into them while attempting to evade an officer pursuing him. The three victims, 22-year-old Eric Orduna, 23-year-old Nick Rodriguez and 18-year-old Fnan Measho, were valets themselves and had been working that night.

Modawi had taken a customer’s car, according to authorities. When the officer saw Modawi doing doughnuts in a parking lot, he attempted to initiate a traffic stop. Rather than comply, authorities said Modawi fled at high speed down a residential street and hit the trio of bystanders before the vehicle rolled over and struck a fence. All three victims died at the scene.

Eric Orduna’s mother Rose said she couldn’t stop imagining her son’s final moments.

“What did he feel? Did he feel that or just go?” said Rose. “It hurts me so bad.

Three valet employees at a Southwest Houston restaurant killed during a police pursuit have now been identified.

Fnan Measho’s father Leoul said his son worked as a valet to pay the family’s bills. Leoul is unable to work because of a medical condition and Measho’s mother takes care of his young siblings.

“He was my son that took care of us, who made us strong, who gave us hope in life and that’s what we lost,” Berhe said.

Modawi faces three counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault with serious bodily injury in the fatal crash. As of this writing, he is not in custody but rather out on bond. Though under house arrest, he is permitted to attend school and religious services. He is due back in court on Dec. 12.


Son accused of killing mother, dismembering her body

Lucila "Lucy" Vela-Barnes (Family photo)

In late October 2021, the body of 72-year-old Lucila Barnes was found dismembered and packed inside a crate. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez called the gruesome discovery “sad and horrific.”

Lucila’s 36-year-old son Robert Barnes was charged with murder and tampering with evidence, namely a corpse, in her death.

When Lucila’s sister came to her home to check on her, Barnes came out with an AK rifle and told her to leave. He said that he had taken his mother to the airport. Later, when pressed by officers, authorities said Barnes could not say which airport he had taken his mother to. According to court documents, Barnes ultimately confessed that he shot his mother multiple times before mutilating her body to fit it inside the crate, which he made a month prior.

As of the writing, Barnes remains jailed. His bond is set at $650,000.

The woman's son is accused of killing her

Monica Subieta, Lucila’s oldest daughters, told KPRC 2 she is “very emotional” about the loss of her mother.

On a GoFundMe page set up to help “Lucy’s daughters settle her accounts and help cover burial costs, attorney fees, and other unforeseen expenses,” Monica wrote this about her mother: “Lucy was shot and killed in her home in Houston, Texas while working on a sewing project for her great-niece’s wedding. This was also the day before she was scheduled to fly and visit her daughter and grandson in Missouri. Many hearts are broken as we all try to wrap our minds around the tragic and unexpected loss of Lucy. She was a loving sister, a loyal friend to many, a beloved aunt and great-aunt, a dedicated mother to her children, and a cherished grandmother. She leaves behind three daughters, three grandchildren, and many loved ones and extended family members. She will forever be remembered by her generous spirit and her joyous laugh. Lucy has touched the lives of everyone she’s ever met, and this devastating loss has left the family in shock and sorrow.”


Off-duty New Orleans police officer fatally shot at Galleria-area restaurant

On Aug. 21, off-duty New Orleans Police Detective Everett Briscoe, 41, and his friend Dyrin Riculfy, 43, were dining in the patio area of Grotto restaurant when two men in hoodies approached them, tried to rob them and shot them before fleeing.

Briscoe, a 13-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department, was pronounced dead at the scene of the shooting while Riculfy died 10 days later at a Houston hospital. The pair was in Houston on a trip with friends from a well-known New Orleans social club.

Three men were ultimately arrested and charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting: Khalil Nelson, 19, Frederick Jackson, 19, and Anthony Jenkins, 21. All three men were free on bonds when the shooting occurred.

“The crime surge is out of control,” said State Senator John Whitmire to KPRC 2 Investigates in reference to the shooting. “These folks going up and shooting and robbing folks, and burglarizing at restaurants, and in their driveways is a direct result, in my opinion, and in stakeholders opinions, is because people are not being held accountable,” said Whitmire.


Murder suspect in fiery quadruple homicide shoots himself during arrest attempt

The family of four was identified on Monday

A man accused of murdering four of his relatives before setting their home ablaze shot and killed himself as officers attempted to take him into custody in September.

William Escaño Yah, was being sought in connection to the Sept. 5 shooting deaths of his relatives at their home on Imogene Street in southwest Houston. When officers attempted to apprehend Yah, he lifted a gun to his head and shot himself.

Though police did not release a motive for the deaths of 37-year-old Jairo Escaño, 46-year-old Elvira Escaño, 13-year-old Isabelle Escaño and 10-year-old Jairo Escaño Jr, relatives told KPRC 2 that Yah suffered from depression.

“When anybody dies in our city, it upsets us,” Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said. “But when it’s innocent kids, it’s even more upsetting.”

HOW TO GET HELP: Here are a few resources for addressing family violence in the Houston area.


2 women robbed, run over days apart in separate incidents in the same area

On Sept. 23, Martha Medina, 71, had just exited a McDonald’s restaurant at 430 Uvalde Road when she was robbed and run over.

A McDonald’s employee who witnessed the attack rushed outside and stood by Medina’s side during her final moments.

“I told her I’m going to pray for you and she said ‘I’m grateful for that, I don’t want to die,’” said the employee, who did not wish to be identified.

At least three men had a hand in Medina’s death, authorities believe. Felton Ford, 39, is charged with organized criminal activity. Law enforcement claim Ford acted as a lookout during the robbery and it’s believed that he was the driver who fatally struck Medina as the trio were making their getaway. Andrew Williams, 40, was charged with capital murder in Medina’s death. Investigators said William was the man who snatched Medina’s purse. He was out on bond in another capital murder when Medina was killed. Deputies are still working to identify and locate the third man involved.

Just days after Medina’s death, another woman was run over and killed in the same area.

Authorities said Jessica Garza, 41, was killed when Marcus Wayne Brock, 55, attempted to carjack her while fleeing from a store he had just robbed.

Officers said Brock tried to push Garza out of her vehicle. He then took off as the Garza, who still had her seatbelt on, was trying to get out of the vehicle. Brock struck six or seven vehicles before crashing Garza’s car into a pole up near the corner of Uvalde Road and Louisville Street. Though police said Brock later fled the scene on foot, he was later located, arrested and charged with capital murder. His bond was set a $1,000,000.

In court, it was said that Garza got stuck in the vehicle because of her seatbelt but according to Brock, he and Garza were fighting over control of the steering wheel.


1 deputy killed, 2 others injured in ambush outside N Houston sports bar

The body of slain Harris County Constable Precinct 4 Deputy Kareem Atkins was escorted to a funeral home Sunday evening.

A man with an AR-15 rifle ambushed three Harris County Precinct 4 deputies early on Oct. 16, killing one and wounding two others while they were responding to a disturbance outside a bar in north Houston, authorities said.

The officer killed in the shooting, Deputy Kareem Atkins, was 30 years old and had recently returned to work after paternity leave. He had been employed at the precinct since January 2019. He left behind a wife and two young children.

Deputy Juqaim Barthen, 26, and Deputy Darrell Garrett, 28, were wounded in the shooting. Barthen joined Precinct 4 in September 2019. Garrett joined in March 2018.

The three deputies were best friends who were working an off-duty job to make some extra money.

“What happened tonight was evil,” Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said following the shooting.

The gunman who killed Atkins has not yet been found.


Husband suspected in influencer Alexa Sharkey’s slaying found dead in Florida

Husband killed himself as officers tried to arrest him

The man suspected of strangling his wife, a social media influencer, in late 2020 was found dead, apparently by suicide, in a Florida home in October. The body of Alexis Sharkey, 26, was discovered Nov. 28, 2020 on the side of a road shortly after she was reported missing. An autopsy determined that she died of strangulation.

Nearly a year later, in late Sept. 2021, an arrest warrant was issued for Sharkey’s husband Tom Sharkey. Authorities said they intended to formally charge him with murder once he was in custody. Authorities said Tom Sharkey killed himself after he learned that U.S. Marshals had located him at a relative’s residence.

During the course of the investigation into the death of Alexis, police learned that Tom Sharkey had a history of domestic violence and that the pair planned to break up. They also said Tom Sharkey was not truthful in his statements to police. Among other red flags, Tom Sharkey left Texas not long after his wife’s death.


The disappearance and death of Ashley Guillory

Ashley Guillory’s disappearance in early September prompted a weeks-long search which ended on Sept. 28 when the man accused of killing her led authorities to the wooded area where he allegedly dumped her body.

Police said the 37-year-old mother of three was tied to a chair and strangled to death in a southwest Houston motel room. Her friend Willie Brown, 48, is accused of killing her after she declined to give him money for drugs.

After strangling Guillory, Brown fled the motel in her car only to return several hours later, investigators said. He reportedly shattered a window to gain entry into the room where he had left Guillory’s body (he didn’t have a key) then placed her body in the backseat of the car before driving off. Investigators said motel security footage showed a pair of human feet sticking out of the rear driver’s window. In mid September, Guillory’s husband Curt caught Brown driving Ashley’s car. Brown was arrested and later charged in Guillory’s death.

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About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.