Teen’s slaying leaves questions among friends

Diana Perry plays back the worst night of her life over and over in her head, wondering "What if? What if?" as she looks at her wristband from the house party. She won’t take it off. It proves the nightmare was real.

Mere moments before her 17-year-old girlfriend died in her arms from a stray bullet early Sunday, they were dancing the night away at the party. Then she was kneeling on the floor, holding the hand of Betty "Jay" Pinkney, who was squeezing tight as she convulsed and gasped for air.

Perry’s other hand pressed hard on Pinkney’s blood-drenched side to try to stop the spreading red.

Pinkney’s good friend Amber Robertson felt for her pulse.

"I felt one heartbeat and that was it," a sobbing Robertson said Tuesday. "It was hard. She was my best friend."

Police arrived shortly after.

"I stayed with her until they forced me off," Perry said, chuckling softly as she remembered something. "My wallet is actually at the morgue with her right now. I would call her my gentleman. She’d carry my things."

Perry, who graduated from Desert Pines High School last year, keeps revisiting the night’s little decisions that could have changed things, saved a life, had they been different.

Perry, Pinkney and Robertson, a former Desert Pines student, originally planned to go to the Strip but decided to attend the northeast valley house party instead, each paying $1 for a wristband to get in.

Later in the night as they danced, somebody said, "They’re going to shoot," according to Perry and Robertson, so everyone headed out the front door to the yard of the house, near Craig Road and Lamb Boulevard. But nothing happened, so people started heading back inside. The two went back to dancing.

"All of a sudden, everybody started pushing," said Perry, who went to the bathroom with Pinkney and Robertson for safety. But a girl was already in there using the bathroom. "Me and Betty are in the bathroom laughing so hard because the girl was peeing, getting all mad."

Again, nothing happened, so they went back out, all three holding hands to stay together. Pinkney, a Desert Pines senior, led the way to the door as they tried to leave. Then she turned around.

"Her eyes said go back," Perry recalled.

The frightened crowd did just that, running away from the front door.

On their way back to the bathroom, Pinkney’s hand slipped away and she was lost in the crowd. Perry and Robertson made it to the bathroom with many others. A bullet shot through one wall of the bathroom and went out another, they said. Shortly after, people started to leave the bathroom. That’s when they found Pinkney on the floor.

A FATHER’S GRIEF

Pinkney died trying to leave the party. She had a 1 a.m. curfew. Her father, Joseph Pinkney, is sure his daughter would have met it. She was responsible like that.

"She was 17 years old," her grieving father said Tuesday. "You have to give a certain amount of responsibility. She acted responsible all of her life."

His daughter wasn’t allowed to go out Saturday night until she finished her chores, which included cleaning her room. Joseph Pinkney wonders now what could have been if only his daughter had stayed home.

"You always feel guilt when something like this happens," Pinkney said. "You always feel like you could have prevented it."

Pinkney said he and his ex-wife raised their daughter to be responsible and independent. Betty Pinkney’s independence grew stronger when she became the only woman in the home she shared with her father and brother, Matthew, 15.

The father said he learned his daughter had been shot in a phone message left for him while he was working a swing shift as a pit boss at an MGM Resorts International property early Sunday.

He rushed to University Medical Center believing Betty had been shot in the leg. "OK, we can deal with that," he thought at the time.

But when he arrived, he learned what his daughter’s friends already knew. She was dead.

He mused Tuesday about how he’s now in a place no parent ever wants to be: making funeral arrangements for a child.

He said that if she had lived, his daughter would have gone to college. She was looking at the College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College.

He said his spirituality is helping him as he grieves — he knows God had a purpose for what happened to his daughter.

As for those responsible for killing her, he used words such as "cowards" and "ignorant."

He said if he wasn’t spiritual, he’d take the "law into his own hands."

"He’s going to be condemned one way or another," Pinkney said of whoever committed the crime. "Why would I make myself a victim when I know he’s already done for."

MISSING ITS MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

The Desert Pines basketball court was quiet Tuesday.

Players sat inside the circle at center court as Coach Christopher McFarland walked away, his head down. He sniffed back tears.

One player was missing from center circle, Pinkney.

She lived basketball. Her parents want her buried in her Desert Pines High School jersey, McFarland said later as he smiled at her basketball photo taken just last Friday.

It shows her smiling big, showing her braces, a basketball under her right arm.

"Betty" patches will be placed on all players’ jerseys, he said. The team members also decided that the money they raised by selling team hoodies will be put into a fund for a Betty Pinkney Scholarship. They don’t need an end-of-season party.

"Nice to see you all smiling today," the coach said to his players after the tears dried and he walked back into the circle.

"We did all our crying at school," said player Sherell Williams.

They sat and told Betty stories, laughing the way they did when Pinkney was with them.

When alone, players and even Coach McFarland described Pinkney in the same way: a person who went out of her way to make anyone and everyone feel safe and happy, even younger students and players such as 16-year-old Dominique Hopkins.

After every practice, Pinkney would wait for everyone’s ride to show before she walked to her home around the corner, Hopkins said.

When Hopkins received the text on Sunday morning about Pinkney, she didn’t believe it.

"I put on my shoes and ran to her house," she said. When she discovered it was true, "I cried on her steps."

When 17-year-old teammate Williams got a concussion at practice, Pinkney "was there every step of the way," going to the hospital and consoling her at practices because she had to sit on the sidelines. "She never liked to see anybody cry but put a smile on your face."

Like Pinkney’s father, her teammates are appalled at suggestions that the teen was a "gang banger," which doesn’t fit her at all, they said. She liked red, and not because it was associated with any gang. It was just her favorite color, they said. All she talked about since finally passing her high school proficiency exams was graduating.

"Oh yeah, I’m getting my diploma," said several teammates, quoting Pinkney.

Robertson said Pinkney wanted to be a firefighter because "she always liked helping people."

After players — some wearing red "Betty" ribbons and others with "Betty" written on their cheeks — finished their Betty stories, they stood up and huddled together. Coach McFarland hovered over them.

They usually do the same chant, but teammate Leslie White led everyone in a new one before they ran a lap.

"Betty on me. Betty on 3," she said.

"BETTY!"

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.

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