A knock at the door, usually an indication someone simply wants to say hello, make a delivery or maybe sell you something, is more foreboding these days for Patrick Wayne Harper.
To this North Las Vegas teen, an innocuous rap or ringing doorbell sounds like an alarm.
Because a day that sent his life into a tailspin started with a knock.
Harper, who was 16 at the time, was at home Sept. 11, 2014, when a North Las Vegas police officer stopped by
“I just heard somebody knocking on the door very hard,” Harper, now 17, told the Review-Journal earlier this month, recalling his arrest a year earlier. “I looked out the window and saw his car.”
Harper was handcuffed and hauled off, accused of killing Andrea Lafon a week before in what detectives described as a drug deal gone bad.
For 12 days, Harper was an accused murderer. He spent the first day in the Clark County Juvenile Justice Services Detention Center. He then was transferred to the Clark County Correctional Center, where adults are held.
Then, just like that, he was out. Harper was sent home Sept. 23, 2014.
Clark County prosecutors dropped the murder charge. He’d told police he wasn’t anywhere near the shooting when it happened.
Video found by Harper’s legal team backed up his alibi. Police hadn’t checked with the convenience store where he’d said he was buying a soft drink and candy when Lafon was shot in the head — and 2 miles from where it happened.
‘A cloud over me right now’
Initially, after the district attorney’s office cleared him, North Las Vegas police said Harper was still a suspect.
The shooting remains under investigation, police spokesman officer Aaron Patty said Saturday.
Surveillance video doesn’t “completely absolve” Harper, Patty said. However, investigators are not focused on him or anyone else questioned in the investigation a year ago as “main suspects at this time.”
But that can change if new evidence or leads are discovered, Patty said, adding that media attention hindered the investigation.
Patty said information leaked to the media last year put a damper on the case, which was tried in the court of public opinion instead of in the justice system.
For now, the murder probe is at a standstill.
That’s of some comfort to Harper, whose mug shot was plastered all over valley newspapers and TV stations. During the year he’s been out of jail, the Mojave High School senior has sought clinical and spiritual counseling.
But it’s hard to forget.
“It’s a cloud over me right now,” Harper said, “but I’m trying my best to get over the situation.”
The arrest has taken a toll. His attorney, Kristina Wildeveld, said Harper has had panic attacks.
It’s also affected his family.
“Every day it seems like it just happened yesterday,” Harper’s mother, Letreavor Henderson, said. “I can’t get it out of my head. It was like a nightmare.”
Science shows it’s not easy to get over something like this.
Bruce Carter, associate professor of psychology and child and family studies at Syracuse University, said an experience like Harper’s can be compared to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Especially since he’s an adolescent, Carter said.
“It’s psychological, but that doesn’t make it any less real,” Carter said. People with PTSD can be “overly sensitive” to environmental cues that take them back.
Going for a walk is hard, Harper said. He doesn’t like to go places by himself for fear someone might “pull up” on him.
‘It’s just been heartbreaking’
Harper has had some interaction with Lafon’s loved ones since he was released.
One of her cousins worked at a Men’s Wearhouse store where he rented a tuxedo in the spring for prom.
His mother said the woman recognized her son. Both families recognized each other’s struggle.
“‘From mother to mother, I’m sorry for what you guys went through,'” Henderson said the other woman told her.
Harper gave the woman a hug.
Friends of Lafon gathered at a central valley park for the one-year anniversary of the slaying. Blue, purple, yellow and red balloons sat on a park table with messages about their friend written on them.
“It’s just been heartbreaking,” said close friend Teryn Loverme, 25, adding that Lafon’s immediate family moved to California soon after the shooting.
Loverme said she and Lafon were friends for 10 years. She expressed resentment toward police. “It’s been a year. How don’t you know anything yet?”
About Harper she said: “If he wasn’t there, he wasn’t there. We weren’t there to see who was there.”
Video, description don’t match
A witness who talked to police about the shooting also didn’t see Harper, according to his arrest report.
Lafon, 20, was in a car when she was shot and killed on Sept. 5, 2014, near the intersection of Small Mountain Avenue and Guinyard Street, inside a gated community near Ann and Losee roads, close to Shadow Creek Golf Course.
Officers were called at 7:18 p.m., about three minutes after the shooting, according to a police report.
A store receipt shows Harper making a purchase at 7:11 p.m. and the video shows him leaving the AM PM convenience store at Ann Road and North Fifth Street at 7:14 p.m. He is seen walking south toward Mojave High, a block away.
The shooting happened to the east of the store.
His defense insists he walked to his high school’s football field and walked home after the game, without having access to a vehicle. Coaches interviewed by Wildeveld and her team place him at the high school.
Police last year alleged Harper could have made it to the crime scene in time. They also said witness statements placed him in the neighborhood before the shooting.
Additionally, a police report obtained by the Review-Journal last year said that the shooter was described as wearing a white shirt, but the convenience store video shows Harper clad in dark gray.
Several teens police spoke with, including one of Harper’s classmates, said they were involved in the drug deal. At least two of them said Harper was the gunman, police said. The classmate told media he was bullied and pressured by Detective Jesus Prieto into implicating Harper while turning off the audio recorder.
There were no breaks in the audio or apparent intimidation when a Review-Journal reporter listened to it last year.
Welcomed with hugs, handshakes
Harper was suspended from school after his arrest.
But after the charge was dropped, he was welcomed back with hugs and handshakes.
Soon after his return, during a previously scheduled school assembly, Harper was presented with a ring from his team’s volleyball championship, a Clark County School District spokeswoman said. He had missed the presentation ceremony, and they wanted him to receive the honor he’d earned.
Video from the assembly shows students cheering loudly when he accepted the ring.
Speaking at his lawyer’s office, wearing a light blue shirt and matching necktie with black-frame glasses, Harper spoke softly about his plans. He’ll graduate in June, and he hopes to go to college in Oregon or Kansas.
He’s hopeful but unclear about what the future holds — not unlike many 17-year-old boys.
“He’d like this to be behind him and he’d like it to stop being a topic of conversation that involves him,” Wildeveld said. “I’m glad that it wasn’t the rest of his life and that he’s not in prison the rest of his life because that could have happened so very easily.
Contact Ricardo Torres at email@example.com and 702-383-0381. Find him on Twitter: @rickytwrites.