By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Kimberly and Kevin didn’t talk much, about their mother’s death or anything else, but they watched out for each other like soldiers in a bunker.
On one occasion, Kevin found a dead cat in the yard. He begged his grandmother to keep Kimberly inside the house while he dealt with it.
Still, they maintained an almost formal distance from each other, some of which was imposed by the Palm Desert school system, whose policy is to keep siblings out of the same classes. While Kevin, with a small, loose attachment of friends, was drawn to art and computers, Kimberly was comparatively sociable, and had a tight circle of friends. The twins may have come from the same root, but they were growing in different directions.
You get a good view of the sun setting from the lunch bench behind the grassy quads at Palm Desert High School. A steel clip clanks against a flagpole in the desert wind.
In their first year and a half of high school, Kevin tutored his sister about music, turning her on to bands such as Sublime, Weezer, Green Day, Incubus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sometimes he’d quiz her by playing music to see if she could identify the artist. They ate mainly their grandmother’s home-cooked meals. Yet by the end of high school, neither was home much, spinning into separate worlds. Kimberly went to local restaurants — Del Taco, T.G.I. Friday’s, Red Robin, The River — with her friends. She remained active in church and school clubs. Meanwhile, Kevin found a new circle of friends, what Kimberly calls “the wrong friends,” bonded by drugs.
From a distance, Kimberly watched her brother’s growing infatuation with his first high school sweetheart, which came around age 14. His girlfriend’s father was a psychiatrist, an advocate for what he called “emancipation.” Kimberly remembers the man as “strange.” Bragg calls him a “control freak” for continually interfering in the growing relationship. He insisted that Kevin stop attending St. Francis church and go instead to his family’s evangelical church.
Against his grandmother’s wishes and his sister’s advice, Kevin followed his girlfriend’s requests and obeyed her father. Bragg recalls a bizarre conference phone call in which the man telephoned Bragg while Kevin was on the line, and said, “Kevin, tell your grandmother why you’re so afraid of her.”
Then, one day, the psychiatrist forbade the relationship between Kevin and his daughter. Kimberly suspects it was because the man learned that Kevin was starting to experiment with drugs. They could be friends but they couldn’t hold hands and were not allowed to kiss.
Kimberly says that this broken relationship, in conjunction with Kevin’s early drug use, precipitated profound changes in Kevin’s appearance and behavior: He was becoming noticeably thinner as the meth sapped his appetite, and more agitated, easily distracted.
While Kimberly maintained a grade-point average that would qualify her for most state universities, Kevin’s scholastic and professional ambitions were being overruled by his drug habit. Ferociously intelligent by all accounts, Kevin couldn’t maintain good grades. He said he had no interest in attending a university. Being a computer whiz, he was setting his sights on ITT Technical Institute, or the military.
While Kimberly remained devout, Kevin started to slip away from his grandmother’s church and its influence.
Meanwhile, Kimberly noticed the occasional $20 bill missing from her wallet when she got up in the morning. The same thing started happening to Bragg. They started sleeping with their money tucked under their pillows. Kimberly confronted Kevin, who answered with a volley of denials, apologies and more denials. Screaming matches led to shoving matches between brother and sister. She pleaded with him to enter drug rehab. He did so on several occasions, but never completed a program.
Bragg remembers watching her grandson during one of the last Masses he attended. The 15-year-old altar boy stood silent and still during the Book of Names service, but Bragg noticed his fists clenched, like never before.
“It must have been the drugs,” she says.
On one occasion, Kevin transferred funds from his grandmother’s credit union into his own bank account. Bragg caught the theft on paper. More denials. More apologies. Bragg insisted that her grandson repay the funds over time. And he did.
When the twins were in their junior year of high school, Bragg called the sheriff after discovering that somebody purchasing beer and cigarettes was using her stolen credit card at the local Albertsons.
“I figured it was Kevin. That call was one of the most difficult decisions of my life,” Bragg says.
When Kevin got home, the sheriff was waiting for him.
“Kevin, do you have your grandmother’s credit card?”
“Why don’t you give it back to her.”
Kevin was taken to juvenile hall, the first in a series of youth facilities and rehabilitation centers that he paraded through over the coming months.
Because Kevin knew some of the Riverside sheriff’s deputies from his participation in the department’s Cadets and Explorers after-school programs, he was able on some occasions to talk his way out of incarceration. One time, when he was imprisoned near the Mexican border in a particularly isolated and brutal facility, he even persuaded his skeptical grandmother to collect him. “Manipulative” was replacing “charming” as the favorite adjective among friends and family to describe Kevin.
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