By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Alisha Neeley spent the last night of her life surrounded by her closest friends.
The 17-year-old was pre-partying at her cousin's house, taking shot after shot of vodka. Wearing a brown Hollister polo, jeans, and Coach boots, she was a natural beauty with a hypnotic smile. Known as LeLe to her friends, she was the life of the party, playfully pulling girls off the couch to dance.
They called themselves the Ladiis and were known as one of the toughest female cliques on Minneapolis's north side.
"Fuck the Baddest," Lele yelled, calling out their rival clique and throwing up the "L" sign. "Woo woo, it's the Ladiis."
The girls left for the house party just before 11 p.m. They arrived to find at least 75 people packed into several basement rooms. LeLe announced her entrance with a voice so loud it drowned out the room's conversation."It's the Ladiis!" Other girls at the party gave sideways looks as the Ladiis pushed their way in and started dancing together.
The party ended and the Ladiis were some of the first people outside. A man started yelling. "Get down! He's gonna shoot!"
LeLe kept dancing.
Shots rang out. The crowd scattered. LeLe dropped.
"I'm hit," she said.
Her cousin, Kayla, ran to her side. "LeLe, stop playing," she said.
"I can't breathe," Lele said, her breaths coming short and fast.
Kayla searched LeLe's body for the bullet wound, but couldn't find it. LeLe was gasping the cold February air, holding her hands tight to her chest.
"LeLe, this is your cousin Kayla. I am not leaving your side. Ain't nobody out here but us. I need you to hold on, be strong, hold my hand, and listen to my voice. Do not leave my voice. Just fight, just be strong."
LeLe's eyes rolled back in her head, then snapped back to refocus on Kayla's face.
"LeLe, you have to relax," Kayla said. "They coming, they coming, I hear the sirens. Just fight."
By the time LeLe arrived at North Memorial Medical Center, paramedics had discovered the small gunshot wound to her neck. LeLe was suffering from internal bleeding from a bullet lodged in her lower back.
Doctors were unable to save her. She died in the early morning hours of February 26, just two weeks before her 18th birthday. Her death marked the 10th homicide this year in Minneapolis.
LeLe is emblematic of a growing problem: girl gangs. Police estimate there are 150 to 200 girls in Minneapolis who claim to be in a clique or gang. Much of the time, girl gangs stay under the radar of law enforcement because their crimes are considered minor compared to the mayhem and gunplay favored by male gangs. But that doesn't mean the girls aren't putting themselves at risk.
Fourth Precinct Inspector Mike Martin says girls in the past were more likely to be auxiliary members of gangs through their boyfriends or brothers. Now they are increasingly independent, and their violence is escalating as they fight other girls with mace, padlocks, and knives.
"We've been fortunate that not a lot of serious violence has been associated with girls in gangs or cliques, but that's a natural evolution we might be seeing in the future," Martin says.
Sarah Klouda, the teen coordinator at Oak Park Center, works with girls in cliques every day. She's known the Neeley family since she started her job four years ago.
"Someone just ripped her away from us," she says. "She was right there in our grasp. She was on the right track and she was speaking up against this clique stuff. If that can happen to somebody like Alisha who was really on a mission, where did we all go wrong?"
LELE FOUGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FIFTH GRADE. While walking to her boyfriend's house with a friend, she crossed paths with two other girls. Trying to act tough, the older of the two forced the younger girl to fight LeLe.
LeLe came home and told her older sister, Helena, about the altercation. Helena was only a year older than LeLe, but had grown up protecting her little sister. When she heard about the fight, she couldn't control her anger. She stormed over to the girl's house.
"That's real bullshit you tried to fight my sister," she yelled. "You don't even know why you're fighting her."
The girls came out to settle the score. The adversaries walked seven blocks to the nearest park so they wouldn't get in trouble.
Helena attacked the girl who fought her sister, punching her in the face until she fell to the ground. When the older girl jumped in, Helena picked up a metal pole and started swinging it at her.
"I never knew how angry I would be if someone hit my sister until then," Helena says.
From that point on, Helena fought for LeLe. They were raised by their father, who spent long hours working to support his kids, and Helena became a mother figure to LeLe.
Their older brother, Terrence, had been running the streets for years with the Tre Tre Crips. Helena and LeLe started hanging around with their brother, known as T-Streets, and other Tre Tre Crips members in middle school.