At some point during the nearly three years since 10-year-old Machole Stewart was murdered in a drive-by shooting, a detective spoke the words that her grandmother would never let stand.
He called the investigation a “cold case,” Krystal DePriest said Thursday.
“I told him, ‘Her case will never be a cold case.’ ”
She was right. The Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Thursday that four people have been charged with first-degree murder in her death. Two of them — Tommy Benson, 22, and Cedric Sanders, 20 — are in custody, each with a bond of $250,000.
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Another suspect, whose name has not been released, is hospitalized. That left one suspect not in custody, according to the district attorney’s office.
Machole was shot in the head on an October Sunday night in 2014 when family said she jumped and ran from the couch while bullets ripped into the house, despite shouts to stay down.
“She was scared,” DePriest said.
No one else in the home was hit, though the house was pierced by at least nine bullets and the crime scene stretched for two blocks with cars riddled with more bullets.
But the family’s regular calls to detectives in the weeks and months that followed brought only frustration, DePriest said.
It seemed police should have been able to piece together the rivalries involved, knowing the intended targets and zeroing in on the shooters, she said. But all they gathered from police over the years were discouraging accounts citing witnesses unwilling to talk.
Then the phone call the family had been waiting for came Wednesday evening, she said. A voice message was from Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree:
“He congratulated me and said, ‘Three down, one more to go,’ ” DePriest said.
Then the prosecutor said, “I’m not going to stop fighting for you and your family. I’m going to get you justice.”
Machole was a fifth-grader at Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools’ T.A. Edison Elementary School, looking forward to Halloween the night she died.
She was going to dress as a vampire, family said, because it suited her penchant for showmanship. She loved to dance, enjoying being both a praise dancer at Forest Grove Baptist Church and a member of the Gateway Highsteppers drill team.
DePriest had just moved back to Kansas City, Kan., from North Kansas City in the fall of 2014, she said. Machole was going to move in with her. She had picked her room and her paint colors — purple and pink.
“But a week later,” she said, “they killed my granddaughter.”
Thursday afternoon DePriest gathered with Jennifer Brown and other members of the Mothers of the Village — a group of women, many of them the mothers of slain children, who speak out against the silence of witnesses that allows killers to go free.
“For all of the kids we have lost in our community we need to stand up,” Brown said. “It’s not snitching. It’s being someone who cares about our kids.”