What awaited him in the brick police station in Frisco that day was a jarring revelation: Paul studied the photos—an otherwise healthy-looking kid, nude and sprawled across a bathroom floor—and felt a kind of dread. Maybe this was the beginning of something much larger.
Maybe there would be more pictures, these gruesome still lifes, to come. Back then, a little more than two years ago, Paul could not have imagined some of the things he would soon see: He tells these stories as we drive along the orderly streets of Plano—a city that looks remarkably like anyplace else except that its sidewalks are a little cleaner, its cars newer, its lawns more carefully tended—accentuating what he already knows too well: With , residents, many of them recent transplants, it is also the fifth fastest-growing city in the nation.
It has optimistically broad streets and oversized cantilevered homes with cathedral ceilings that soar skyward, and it is flanked on both sides by symbols of industry.
At the farthest reaches of the east side of town lies Southfork Ranch, where J. Ewing once presided over his oil empire; on the west side, where the carefully manicured grounds of Fortune companies line Legacy Drive, stands a bronze statue of department store magnate J. Penney, his outstretched hand gesturing toward the half-built subdivisions that dot the landscape. Plano is the suburban ideal taken to its extreme, and its exaggerated scale often gives rise to exaggerated problems.
Now heroin has hit the city hard: There have been fifteen fatal overdoses in the past two years, nine of them teenagers, all but one younger than They came from good homes and had bright futures: The youngest to die was a seventh-grade soccer player whose body was found in a church parking lot.
And no death toll can convey the other devastations: Penney Company executive who was revived after falling into a coma but suffered such severe brain damage that he can no longer speak or walk. The residents of Plano are well-meaning and hard-working people with no patience for fatalism or even pessimism about their ability to win this battle. They are problem solvers—corporate executives and mid-level managers who believe that each problem must have its logical solution, that with some elbow grease and determination and a well-thought-out plan, they can rid their community of even this most unimaginable of scourges.
This month marks the culmination of their work: Mostly Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals—some with nicknames such as Beefy and Dreamer—they are believed to be the primary heroin distributors in Collin County.
Nearly a dozen others in their teens and early twenties were included in the original federal indictment, for dealing heroin to their friends, but they have plea-bargained and received relatively light sentences. These are effectively murder charges; if convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to life in prison.
This is reassuring news to many people in Plano, as is the substantial new federal funding for drug-fighting efforts in the area. The Betty Ford Clinic has even established its first satellite program in Irving. In light of these developments and the upcoming federal trial, there is a sense here that this war has largely been won. A recent town hall meeting about heroin use drew scarcely fifty people.
Few people are talking about the fact that many teenagers here are still using heroin and that the problem is quietly spreading to other suburbs around the Metroplex: The statistics that are available are startling: The number of people in the Metroplex seeking treatment for heroin addiction rose percent in the past two years.
Drug seizures in North Texas rose by percent last year. The previous month there had been five fatal heroin overdoses in Tarrant County alone. For Sergeant Paul, whose team of undercover officers has worked hard to keep the threat of heroin at bay, such numbers are dispiriting.
Even as recently as the late sixties, it had little more than a Dairy Queen and a pharmacy for landmarks. By , with the construction of the Collin Creek Mall, then the largest mall in North Texas, and the relocation of several Dallas businesses, it had become a full-fledged city.
Within a few years most of the prairie land had vanished, swallowed up by rows of strip malls, office parks, and cul-de-sacs. In the tony Willow Bend neighborhood, the towheaded prairie grasses have been tamed into polo grounds. Although Plano begins east of Central Expressway—where modest frame houses lie near its former business hub, an unhurried street of antiques shops that dead-ends at the rusting railroad depot—the city has grown rapidly westward. These days, the heart of Plano lies on the other side of the expressway, where six-lane boulevards slice the city into a grid of disorientingly similar streets.
Locally owned businesses are rare in this land of high-end franchises and upscale chain stores; even the French restaurant is part of a national conglomerate. A ready-made community for newcomers, West Plano seems designed to feel immediately familiar with its man-made ponds, newly planted saplings, and sod that is kept a vibrant green under the spray of a thousand sprinkler systems.
Plano no longer has a downtown. EDS, like other corporate headquarters along Legacy Drive, is a small civilization unto itself, with its own auto repair center, a 60,square-foot health club, even a sunken lake and waterfall to contemplate while eating at one of its three cafeterias.
It is a place of surprising uniformity—until this past fall, male EDS employees were required to wear ties and white dress shirts—and its design reflects a rigid hierarchy; its elevated executive suites, which soar over the two-story-high palm trees of its central atrium, are referred to by employees as the God Pod.
Each EDS entrance has its own armed guards, surveillance cameras, and tire shredders to help fend off terrorists and corporate spies. The low-slung headquarters of J. Penney—which has its own jogging trails, day-care center, and robots that sort the mail—would be a one-hundred-story tall skyscraper if turned on its end.
This is a community of strivers—of people who came here to further their careers or improve their standard of living—and the burden of their expectations often falls squarely on the shoulders of their children, who are meant, without exception, to excel. Averageness is not looked kindly upon.
There are cheerleading classes for toddlers, SAT prep classes for students who have barely begun high school, and a dizzying array of extracurricular activities that promise to give kids an edge over the competition. They have some of the highest SAT scores in Texas and the second-largest advanced-placement program in the country, and they have won dozens of state athletic championships. A preoccupation with being number one is the unofficial reason that Plano Senior High and Plano East Senior High, both of which educate only eleventh and twelfth graders, have had unusually high enrollments, with 3, and 2, students respectively, giving coaches large pools of potential players from which to pick winning football teams.
This fall a third senior high will open. In general, teenagers in Plano are less anxious about fitting in than they are about succeeding. Six days later, an eighteen-year-old killed himself, also by carbon monoxide poisoning, and that spring a fourteen-year-old shot himself with a. Later that week, an eighteen-year-old died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, distraught over breaking up with his girlfriend, and the following February a fourteen-year-old shot himself with a.
More than a dozen other Plano teens tried to kill themselves. Others slashed themselves with razors, and one teen used a pair of scissors. One boy tried to hang himself with his shirt. Then, as now, national headlines resounded with the same question, Why Plano? With the exception of the high school sweethearts, none of the teens wrote suicide notes, leaving parents with the unhappy task of examining why their kids, who had been given everything, chose to throw it all away.
Parents would grapple with the same question more than a decade later when heroin first made its presence known, and they would find themselves similarly unprepared. Belita Nelson, formerly the debate coach at Plano East Senior High, told me about the day she found needles and a syringe in her house. We think we know our children so well. Unlike cocaine or speed, heroin slows things down to a pleasurable state of apathy, giving the illusion that all needs—hunger, thirst, human interaction—have been fulfilled.
Mexican black tar heroin, known by the nickname chiva, came to Plano by way of Laredo, where it was hidden in the hollowed-out soles of shoes and walked across the border, then driven up Interstate 35 to Dallas and destinations beyond. Competition between the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels for control of the emerging heroin market drove up the purity of the drug—from 5 or 6 percent a decade ago to upward of 50 percent in the past two years—making it a popular drug with a new crowd: Its potency meant that it could be snorted rather than injected, delivering the same high without the needles.
Dealers started charging for it once they had repeat customers, offering free caps to those who brought friends back with them. There was no great mystery as to why they started experimenting with chiva: It was regularly described as the best high anyone had ever felt, and it was perfect escapism.
In his senior year he was curious enough about chiva that he tried it for the first time one night after dinner while his mother was washing the dishes. He reached for a cap that friends had given him—he had tucked it under some shirts in his bureau for safekeeping—and snorted it, as he had done before with cocaine, lying down on his bed to wait for its effects.
For the under crowd, it was easier to get than beer: No one asked to see your I. The crimes they committed to finance their habits were almost comical for their innocence: Some teenagers began selling it to their friends to pay for their own habits, buying black tar heroin from dealers before it was cut, mixing it in hand-held coffee grinders with Dormin, and eyeballing the color and texture to gauge its potency.
It was an inexact science, often producing chiva that was alarmingly strong. Recovering addicts spoke of vomiting repeatedly after using it and even being thrown into cold showers and slapped awake by friends as they slipped into unconsciousness. Sometimes they were too late, as Dr. Larry Alexander remembers from his tenure at the Medical Center of Plano emergency room in and early , when weekends often brought in panicked teenagers whose friends would not wake up.
He recounts the not uncommon story of one boy who later died: We put him on a gurney and started running him back into the ER. The next thing I heard was tires peeling out.
His friends had taken off, and we had no idea who he was. Friends of one boy, who had vomited on himself after shooting up, tried to wash him off by putting him in a Jacuzzi, where they left him, in a daze, to drown.
Malina had been clean for nearly two months, so he had a far lower tolerance for heroin than usual that night. He snorted two caps of chiva, and by the end of the evening, his speech was slurred and he was having difficulty walking.
His friends told him to sleep it off, and so he lay semiconscious in a bedroom for several hours, feverish and vomiting. There were few obvious signs to look for, since many addicts—unless they had graduated to needles for a stronger high and had been shooting up for a substantial amount of time—often maintained their grades and a healthy, clean-cut appearance.
And many parents refused to believe that their kids were using drugs in the first place. With short brown hair, a clean shave, and the rigid posture of a onetime military man, year-old Paul is more buttoned-down than the other undercover narcs, although he can easily transform himself from cop to civilian with a quick shift in body language.
It has gone further underground. Paul and the other undercover officers taught her the tricks of the trade and then enrolled her at Plano Senior High using doctored copies of her original high school transcripts.
They bought her the props she would need: Her parents in Southern California had become exasperated with her wild behavior and had sent her to Plano to live with her uncle played, when necessary, by Paul until she straightened herself out. For the first day of school, she carefully picked out an outfit: It was a good trick: