By Richard Winton, Garrett Therolf and Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — In the stream of photos on their Facebook pages, Javier Bolden and Bryan Barnes look like the life of the party.
The young men hung out with a group that dubbed itself “No Respect Inc.,” a “party crew” that followed a local DJ to parties and other events across South Los Angeles.
The photos show Bolden and Barnes dancing, shirtless, showing off their tattoos and muscles, and striking poses with young women. Under one photo Barnes took of himself in December, he wrote: “Merry Christmas To All Da Females Dat Didnt Have A Good Christmas :)”
All this partying eventually helped Los Angeles police detectives connect the pair to the April slayings of two University of Southern California graduate students from China — a botched robbery that brought global scrutiny to the campus that has attracted foreign students.
Barnes and Bolden were charged Tuesday with two counts of first-degree murder in the killing of electrical engineering students Ming Qu and Ying Wu, both 23.
Police investigators said they believe Bolden and Barnes came across the pair talking in a parked BMW on April 11 and decided to rob them. At some point, police allege, Barnes opened fire.
Prosecutors also charged the pair with two earlier shootings at parties that they allegedly attended.
At one party in South L.A. in December, officials say, they pulled out guns and opened fire, wounding a man. Then in February, authorities allege, Barnes fired numerous rounds at another party, severely wounding a man and injuring a woman, both in their 20s.
Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Pat Gannon told the Los Angeles Times that shell casings found at those two parties were a match for ones found in the street where the two USC students were killed.
“These were parties these guys frequented,” Gannon said. “These guys were a couple of knuckleheads.”
Police and family members are trying to reconcile the “party boy” image that Bolden and Barnes projected with the violence they are accused of.
Though they flashed hand signals and professed support for the Black P Stones gang on their Facebook pages, police don’t believe they were active gang members. They had what sources described as only minor juvenile records.
Bolden, 19, was living in a foster family home in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles. He is the father of one child with a second on the way, his mother said.
“He was a good kid, he was going to college, he worked,” said Lashanna S. Green-Chaskley, adding that her son was working at a grocery store and attending classes at a community college.
“He’s just telling me he wants to be free,” she said, after visiting Bolden in jail Monday. “He looked me in my eyes and said, ‘Mom, I need you to believe me when I say I didn’t do it.’ ”
Green-Chaskley spoke repeatedly about the grief the parents of Qu and Wu must be experiencing. “I feel for the parents,” she said. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know the motive.”
Bolden has lived in the county’s foster care system for years and spent time under probation supervision because of a property crime committed while he was still a juvenile, county officials said.
The Probation Department’s supervision of Bolden lasted a year, from June 2010 to June 2011, and was terminated during a period when he finally appeared to be getting his bearings. He was receiving intensive counseling through the county and was working full time, according to probation records.
Even as an adult, however, he was still in the foster care system at the time of his arrest under a program that provides extended benefits to vulnerable young adults. “He stayed a dependent ward because he had no other place to go,” said Cal Remington, deputy director of the Probation Department.
A Department of Children and Family Services social worker was assigned to help Bolden get a job, pursue an education and eventually live independently. In turn, DCFS hired a contractor, Teens Happy Homes, for about $1,600 monthly to help him achieve these goals and to house him in a foster home in the Palmdale area, even though friends and family said his life increasingly centered in South Los Angeles.
DCFS Director Philip Browning said he could not discuss Bolden’s case specifically, but he noted that the department has a limited number of adult foster care recipients who have remained in the system because of a judicial order.
He said that Teens Happy Homes undergoes regular reviews by the county, and “we’ll have to look at that with a heightened sense of scrutiny.”
In a 2009 audit by the county, Teens Happy Homes was faulted for poorly preparing its foster children for adulthood. Beautina Robinson, its chief executive, declined to comment on her agency’s handling of Bolden’s case.
Bolden was arrested Friday at a Victorville home owned by a woman who was recently listed on a staff roster as a Teens social worker. County officials were unable to say why he was there. Browning said he was not aware of the arrest location but said a social worker having an adult ward at his or her home would seem “inappropriate to me.”
County officials said there were no warning signs that their young ward was spinning out of control. “There haven’t been any arrests since he left our supervision,” Remington said. “It looked like he was stable.”
Less is known about Barnes, 20, who listed his home address as an apartment in the Jordan Downs housing project on Grape Street in Los Angeles. He was taken into custody Friday afternoon by authorities who raided an apartment on 91st Street.
Barnes competed in rap competitions with Bolden, according to Green-Chaskley. She said the last time she saw Barnes was Thanksgiving.
In addition to the party connections, signals from the stolen phone of one of the victims helped detectives locate the suspects, sources said.
In the downtown courthouse Tuesday, a circle of family and friends of the defendants joined hands and prayed. Barnes and Bolden appeared briefly in court and agreed to postpone their arraignment until June 25. As the hearing ended, a woman in the gallery yelled out: “I love you, bro.”
Since the arrests, more than a hundred friends have posted prayers and support on Bolden’s Facebook page. Photos show him holding his daughter, playing football and displaying an intricate tattoo across his chest for the world to see:
“God is my judge.”