INDIANAPOLIS – Those who knew Larretha “Lala” Draughon say she was two people.
One was the sweet young woman with worlds of basketball talent – an Indiana All-Star with a college scholarship and a bright future.
The other ran with the wrong crowd. She was prone to attitude issues, used drugs and once tried to rob a Long John Silver’s.
Draughon spoke openly – and even on TV – about wanting to be good. But some feared she was just telling people what they wanted to hear.
Lala Draughon, 22, died early Tuesday, and her killing spurs only more questions. Not only questions about her conflicted life, but also about the shooting spree at a Far-Westside park that resulted in her death.
Police found Draughon’s body in a car occupied by a 20-year-old man, who was wounded in the leg from gunfire.
Police connected their wounds to a wild firefight a few miles away at Ben Davis Park, where six people, including Draughon, were injured from gunfire early Tuesday morning.
If police investigators know who shot whom and specifically what prompted the shootings, they were not saying Tuesday. But the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said it appears the origin of the incident just after midnight was a scheduled fight at the park involving a group of young women.
A series of shots rang out in the parking lot of the sports complex, police said, and then those still standing fled.
The casualty list included four women, including Draughon. The first three were taken to IU Health Methodist Hospital; their conditions ranged from serious to critical.
Draughon died from a gun wound to the chest.
Another man checked himself into IU Health West Hospital’s emergency room about 1:20 a.m. Tuesday with gunshot wounds to his hand and foot.
No arrests had been made Tuesday night.
The West 21st Street sports complex of soccer, baseball and football fields is somewhat remote and would have been dimly lit just after midnight.
By late Tuesday afternoon it was once again bursting with activity. Children played baseball while parents cheered them on, many well aware of what had happened in the parking lot.
Alex Kertis, president of the Hurricanes youth baseball organization, said he spent much of the day reassuring parents it was safe.
“It’s a shame,” he said, “that it happened in our backyard.”
Parents said there have been some minor issues – one recalled a car being broken into – but the area is not known for violence.
The park is between a pair of high schools – Covenant Christian and Ben Davis – and the Indiana Women’s Prison.
Draughon had been released from a different prison just the day before, the latest chapter in a life marked by a great many ups and downs.
At Northwest High School, she was a solid B student in the classroom. On the basketball court, she was extraordinary – averaging 20 points a game in 2008, leading her team to a conference title and earning an Indiana All-Star selection.
“She was good enough to play with the guys,” said her cousin, John Hart. “We’d play all over the city. Ask anybody. She could play.”
Her high school coach, Charlie Brown, thought she was WNBA material. But first, she had a scholarship waiting for her at Vincennes University.
“She was,” Brown said, “probably one of the best female athletes to come out of Northwest.”
But the spring after that magical season, Draughon’s other side appeared.
She and two others were arrested on charges they tried to rob a Long John Silver’s restaurant. The robbers wore black masks. They tied up some of the people inside the restaurant. The robbery failed when police arrived as it was happening.
Draughon was convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery. She served two years at the Rockville Correctional Facility. She later described her involvement in the robbery to The Indianapolis Star as a “bad decision,” one that she felt would have lasting repercussions.
“I was just feeling my life was over,” she told the Star in April 2011. “Everything that I worked for, I thought it was all gone.”
Before she left prison, though, Draughon seemed to be pulling it together. She was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network show “Breaking Down the Bars” as a young woman trying to turn things around.
“I’m not a troubled kid,” she said on the program. “I just made a mistake. I made a mistake.”
She emerged from prison in January 2011 at 21 and found that Vincennes was still willing to honor her basketball scholarship. Her coach, Harry Meeks, described her as “saveable.”
After her life seemed to turn for the better, Draughon told The Star: “I’m still in shock now that I’m here, that I actually got out and was able to do what I’m doing now.”
But it wouldn’t last.
In February, Draughon was suspended from the Vincennes basketball team for breaking a team rule -- having a bad attitude. She missed the last game of the year. She still had a scholarship to return to Vincennes. But school officials said she hadn’t registered yet for summer or fall classes.
Then on May 4, Draughon was arrested by a parole officer. She had failed a drug test and allegedly committed other unspecified parole violations. She was booked in the Knox County Jail and then sent for two months back to Rockville, where she had served her time before.
Draughon was released Monday. Less than 24 hours later, she was dead.
“Lala was not a bad person,” said Brown, her high school coach. “She just had a tendency of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I think some of the people she was hanging out with were not the nicest of persons. And she might have been a follower instead of a leader.”
Brown said he was devastated by her death: “I thought she was on the right track to get her life back together. I’m really shocked at this. This is really taking me for a loop.”
Others, who were saddened, were not shocked.
“She was a tremendously talented girl,” said Garry Donna, publisher of Hoosier Basketball Magazine and someone who tipped off Vincennes that Draughon was a young star. “But there was that other side.
"She would look you in the eye and tell you what you wanted to hear, but there were a lot of behavioral problems because of who she was hanging out with. It was like a split personality.”
When Donna heard the news of her death Tuesday, he described it as “very disappointing.”
“But I can’t say it’s surprising.”
Draughon’s immediate family couldn’t be reached Tuesday. But Hart, her cousin, described her as a good person. Good but complicated.
“Everybody has an edge to them, and she had an edge,” Hart said. “But the problems were when she was hanging with the wrong crowd. It wasn’t like she was always leaning in the wrong direction.”
At Northwest, Draughon was a basketball star. Now, she becomes an object lesson.
“I think this will be a good example for the other young players coming up through Northwest to stay out of trouble, watch the people you run around with, make sure you keep your nose clean,” Brown said. “You don’t want to wind up in the same situation as Lala. And let that be an example to them.”