Friends of a 19-year-old woman who was shot to death at a teen club in Prince George's County last week gathered for her funeral yesterday as county leaders prepared to review how the facility received its permit to operate.
More than 500 people crowded into Emmanuel Covenant Church in Hyattsville for a "celebration for life" service for Lakita Danielle Tolson, who was killed in a parking lot outside the Culture Club in Suitland.
The hip-hop gospel tune "Brighter Day" filled the church lobby as friends watched a video commemorating Tolson's life: There was Tolson dancing as a pompom squad member with the Northwestern High School band, running track, wearing a white graduation gown. There were balloons and a baby shower and then finally Tolson holding her 5-month-old son, Laron.
Rising above the lyrics were the sounds of young people crying.
"This is my 10th funeral in '05. I can't take it," said Phillip Lewis, 18, who walked outside the church. "She was a wonderful person. She was upbeat. She was liked by everyone. Nobody was out to get her."
Police said yesterday that they have no suspects in the slaying, which occurred about 11:30 p.m. last Saturday when shots were fired outside the club. The County Council has asked county officials to brief members Tuesday on the Culture Club, a go-go hangout for teenagers in the 3600 block of St. Barnabas Road.
The club is not listed in the telephone directory, but land records show the building is owned by George Morcos and Sons, a limited partnership in Burke. Morcos did not return messages left at his office.
Records also show that Morcos owned a strip mall in 2002 that housed another go-go club for teenagers, the New Hot Cafe. At the time, Morcos said he had been evicted because his use and occupancy permit did not allow a nightclub.
Residents who live in the vicinity of the Culture Club said they have complained to police about problems that spilled into the community, including vandalism of cars at a nearby condominium complex.
"We've talked to them about the club, and nothing has been done," said Elsie Jacobs, a community activist.
Police records show that officers have responded to dozens of calls at the strip mall where the club is. Mark Brady, a Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department spokesman, said a fire marshal had visited the club Oct. 29 after a complaint about the size of the crowds. Lt. Paul Gomez found no crowding but cited the club for having a blocked exit, Brady said.
Brady said yesterday the usage on the club's occupancy permit was changed to a dance hall April 4. The business was used previously as a barbershop, Brady said.
County Council member Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) said nightclubs are supposed to receive a special exception from county officials before opening their doors. She said she does not know whether the Culture Club had cleared that hurdle before receiving its permit.
"It appears there is some type of loophole," Exum said. "I believe that's why they are listed as a private club, and the question is what is the county's definition of a private club."
Representatives from the county attorney's office, Police Department, Environmental Resources Department, fire department and Planning Board have been asked to brief the council Tuesday.
Youths who attend the club said it operates Friday and Saturday nights and occasionally on Sundays. It sells no alcohol, just sodas and snacks. The cost of admission is $10. Local go-go bands play there frequently.
One 17-year-old boy, who was at the Culture Club the night Tolson was shot, said his band has played there several times at a cost to its members of $40. He said children as young as 12 go to the club.
The youth, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said fights occur frequently. Patrons are searched thoroughly before they enter, and the club operates on a strict "Fight-Good Night" policy and evicts anyone who fights, the youth said. The problems continue in the parking lot, he said.
Norman Thomas of Suitland said he complained about the club to police and prosecutors in August after he went there to pick up his grandson and a group of friends and witnessed dozens of youths fighting.
"When I saw on the news that that little girl had been shot, I was sick," he said this week. "I knew when I was over there, from what I saw, that somebody's child was going to get killed. Now it has happened."
Friends said Tolson had gone to the club with a group of friends to celebrate the impending birth of a friend's child. Shortly before 11:30 p.m., a fight broke out, and security guards used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
"Everybody was running outside. It was pandemonium. There was all these little kids crying. I grabbed this one little girl to keep her from getting trampled," the 17-year-old said.
Outside, shots rang out, sending many of the young people stampeding back inside the club, the youth said. Tolson was fatally shot. Three others, including a 13-year-old girl and a woman who had come to the club to pick up her daughter, were also shot.
Friends said yesterday that Tolson's death had been a life-changing experience for them.
"Go-go parties are not what's up," Lewis said. "I am tired of seeing these bodies dropping."
Staff writer Ovetta Wiggins and Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
One of the 500 mourners who attended the service wears an image of Tolson.