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She spent the day smiling and planning her future. Then, with one stray bullet, she was gone.

The tragic consequences of a crossfire shooting

Kendal Ryan Crank, 27, was killed March 28 while driving north of uptown Charlotte near the intersection of N. Tryon and 28th Streets.
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Kendal Ryan Crank, 27, was killed March 28 while driving north of uptown Charlotte near the intersection of N. Tryon and 28th Streets.

It was a perfectly average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill Thursday in the life of Kendal Crank.

There were her kids’ schedules to be coordinated, community college classes to attend, a hair appointment to sit and gab through, new-’do selfies to take, a best friend to do best-friend things with, and rush-hour traffic to negotiate.

Yet there was something about Kendal’s mood on this day that, for the better part of it, seemed to be just a little bit ... different. A little bit more optimistic than usual about the future. A little bit more upbeat in general.

“What’s so funny?” Linda Crank Springs asked her daughter just before 1 o’clock that afternoon, giving her a sideways glance. Kendal was smiling, broadly, and popping one Cook Out french fry after another into her mouth as she waited her turn at the University City salon where her mom had just finished getting her own hair done. Then Kendal laughed, softly — about who knows what.

She never provided an explanation, Linda says of her daughter’s seemingly unprovoked cheerfulness. But based on a number of accounts given by family and friends, it might be as simple as this: For the better part of this perfectly average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill Thursday, Kendal gave off the distinct impression that everything was right with her world.

On this day, she had it all figured out.

And then — while Kendal was sitting in her car waiting for a stoplight to change at 28th and Tryon streets, on her way to an evening class at Central Piedmont Community College — three young men in the adjacent parking lot decided to settle a dispute by shooting at each other.

By the time the light turned green, the 27-year-old mother of two had a bullet in her head.

Navigating life’s challenges

Over the course of her life, happiness and stability had frequently proved elusive for Kendal Crank.

She was raised through elementary school in Hidden Valley, a neighborhood that at the time was struggling with drugs and gang violence. Her parents, Johnnie and Linda Crank, separated right before she started sixth grade at Albemarle Road Middle School, fracturing the home she shared with her older brothers Jarvis and Robert.

As a senior at Independence High School, Kendal got pregnant with her daughter La’Mya — she went to prom with a baby bump — and though she followed through on a promise to get her diploma, her mother says Kendal would go on to give up an offer for a full academic scholarship at a local college due to the anticipated demands of being a young parent.

Her first job out of high school was at a Starbucks at Charlotte Douglas International Airport; her second was as a bus driver for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

In January 2015, her older half-brother (on her father’s side) was killed at age 40 in a car wreck in Chester, S.C. Then after Kendal and her high school sweetheart gave birth to a second child — son Kyrie — the couple called it quits, so Kendal packed up herself and her two young children and moved back in with her mom.

And that could have been it for her: a destiny that involved falling asleep and waking up every day on the same bed she slept in as a kid, abiding by the rules of her mother’s house, slogging her way through low-paying jobs.

But that wasn’t what she wanted. She was working hard on a master plan that would give her and her children a better life.

It all seemed to be coming together, until the hail of gunfire began.

An eye toward the future

As Kendal Crank was starting her day, she received a frantic text message.

It was from Brittney Brown — who had worked with Kendal for several years at Novant Health, where both were pulling three 12-hour shifts a week as certified nursing assistants — and she was demanding to know the meaning behind a Facebook post Kendal had written, one that seemed to suggest she had gotten a new job.

“What job??” Brittney asked.

It turned out to be a tongue-in-cheek joke, a reference to a song by the rapper Gucci Mane.

A few minutes later, Brittney called Kendal and the two giggled at each other about the misunderstanding. “I know you’re not leavin’ me, girl,” Brittney said.

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Kendal Crank, right, at a Novant Health hospital with co-workers Brittney Brown, left, and Eusheka Young. Courtesy of Brittney Brown

While in this case Kendal was joking, she envisioned a day when she could actually post news of a new job for real: And last fall — following years of false starts at CPCC due to her pregnancy, or her financial hurdles, or her wavering commitment — she gritted her teeth, asked her dad for $450 for a textbook, and resolved to put herself on a fast track, finally, to CPCC’s associate degree nursing program.

The anatomy and physiology class she was taking on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and the elementary Spanish class she was taking on Thursday nights were the last required general-education classes she needed to complete before she could apply to the two-year program. Beyond that, she was interested in going for a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Kendal had started gravitating toward pediatrics, people close to her say, because she saw her kids in the eyes of the sick children she’d attended to during fill-in shifts in the pediatric intensive care unit at Novant, and because she felt like it inspired her to be a better mother.

But she had less-complicated ambitions, too.

“‘I want to be a nurse so I can tell CNAs what to do,’” Linda Crank Springs remembers her daughter saying. “‘I don’t want to be told what to do. I want to tell them what to do.”

‘She was in a real happy place’

Later in the day at Lucky You Salon & Suites in the Terraces at University Place, after smiling that cryptic smile at her mom, Kendal Crank sat in Sherri Wofford’s chair and the two chattered away as Sherri put curls in her hair.

Kendal talked excitedly about the classes she was taking now, as well as the classes she hoped to be taking in the future. Then she listened with great interest as Sherri explained how she was enrolling her daughter next year in Queen City STEM School, a charter on Mallard Creek Road that Kendal hoped to get La’Mya into one day.

Sherri — a few years older than Kendal, at 31 — had been styling Kendal’s hair every two weeks for only a few months, but they’d known each other from the old neighborhood in Hidden Valley, where their fathers lived a block away.

And just like Linda Springs had observed, Sherri noticed that Kendal seemed to be in an unusually good mood.

“She was in a real happy place,” Sherri recalled. “Not that she’s not always happy, but I don’t know, it was just different this time.”

So different that Kendal did something on her way out of the salon that she had never done before: She handed Sherri $7 cash and told her, “Go get you some lunch.” She gave that broad smile, laughed that soft laugh and walked out the door.

Interestingly, Kendal did something similar a few hours earlier.

While dropping her son Kyrie off at her father’s house for the day, she stuffed a little more money than usual into her older brother Robert’s hand so he could take the kids to McDonald’s after he picked up La’Mya from her after-school tutoring session. Robert, caught off-guard, joked with her that the extra cash would motivate him to do an even better-than-usual job picking her up.

Robert also notes something she said that will stay with him forever.

“When she dropped Kyrie off, we had an older uncle in the house, and she told me, ‘That is how you are going to look when you get (to be) his age.’ I just took that as like a premonition of her saying I will get older and live to see that age ... It was like saying, ‘You are going to make it and live.’”

‘Blood couldn’t make us no closer’

The other big thing Kendal Crank was looking forward to: her new apartment.

She’d been talking about moving in with Porschia Jordan for a long time. Porschia, Kendal’s best friend since the two were yea-high kids who could bike around Hidden Valley all afternoon and never get tired. Porschia, who’d overcome so many of the same challenges with her — separated parents, pregnancies, single motherhood. Porschia, with whom Kendal someday wanted to start a business that they planned to call K&P Clothing.

“Best friends,” in fact, wasn’t a strong enough way to describe their relationship, Porschia says. “That’s my sister ... Blood couldn’t make us no closer. Everybody know that. Everybody.”

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Porschia Jordan, left, with Kendal Crank. Courtesy of Porschia Jordan

They’d already signed a lease, and on May 14, they were to move into Victoria Park, an apartment complex near Margaret Wallace and Idlewild roads that they would share with Kendal’s kids Kyrie and La’Mya, and Porschia’s 4-year-old daughter.

And when the two met at Porschia’s aunt’s house off Graham Street last Thursday afternoon, during a break between Kendal’s hair appointment and her 6 p.m. class on CPCC’s main campus, the apartment was a key topic of conversation. Kendal and Porschia discussed photos they wanted to enlarge and print out to put on the wall, and Porschia’s aunt mentioned some stuff she wanted to give them for it.

Even when Kendal waved her hand dismissively at Porschia and her aunt as the two started up an episode of “Empire” (she preferred “Power,” Porschia says), she was glowing.

“She was over there snapping, you know, taking little pictures and stuff like that, because my sister, she was looking real good,” Porschia says, laughing. “She was feelin’ herself that day.”

Before long, though, Porschia had to take off to pick up her daughter from daycare and Kendal had to head over to CPCC for her Spanish class; so they said their goodbyes, got in their cars, and hopped on 28th to get over to Tryon — a route they’d driven a thousand times before.

Porschia’s car was in line at the stoplight, and Kendal’s red 2014 Kia Forte was idling right behind her. Because of the near-standstill rush-hour traffic on Tryon, they failed to make it through the next green onto the main thoroughfare before the light turned red again. It’s always been an annoyingly long light, so Porschia knew there was time to scroll through social media for a minute or two.

“And all of a sudden,” Porschia says, “I just start hearing gunshots.”

An armed man on foot, to their right, was shooting at a car that was also coming from the right, she says, while making its way out of the parking lot of the non-descript strip mall on that corner. Someone in the car, she says, was returning fire.

Porschia ducked down but also tried to keep her eyes up so she could make a break for it as soon as she saw an opportunity.

The vehicle careened onto 28th, around the rear of Kendal’s car and into the oncoming lane, passing Kendal then Porschia as bullets continued to fly. When the fleeing car veered right onto Tryon Street, Porschia straightened back up and made a move to turn out to the left when she could feel her bumper being struck from behind.

It was Kendal. She was almost certainly in a hurry to get to safety, too. So Porschia hit the gas and started heading north on Tryon.

But when she glanced at her rear-view mirror, she could see Kendal’s red Kia moving straight through the intersection behind her. So Porschia quickly turned around in the Bojangles’ parking lot and made the left onto the other side of 28th. She immediately could see that Kendal’s car had drifted across the oncoming lane and was wedged up against a fence so that there would have been no way to open the driver’s side door.

Porschia pulled over, got out, and ran to her. She doesn’t want to talk about what she saw next.

She just wants to try to focus on comforting thoughts, like Kendal would have.

“No matter how negative your situation is, how bad it look, she’s gonna remind you to always think positive. And she always say, ‘Everything gonna be alright.’”

But Porschia’s voice is shaking, and as she continues to talk, she sinks into sobs.

“We’ve been together for so long. And we always told each other that we was gonna be with each other till the end. And I never expected for the end to be like this, but guess what? I was there. I was there. I was there. Just me and her.”

In the aftermath

The next day, police announced that three men — 24-year-old Marquis Smith, 22-year-old Tychicus Dobie and 17-year-old Adonis Smith — had been arrested and charged with Kendal Crank’s murder.

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Flowers and other remembrances left at the corner of Tryon and 28th streets, where Kendal Crank died last Thursday. Théoden Janes tjanes@charlotteobserver.com

A few days after that, Bryan Crum of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s violent crime division stood on the edge of the parking lot at 28th and Tryon, a few dozen feet from a makeshift memorial that had been assembled for Kendal. He shook his head.

“A lot of times, you can point to something that may have made a situation more likely to occur or, you know, the person had cut somebody off in traffic, or there’s a reason for it,” he said. “From best we can tell and all the information we have, she’s simply just driving in traffic like any one of us could be at any given time.”

On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine. On the other, it’s also — if you think about it, particularly if you think about the ordinariness of the way Kendal found her way to the wrong place at the wrong time — frighteningly easy to imagine.

In fact, this week, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office revealed that an assistant district attorney was passing by the intersection when the gunfire broke out, and their car was struck with one of the bullets.

It could have been any of us.

So hug your children, Linda Crank Springs says, and tell them you love them — no matter how old they are.

“When she was little, I would hug her when she’s going to school in the morning and give her a kiss, and say, ‘Have a good day,’ and, ‘You behave yourself now in school.’ It’s not like that when they get this age.”

More than a week later, Linda continues to be haunted by the fact that she didn’t get one last hug from her daughter as she left the salon last Thursday.

And yet she is comforted by the memory of her daughter sitting there smiling at ... who knows what?

The only thing that matters, to her, is that Kendal was happy.

Théoden Janes has spent 12 years covering entertainment and pop culture for the Observer. He also thrives on telling emotive long-form stories about extraordinary Charlotteans and — as a veteran of 20-plus marathons and two Ironman triathlons — occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.
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