The Surfer and the Bird Rock Bandits   View more episodes

Aired at 01:00 PM on Saturday, May 01, 2010 (5/1/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:00The friends said it was an cident.
00:00:03>> It was a fluke and unfortunately emery died.
00:00:07>> One young life lost.
00:00:10>> I'm screaming, emery, emwillry, please.
00:00:12>> Five more on the line.
00:00:13>> It's a wake-up call for parents.
00:00:17"The surfer & the bird rock bandits".
00:00:21>> Thanks for joining us.
00:00:22I'm ann curry.
00:00:23It's the kind of place with the great unknown in most teenagers' lives might seem to be what college they'll attend.
00:00:32Now you this beach community is trying to understand what led some of america's most privileged young people to turn on one with of their own, a local surfer about to make it big.
00:00:43Here's keith morrison.
00:00:50>> There is a place where the hills are manicured green down to the pacific.
00:00:57A place from whose estates the well with-to-do can see forever.
00:01:01From whose celebrated schools the offspring leap to their ivy league careers where evenature has conspired.
00:01:14In the jewel by the sea, la jolla, california.
00:01:21The book of crime is thin here.
00:01:23Bad things happen in less rarefied zip codes than this, yet happen they do.
00:01:30>> There's emery.
00:01:31Hi, emery.
00:01:32I love you.
00:01:34>> And here he is, the california golden boy, bursting with his possibilities.
00:01:42Ignorant of his imminent fate.
00:01:46>> Surfing is my passion.
00:01:46Even if I don't make money off surfing, I'll always surf.
00:01:51It's my passion.
00:01:52>> His name is emery.
00:01:53Right here in this video he was on the cusp of his life's ambition.
00:01:58>> He was incredible.
00:01:59He could fly through the air just like a rocket.
00:02:02He just enjoyed the ocean.
00:02:04>> Here is emery's mother, cindy, who you'll notice is talking about her son in the past tense.
00:02:11>> He was a really happy guy.
00:02:13He had a bright smile, was always smiling.
00:02:16He just lit up the room when he walked into it.
00:02:18He was always excited about everything, and into everybody's business.
00:02:24>> Though it was emery's girlfriend jenny who would figure so prominently in the mystery of that one terrible moment.
00:02:30>> He always had that spirit in him that was very youthful and he'd look at things and still be curious and amazed by them.
00:02:38>> But that was before it happened, of course.
00:02:42And ultimately before, for emery, was the island of kawai where he grew up on world-famous beaches.
00:02:51This is his little brother ninth elle nigel.
00:03:01>> We were best friends.
00:03:02>> From the start, emery's family saw something special in him and his way with the waves.
00:03:05>> He started with a little boogie board, then graduated to learn how to surf the inside reef.
00:03:11He started picking up waves a little bit.
00:03:13Then a hurricane hit the island.
00:03:15>> In 1992 when emery was 9, hurricane aniki devastated kawai, devastated cindy, too.
00:03:24No home, no job, after the storm she her sons and left for california.
00:03:30>> I just had to focus on supporting my kids and surviving.
00:03:35>> She leaned on churches, family, the red cross.
00:03:37>> My mom came out here with nothing, you know.
00:03:39It was kind of hard, but we did what we had to do.
00:03:44>> And she made it.
00:03:46Founded a modeling agency for the surfer look, which did very well.
00:03:50>> We bought a house in la jolla.
00:03:52>> Not a mansion, mind you.
00:03:55Still, buying a house in la moi hoya is a big deal.
00:04:02>> A huge blessing.
00:04:03>> A blessing indeed, la jolla, the place so many strive to call home.
00:04:08And, yes, this.
00:04:10In the sport that helped define young california, la jolla's wind and sea would be, like, what, golf's pebble beach?
00:04:19But la jolla can be an insular place.
00:04:22Wind and sea doesn't welcome just anybody, which emery discovered as a teenager.
00:04:26>> So when he first started surfing there, you know, being that he's hawaiian, you know, they were a little rough on him.
00:04:33>> They don't welcome outsiders.
00:04:34>> No.
00:04:35They weren't really welcoming.
00:04:37>> But emery, remember, was like a rocket on his board and eventually, among the regulars at wind and sea.
00:04:45>> He proved himself on his own.
00:04:47After a while, wow, he's really good.
00:04:49>> So he belongs here.
00:04:50>> He kind of earned the respect.
00:04:53Then he just got better and better and better so all the photographers would go down there are and would want to film him.
00:04:59>> His girlfriend jenny was on the beach with the rest of them.
00:05:02>> He was good-looking, he was charming.
00:05:05One of the best surf irs in la jolla.
00:05:08>> He was so good, our golden boy, as he filled his trophy case and won his prizes that eventually the sponsors came sniffing around, talking real money.
00:05:16And thus the opportunity, once just an idle dream, to make his living this way.
00:05:21He was going pro.
00:05:23>> I remember him just crying, i can't believe it.
00:05:26I said, well, you deserve it.
00:05:28Just really proud of him.
00:05:30>> But this was still just anticipated success here in lucky little la jolla.
00:05:35For all his promise in the water, emery of 24, was still living in his mother's house, his future unsecured.
00:05:43Which was not unlike a whole group of young la jolla men, raised and schooled here who now drifted unfocus you down affluent avenues toward the signal event of their lives.
00:05:58Remarkable, really, that this place of so much promise and privilege would become the stage for what happened.
00:06:04For the sort of occasion that can knock out dreams in an instant.
00:06:12>>> Coming up -- early signs of trouble in paradise.
00:06:16>> You're, like, oh, there's a fight again.
00:06:18You know, there's the bird rock bandits.
00:06:23>> When "the surfer & the bird rock bandits" continues.
00:06:29# that's me!
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00:09:40>>> it's a beautiful place, la jolla, with its preservation-minded downtown, parks, famous waves, beaches, lovely homes, privileged, wealthy.
00:09:53Emery kauanui's mother, cindy, found a way in and succeeded.
00:09:56Now emery, the budding surfing pro, was at the prosopus of everything he thought he wanted here in la jolla.
00:10:10But every town, rich and poor, has the best neighborhoods and some a little less so.
00:10:16Some could slide modestly anonymous into any town anywhere, such as the la jolla neighborhood they called bird rock.
00:10:24HERE IS WHERE IN THE MID-'90s, A Group of little boys solidified a lifelong bong.
00:10:28A little kid named eric house, for example.
00:10:30Here is another one of them, hank hendricks.
00:10:32And like most any pack, people, wolves, you name it, they gravitated to their alpha male, a strapping big kid named seth cravens, who happened to be the 13th of his parents' 14 children.
00:10:46A charismatic child says his father, bill.
00:10:48>> He was very outgoing.
00:10:49As a child, anybody he would meet, he has these very pretty eyes and that has been an attraction.
00:10:58>> Jenny groso, emery's girlfriend, was friendly with seth in middle school.
00:11:05>> There was a group of us that would hang out, eat sandwiches after school in the garage and listen to the 'n sync cd.
00:11:12You know, he were kids.
00:11:13>> But emery's younger brother, nigel, saw a different side of seth cravens.
00:11:17>> The first day I met him, he tried fight me, sixth grade.
00:11:20This guy has been a bully since he was a kid.
00:11:25>> A bully?
00:11:26Well, perspective can change a lot of things about the way you see a person.
00:11:31In those early years, the little boys bunched together at t-ball games and on their skateboards and somewhere along the way, perhaps elementary school or middle school, they gave themselves a nickname, the bird rock bandits.
00:11:46By the time the new millennium rolled around, they had shortened that to brb, the bandits.
00:11:58Seth and his friends were still in high school by then, popular, good-looking, football players.
00:12:07>> He always had girlfriends.
00:12:08>> He was the center of attention a lot of times.
00:12:10>> But at this elite la jolla high school, the bandits sometimes got attention for the wrong reasons.
00:12:17Hey came to our school with the reputation of getting in trouble, fighting and partying.
00:12:20>> La jolla high school football coach and history teacher dave knew the boys all too well.
00:12:30He tried to rein them in, with little success.
00:12:31One of the bandits, eric house, was an all-league player.
00:12:35But off the field he ran into trouble with the law with a