Casino Surveillance Footage Tells Story of Girl’s Killing
It was one last chance for dad to gamble over the weekend before heading home to Los Angeles--and with the Ferris wheel out front and the game arcade one floor below the slots and craps tables, this casino seemed to offer some fun for the kids, too.
It might not seem to be the kind of place, the Primadonna Casino resort at the California-Nevada state line, where you think your child will be in mortal danger.
But it was there, next to an arcade with pinball games and Homer Hippo and Ms. Pac-Man, that 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson was killed in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Her strangled body was found seated on a toilet in a restroom stall.
She had whiled away about 3 1/2 hours in the arcade, apparently without adult supervision, after her father, LeRoy Iverson, dropped her off with her 14-year-old brother just after midnight Sunday morning, according to officials.
Later, as the killing was being investigated, the father told casino officials, according to a source close to the investigation: “This is what I want if you want to stay out of trouble.”
The father then demanded that the casino give him a six-pack of beer and $100, pay for the girl’s funeral, fly the girl’s mother to Las Vegas from Los Angeles and provide him and the mother a room for the night, the source said.
“What stunned everyone was his total lack of emotion. His total lack of shock that his daughter had been killed,” the source said.
At 1:33 a.m. hotel security officials had noticed that the little girl was unattended and had paged for someone to collect her. The 14-year-old brother claimed her. But he then left her alone again, according to casino officials, and she played in the arcade alone while her father occupied himself in the upstairs casino.
Later--at 3:48 a.m. Sunday--Sherrice went into the women’s restroom just beyond the Ultimate Mortal Kombat and Upper Metal Slug video games--and just beneath one of those ubiquitous surveillance cameras recording grainy black-and-white frames and marking each with the time.
She was followed by a white man in his late teens or early 20s, some punk with a baseball cap, his nipples pierced with hoops. The video cameras got it all, authorities said.
Another young, white man hovered just outside the bathroom door, milling about.
Twenty-five minutes later--at 4:13 a.m.--the video images show the first man leaving the women’s room.
And about 45 minutes later, when Leroy Iverson couldn’t find Sherrice in the arcade and asked a female hotel employee to look, the girl’s body was found in the bathroom.
The video shows the horrified employee grabbing Iverson and pulling him into the bathroom.
Homicide investigators would later say the girl--described as a sweet, loving child and a second-grader at 75th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles--had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
The crime has left authorities seeking public tips, anxious parents even more worried about their children’s safety and casino executives frustrated that some parents consider arcades as supervised day-care centers--a place to drop off the kids while mom and dad party in a town that promises fun for the entire family.
Metro Police homicide Lt. Wayne Petersen said he would not remark on the possible culpability of the father in leaving his children unattended, or of the hotel security in releasing the younger child to her older sibling.
“But parents,” he said, “have a moral and legal obligation to supervise their children.”
Homicide detectives for the Metro Police Department said Tuesday that they have no specific suspects but believe that the two men in the video might be from Long Beach, based on conversations the pair had with other casino guests earlier in the evening.
The primary suspect even showed off his body piercing--of his nipples and tongue--to a casino gambler upstairs, Petersen said.
He said the two men were captured on video in the casino as well as in the arcade. It was unknown whether the second man was aware of what was happening inside the bathroom. He might have been standing guard outside or simply a witness to the circumstances surrounding the crime.
The first suspect is identified as having dark brown hair, wearing a baseball cap with unidentified logos, a dark T-shirt with a small logo on the left side of the chest and light-colored knee-length shorts.
The second man was described as also being in his late teens or early 20s, with dark short hair and sideburns, wearing a dark, button-front short-sleeved shirt and dark, knee-length shorts.
In Los Angeles, Ann Furbert, who lives near the Iversons in their South-Central neighborhood, described the 7-year-old as “a beautiful little child, a loving child” who always responded politely when Furbert gave her little presents.
At 75th Street Elementary, Principal Joyce Cooper also had fond memories of Sherrice. “She was a very sweet girl and she was a very good student.”
Sherrice and her second-grade class had been on vacation since May 9 and were scheduled to return to the year-round school July 1.
“What can be said to lessen this tragedy?” asked Chris Gibase, Primadonna’s chief operating officer. The casino offered a $10,000 reward on Tuesday for information that would break the case.
Primadonna officials declined most comment--including questions about security and concerns that children are left unattended in their arcade. On weekends, scores of youngsters play in the room--and not all seem to have parents nearby, hotel employees concede.
But other casino executives say arcades--which are in evidence at most large Nevada casinos as a way to entertain children--are not any safer a place to leave youngsters than a shopping mall, bowling alley or other public spot.
“This tragedy is made even more tragic by the apparent lack of responsibility on the part of the father,” said Alan Feldman, a vice president and chief spokesman for the Mirage Resort, whose hotels boast some of the largest arcade rooms in Las Vegas.
“Everyone’s security measures in these kinds of places count on the parents acting in a responsible and appropriate way in supervising their children,” Feldman said. “The arcades are not a place to leave a child alone. And that’s not what the overwhelming number of our guests do.”
At the Primadonna arcade the bathroom entrance had been fully blocked off with the quick construction of a wall, offering no evidence that it had been the site of a homicide. On Tuesday, children still played nearby, but none seemed unaccompanied by adults.
Aizaz Ahmed, visiting here from New York, strolled the arcade with his two young children and two nieces in close tow. The oldest was 10.
“It is the parents’ responsibility to be with their children at all times,” he said matter-of-factly.
Daryl Tyler of Los Angeles said he never leaves his four children--ages 3 through 15--alone in a casino arcade. “I like playing these games with my kids,” he said.
But his wife, Sharon, admitted that on occasion, when she has visited Nevada casinos with her children but without her husband, she has left the 11-year-old in the care of her 15-year-old sister.
“But now, I’ll be thinking twice before I do that again,” she said.
Diane Becerra of Fallbrook, Calif., stood just a few feet from where Sherrice’s body was found and shook her head. “You know, you should be able to leave them in an arcade without them being hurt,” she said. “But I’ve always been paranoid, I’ve always been terrified that someone would take my kids. So I never leave them alone.”
Of the 30 million visitors to the Las Vegas region in 1996, about 11% brought children, said Rob Powers, spokesman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Given those numbers, he said, the incidence of violent crime against children is very low.
Authorities said they can only recall one similar slaying--the strangulation of a 7-year-old Los Angeles boy in 1987. Coincidentally, that murder took place across the freeway from the Primadonna, at Whiskey Pete’s. The boy’s body was found beneath a casino trailer, three weeks after he was reported missing from the hotel.
A suspect in that case was arrested and tried, but acquitted by the jury.
“Parents have to provide appropriate supervision, whether it’s in the Las Vegas area or anywhere else,” Powers said. “That’s common sense. People should not be lulled into a false sense of security just because there are surveillance cameras.”
Times staff writer John Mitchell in Los Angeles contributed to this story.