In 'Bomb City,' First-Time Filmmakers Tell True Crime Story From Texas

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Originally published on March 12, 2018 5:55 pm
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A new true crime movie by first-time Texas filmmakers is getting good reviews. It's called "Bomb City," and it recounts the killing of a young punk rocker in the town of Amarillo. Nineteen-year-old Brian Deneke was deliberately run over by a high school football player during a fight. NPR's Wade Goodwyn covered the murder when it happened two decades ago. He has this report on how the story's being told today.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: The movie "Bomb City" gets its name from the nearby Pantex nuclear weapons assembly plant and also because the cultural conflict between two groups of Amarillo teenagers - the preps and the punks - explodes on the screen. The film opens on the night of the deadly fight.


GOODWYN: A frigid gale diminishes the vacant neon-lit landscape. The remains of a lit cigarette blow across broken asphalt. It's late, and the only human activity - two groups of teenagers gathering in a dark parking lot, getting ready to smash each other's faces in earnest. The montage ends in an Amarillo courtroom, a buttoned-up lawyer holding forth.


GLENN MORSHOWER: (As Cameron Wilson) Destroy everything. Is this the message we want to send our children for generations to come?

GOODWYN: We are not watching Amarillo's district attorney vilifying the accused murderer. Instead, it's the defendant's lawyer maligning the victim, the punk rocker Brian Deneke. Deneke's leather jacket with its skull and crossbones and nihilistic cliches - destroy everything - is held up to the jury.


MORSHOWER: (As Cameron Wilson) This, ladies and gentlemen, is what that weapon-wielding goon wore the night of the altercation - looks to me like he was on a mission to kill.

GOODWYN: Both filmmakers Jameson Brooks and Sheldon Chick grew up in conservative, largely fundamentalist Amarillo. Their movie is a modern day "West Side Story." In this case, the teams are jocks and punks. According to the testimony of a young woman who was a passenger in Dustin Camp's car, the captain of the JV team raced around the parking lot, aiming for punk rockers and yelling, I'm a ninja in my Caddy. After bouncing one kid off his hood, Camp aimed for Brian Deneke and crushed him under his car. But even more than the killing, it was Camp's murder trial and the subsequent verdict that tore the population of the Texas Panhandle asunder.

JAMESON BROOKS: I just remember that, you know, there was a big split - basically a big divide in the community altogether.

GOODWYN: Jameson Brooks directed and co-wrote the film.

BROOKS: I mean, you had the punks. Everybody would call them freaks. And then you'd have the jocks, you know, known as the white hats. And I think even after this whole thing happened, things didn't get any better. They actually got worse for a long time.

GOODWYN: Brooks says that in predominantly white Amarillo in 1997, you didn't need to be black, Hispanic or Muslim to be considered an outcast. The director was an avid skateboarder and says that made him different enough to be considered fair game.

BROOKS: After it all happened, I even remember riding my bike around town, and I would get bottles thrown at me from trucks just for being on a bicycle or grinding a ledge or a rail or whatever and kind of doing something that, you know, isn't the normal kind of sport.

GOODWYN: I traveled to Amarillo for NPR after the verdict.


DEBBIE CAMP: Dustin is brave. Dustin was just trying to defend himself and the other boys and get out of there.

GOODWYN: That's Debbie Camp, Dustin Camp's mother, in my interview with her after the trial ended in 1999. For Camp, the fact that her son used a car as a weapon in a fist fight was not the point. Half of Amarillo disagreed with and was embarrassed by the verdict and Camp's lenient sentence. For many, it was simply a matter of law and order.

But plenty of others in Amarillo saw Brian Deneke as a bad kid who got killed in a fight with good kids, which made what happened morally more acceptable. In an interview with ABC's "20/20" after the trial, the lawyer for Dustin Camp, Warren Clark, said that how someone looks does matter. Here's Debbie Camp's view of punk rockers again from my interview with her in '99.


CAMP: They like to intimidate people. They like for people to look at them and be shocked by their appearance. I think they're just about drugs. I think they're about alcohol. I think they're about Satanism. They don't bathe.

GOODWYN: The movie "Bomb City" is a gritty crime saga full of teenage male angst that ends in violence, a subject particularly apt in this semi-automatic day and age. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.