365 days of Eternity

A year after her sons were killed a mother reflects on what’s lost and wonders what remains

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 9/10/21

The first thing you notice about Frankie Wikoff is how tiny she is. At 4’11”, she doesn’t look like she weighs more than 100 pounds, soaking wet. The second is the quiet melancholy — a …

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365 days of Eternity

A year after her sons were killed a mother reflects on what’s lost and wonders what remains

Posted

The first thing you notice about Frankie Wikoff is how tiny she is. At 4’11”, she doesn’t look like she weighs more than 100 pounds, soaking wet.

The second is the quiet melancholy — a profound sadness that permeates every conversation you have with her. 

She says she doesn’t sleep much anymore — a statement backed up by 2:30 a.m. emails and texts in which she questions the randomness of life, wondering why things ended this way.

When her sons, Damian and Dillon Wikoff, were gunned down in a Walmart parking lot in Lakewood last year, it wasn’t just a story of two young lives meeting a tragic end. 

It was the tragic end to an equally tragic beginning — a story that started with guns and violence and ended the same way nearly 18 years later.

Much of what happened in-between, according to Frankie, was just life. A lot of unremarkable moments, the kind we can all relate to — a family that loved, fought, hurt, laughed, cried like other families. But in some ways, they weren’t like most families.

They never really could be.

Because before Dillon, the youngest of the Wikoff boys was born, his path, like that of his infant brother, toddler sister and young mother, was forever altered by one mad night.

2002

Frankie’s husband, Leon Clark Wikoff (he went by Clark), was just 26 years old in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2002. 

According to a synopsis obtained through Denver Police case files, officers were dispatched at 1:30 a.m. that morning to investigate reports of shots fired on West 46th Avenue. On the way, officers encountered a green Ford Explorer driven eastbound on West 49th Avenue at a high rate of speed. The driver was Clark Wikoff, after leaving a bar following a night of hard drinking and cocaine use, as toxicology reports would later show.

According to the incident report, the officer in pursuit attempted to pull the Explorer over and was fired upon by the driver. A chase ensued, ending when the Explorer pulled into the parking lot of a Motel 6 at 3050 W. 49th Avenue. At the motel, Clark Wikoff is alleged to have continued firing at the officer.

The report explains what happened next. 

“The suspect exited his vehicle while it was still running, ran into the motel complex and went up to the second floor on the south side of the motel, continuing to fire his gun at Officer Engelbert,” it said. “Officer Engelbert then returned fire, striking the victim. The victim turned his gun on himself, put his gun in his mouth and fired.”

Wikoff’s shootout with police and subsequent suicide happened in front of room 231. 

Inside room 231, a sleeping Frankie Wikoff, five months pregnant, awoke to the sound of gunfire. She said when she heard the gunshots, she was scared her husband was coming back, gun blazing, to shoot her. They’d had a nasty argument before he left the room that evening and she said he’d put the barrel of a pistol in her mouth and threatened to kill her.

The shooting continued. Someone was yelling. She says she gathered up Damian, still an infant, and her young daughter, Trinity, and laid on the floor out of fear.

Moments later, she heard voices on the balcony in front of her room and looked out the window, finally seeing what had happened.

At 3:55 a.m., police would interview Frankie about events leading up to the deadly confrontation. Many of her answers that night were vague. She didn’t divulge a lot of what had happened over the days and weeks leading up to that fateful night.

She didn’t tell them of her husband’s alleged abusive behavior, or that she’d left him because of infidelities. She didn’t tell them he’d coerced her into returning to him under threat of violence or about the gun he put in her mouth the day before. She didn’t speak about the knot on her head she says he’d left her with. She didn’t say much about serious charges she says he was facing at the time (for an affair with an underage member of Frankie’s family).

She’s not sure why she didn’t tell them more that night but says it must have been fear and shock.

August 23, 2020

Dillon Wikoff got off work early that night. Otherwise, he would have been in the middle of his shift at King Soopers, unable to make a planned gun deal. Frankie says he came home, and she fed him dinner. 

“He went to walk out the door and turned around and I gave him a kiss,” she said. “And then he wiped it off and I said boy, you’d better stop wiping off my kisses. I told him to be safe. And he said I’ll see you in a little bit, mom. I love you.”

Damian was working at Qdoba until late. He planned to use his dinner break to meet up with his brother, Mendoza, Banks and others (juveniles who can’t be publicly named) to sell the gun.

Within moments — 10 minutes from the time Dillon wiped away that kiss, the Wikoff brothers lay dying in a parking lot. 

August 2021

It’s been a year now.

For Frankie Wikoff, it’s been an eternity — ironic, because time has little meaning to her since that day. 

On the evening of Aug. 23, 2020, her sons, just 11 months apart in age, met up in the parking lot of a Walmart store on Wadsworth Boulevard and Colfax Street in Lakewood. 

They had gone there to sell a gun to another teenager. The gun in question, bought and assembled from an online kit, was the type of firearm commonly referred to as a ‘ghost gun.’ 

Ghost guns have gained notoriety of late, for among other things, being unregulated and untraceable. 

The Biden administration has discussed banning the sale of them. But the odds of any gun legislation are long. 

This, however, isn’t just a story about guns. It’s an all-too-familiar American story of generational violence, substance abuse and the vicious cycle keeping jails and court dockets full.

Prosecutors allege the teens charged with the Wikoff murders, Michael Mendoza and Marqueil Banks, never intended to buy the gun — that their plan was to steal it from the Wikoff brothers all along. Frankie thinks their plan was to kill her sons.

Facebook messages introduced as evidence in court proceedings form the basis of the State’s theory.

In arrest affidavits obtained from Colorado’s First Judicial District, Mendoza and Banks claim they felt threatened by the Wikoffs, and Banks shot them in self-defense.

Ultimately, a jury will decide in murder trials that won’t begin for at least another year. But for Frankie Wikoff, regardless of what happens, it will be too little too late.

The aftermath

Frankie clears a spot on the sofa and apologizes for the clutter. It’s a frigid January day. Art supplies, canvasses, tubes of paint, beads, markers and ashtrays full of cigarette butts are scattered across the couch, coffee table and floor. She says it’s been hard to concentrate on making art, but it’s one of the only things helping her get through.

The apartment Frankie now shares with her daughter, Trinity, is only a few minutes’ drive from the Walmart where her boys were killed. It has cinder block walls and a wood-burning fireplace that saw its share of action over the past winter. The smell inside the living room is reminiscent of a campfire.

Frankie raised the boys as a single mother. But says despite everyday challenges and some rough years when things fell apart to such a degree the boys ended up in foster care, she never thought they’d be involved with guns.

“I didn’t even allow them to have guns as toys when they were little,” she says. “I never liked guns or being around them.” 

For most of their childhood, the Wikoff brothers didn’t know much about their father. Certainly not the way his life ended or the downward spiral that preceded that fateful night. 

Against Frankie’s wishes, her mother, terminally ill in 2014, took it upon herself to tell Trinity, Damian and Dillon everything about their father and his demise.

Frankie says she wanted to wait and tell them when they were older and could better understand.

“I just wanted them to know their father loved them,” she said.

Weeks later, her mother passed away. Frankie says she never lived to see the path of destruction her kids started down after hearing the news about their dad.

“They weren’t hurting anybody else, but their behavior was just outrageous,” Frankie says. “They were just doing what they weren’t supposed to be doing — not going to school, ditching, drinking, staying out late. It made them rebel against authority and dislike police. At the same time, Trinity started running away from home.”

An incident with one of her children led to an eviction from the family’s apartment. According to Frankie, the situation spiraled out of control with all three of her kids’ behavior issues and her drinking. eventually, Child Protective Services came knocking.

“Everything was falling apart,” she said. “Just everything.”

Her daughter, Trinity, moved in with an older sister (A daughter Frankie had given birth to as a teen). But Damian and Dillon were placed in foster care.

Within a few years, the family was able to pull itself back together. 

Reunited, they resumed life as a tight unit. The boys, funny, kind, generous and according to Frankie, downright goofy most of the time, had a close-knit relationship with their older sister, Trinity. They held down jobs and avoided major scrapes with the law.

“They were like 5’4” or 5’5” — they were tiny,” Frankie said. “Damian was slender and lanky like my mom. He looked taller than he was. They were little guys. They weren’t intimidating by any means.”

She said Damian weighed around 120 pounds. Dillon may have been 10 pounds heavier. 

Today

These days, Frankie Wikoff wants desperately to find some meaning in all of the loss — some justification for the pain. 

She believes her sons, who mostly grew up in Arvada, were in way over their heads. That they may have thought they were tough guys. But they wouldn’t have expected other teenagers to do anything in a well-lit parking lot of a major store before it was even dark outside, except pay them for their gun.

She wants justice for her sons, but at the same time, has empathy for the accused. She worries that locking up teenagers with no real plan for rehabilitation will just create a more violent, experienced repeat offenders. Marqueil Banks, the alleged shooter who killed her sons, was on parole at the time the Wikoffs were killed. Others implicated in the shooting had prior run-ins with the law as well.

Fully cognizant of the role she played and remorseful, as a parent whose children got themselves into a dangerous situation they wouldn’t get out of alive, Frankie still wants accountability for others who played a part in this tragedy. 

And that is where this story comes back to guns. Because aside from just being unregulated and untraceable, ghost gun kits allow the buyer to build anything from a Glock replica to an AR-15 or AK-47, with no background check, no waiting period and no limit on how many you can buy. They’re legal for purchase because technically, they’re not considered firearms. The lower receiver of the gun — the part where the trigger mechanism is — in ghost gun kits, is unfinished.

But with basic tools and some ingenuity, they can be machined into fully functional weapons by anyone with the will and access to YouTube, where videos of how to finish a ghost gun abound. Frankie said her sons used simple tools like a hacksaw to finish the one they made.

“YouTube should have those videos banned,” she says. “You’ve got strict laws on alcohol and tobacco, but a kid can go and purchase a gun and have it delivered to his door. There wouldn’t be laws regulating alcohol and tobacco if underage kids didn’t get into things they weren’t supposed to.”

She thinks the cheap, easy access to guns for young people lacking the understanding or maturity to responsibly handle them, has cost her family dearly.

To Frankie, talk of Second Amendment rights and Discussions about the constitution have little practical value when grieving mothers are burying their kids or seeing them locked up in jails for senseless acts of violence.

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