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We all told her it was a bad idea, but she was determined to make that her goal." She started downing the shots at 1:08 a.m. When the first bottle of vodka ran dry, the girls found more. Shelby took a photo of the second frosted bottle and then tracked her progress in texts to friends.

Shelby's drink of choice was vodka, and her goal that night was to down 15 shots of it. When the first bottle of vodka ran dry, the girls found more. A half-hour later, the 5-foot-6-inch, 107-pound girl had consumed 10 shots. Shelby's messages got sloppier and sloppier until she sent her final texts of the evening, announcing that she'd reached her goal at 1:58 a.m. When Shelby began to feel sick, Jane led her to the nearest bathroom to vomit. When Shelby seemed to pass out, she was propped against the toilet for the night. Her young pal then left to be with Alyssa, who at this point was also sick from drinking, and periodically checked on Shelby.

About an hour and a half later, Shelby's phone fired up again. But this time it was Jane who was texting a boy — a friend of Shelby's — whom she supposedly had a crush on. "im freaking out have no ide wat to do," "shelb is out [boy's name omitted] I f______ neeed hellp. I neeed you so dab right now." The boy offered to come over but said he'd have to tell his father first. He could write a note and leave, Jane suggested, and when he rejected this idea, she eventually dropped the matter. The boy sent one last text — "Feel better Shelby:)" — later in the morning. Around 8:00 a.m., the father of the house, a prominent area veterinarian, was preparing to open the medical office on his property to treat the day's first clients. Intercepted by his daughter, who had been up most of this time, he asked about the previous night. "Shelby's not feeling well," Jane reported, but she apparently sounded no alarm. It wasn't until Alyssa awoke around one hour later that anyone took notice of Shelby's condition. She went to check on her and was horrified by what she found: Shelby was still slumped in the downstairs bathroom, completely motionless. Her head hung over the edge of the toilet bowl, her lip split from having slammed against the porcelain in a bout of violent heaving. Pulling Shelby up, Alyssa saw her friend's face streaked in blood. She tried to rouse her, but Shelby remained unresponsive. An older sister was summoned and phoned her father. He quickly returned to the house and dialed 911 to have an ambulance sent to his home right away because he'd found "a child that's here, and I don't think she's breathing." When asked if he was sure she wasn't breathing, he responded, "I can't . I'm not sure she's alive right now." Dispatchers instructed him on how to perform CPR, urging him to continue until medical help arrived. The EMTs who arrived on the scene found a weak pulse, but were unable to revive the girl. Shelby Allen was pronounced dead at 9:40 on the morning of December 20. Her blood-alcohol content was 0.33, four times the legal driving limit for adults in California. The Allens entered a disturbing parallel universe from that moment on. In 1987, Debbie and Steve had lost a baby to sudden infant death syndrome; they had never imagined they would have to grieve like that again. "Shortly before I lost Shelby, we watched Steel Magnolias together; Shelby, the daughter, dies in the movie, and I remember thinking as I watched my dear girl next to me, How could I be without her? I told my Shelby, 'Don't ever leave this world before I do; I couldn't take it again.' We sat there sobbing together, and she said, 'Mom, don't worry; I won't!'" Debbie and Steve slept in Shelby's bed the night she died, in an effort to feel closer to her spirit. After that, Steve couldn't go into his younger daughter's room for months.

And I was left to deal with the worst kind of anguish: that I wasn't able to comfort my baby when her body was dying. I didn't get to hug her, kiss her, hold her, keep her warm . how could this be true?" Overwhelmed by misery, the Allens struggled to make sense of what had happened. If only we had said she couldn't spend the night at Alyssa's house. If only we had banned sleepovers altogether," Steve says.

"If only Debbie had taken her shopping in Sacramento that day, as originally planned.

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