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From international fashion model to suspect in racist attack on Kansas toddler

Wichita Eagle logoWichita Eagle 1/3/2019 By Tim Potter, The Wichita Eagle
a group of people posing for the camera: This photo of Trace Riff appeared in the August 2005 issue of Harper's Bazaar. He appears on the left, grasping the hip of a supermodel. © Jaime Green/Wichita Eagle/TNS This photo of Trace Riff appeared in the August 2005 issue of Harper's Bazaar. He appears on the left, grasping the hip of a supermodel.

WICHITA, Kan. - Trace Riff - once a square-jawed male model with piercing eyes - has taken a destructive path.

It began so glamorously. In one sexy fashion pose photographed years ago and published in a 2005 issue of Harper's Bazaar, he grasps the hip of supermodel Gisele Bundchen, now wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

But in a 13-year span, Riff has gone from striding high-fashion runways on an international stage to sleeping in dumpsters around Oklahoma City and now allegedly huffing inhalants in Wichita.

In his ever-spiraling-down life, Riff now exists in a state of infamy over something he allegedly did in a Wichita grocery store.

Riff, 31, is accused of kicking a 1-year-old African-American boy in the back and going on a racist rant. After reportedly knocking the toddler to the floor, witnesses said, he yelled the N-word and kept shouting that he is a white supremacist.

A thick coat kept the boy from suffering physical injury, but the toddler and his family will have the psychological harm to deal with for the rest of their lives, the local chapter of the NAACP says. Lashantai Whitaker said her 11-year-old daughter, who was holding her brother's hand when he was knocked down, is now afraid to walk to school.

"It causes a lot of worrying and stress," Whitaker said Wednesday.

Riff's alleged behavior has been condemned by the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League. The FBI and Wichita police have investigated the Dec. 23 incident, in a Dillons store at Douglas and Hillside. Leaders in Wichita's black community are asking that Riff be fully prosecuted for what they say is a hate crime. On Wednesday, police presented their case to the District Attorney's Office, which has the option of bringing more serious charges. The DA's Office is reviewing the case and will notify news media when it makes a decision, a spokesman said.

Riff is facing minor battery and resisting-arrest charges in the incident in Wichita Municipal Court.

He was released from jail hours after the store incident. But on Thursday, Riff was booked into jail on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance and was being held on a $2,500 bond, Sedgwick County Jail records show.

Riff - the pretty boy who once lived the glamorous life of a male model - has become the face of an ugly incident. In a way, he's been reduced to a jail mug shot with dyed and disheveled hair, lips that hide decaying teeth.

For years, he's been homeless, moving on from the Oklahoma City area to Wichita.

His paternal grandmother, Twila LaRue, said Wednesday that she doubts he has the mental capacity to show up for his Municipal Court date. In his mind, she said, he's still going to Hollywood to be an actor.

In an interview, LaRue acknowledged that her grandson is accused of bad things at the Wichita store. He already had a criminal record including convictions for meth possession, assaulting an officer, domestic abuse and DUIs. As part of his defense in a past criminal case, his mental health was evaluated, but he was found competent to stand trial.

A racist tirade doesn't make sense, LaRue said. Although Riff is white, some of his family members are black. What allegedly happened to the little boy, she said, "That could be one of our family members that somebody did this to."

Speaking of racial slurs, she said, "We're just not a family that is like that. That's not who we are, or who Trace is, either. He didn't come from that kind of hatred and prejudice.

"I want society to be safe. I also want Trace to be safe," she said.

"To incarcerate him is not helping. What I was hoping from this is Trace would be able to get help," said LaRue, a 74-year-old Oklahoman who works in a group home for emotionally disturbed boys.

She argues that her grandson needs extensive treatment for chronic mental illness and substance abuse. She believes the underlying cause of his outbursts is Huntington's disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, Huntington's causes brain nerve cells to break down, with symptoms including cognitive and psychiatric disorders. In most cases, the disease appears when people are in their 30s or 40s, although it can begin in earlier or later years.

There is a pattern with Riff, LaRue said: He drinks. Someone calls the police. He fights with the officers, just as he allegedly did at the grocery store.

Her fear: "He'll end up with a police officer shooting him."

For years, LaRue said, "Everyone in the family has tried to help Trace, but the problem is bigger than us. It seems like that Trace can maintain for a short amount of time, and then he just goes off.

"It's almost like he prefers to be homeless."

During the interview, she kept bringing up Huntington's, saying that it's to blame.

LaRue thinks that it's likely that he kicked the boy to move him out of his way. She says her grandson has a "delusional feeling of entitlement."

She thought back to his modeling days. "He is a real pretty boy, and the modeling agencies were just after him."

He had problems adjusting before the modeling, she said. "He couldn't stay focused at school, and he was just so dead-headed in the morning, and he wouldn't go to school.

"Everybody was trying to sign him" to modeling work, LaRue said, and he began a modeling career in New York when he was around 18.

He liked the glitz and the attention. He appeared in big-name fashion ads. He wore designer clothes down runways.

"He went all over England, Germany, Rome," and modeled for top names like Louis Vuitton, she said.

A 2005 photo shows him posing backstage with a fashion designer at a major New York City fashion show.

It lasted a couple years.

When he returned to Oklahoma, he couldn't fit in, couldn't hold a job.

"It's like he has attention deficit disorder" and wants to be homeless and without any authority over him, LaRue said.

For a while, he managed to work for a fast-food place in Edmond, Okla.

She doesn't know how he survives day to day now.

"I think he just wants to be out of reality," she said, so he uses drugs. He was illegally inhaling something when Wichita police arrested him the day before the store incident, records show.

"We've had him in drug treatment," LaRue said. "But he is so hard to work with because he is delusional. He doesn't believe that working and staying stable is even an option for him because he is delusional."

As word spread about the new case against Riff, his older brother, Jeremy Seven, called The Wichita Eagle, saying, "There's no justification for what" Riff is accused of.

"Whatever the worst possible thing he can say or do, he does it," Seven said.

"He has reached bottom. The sad thing is, no one knows what to do with him."

Seven said he apologized through a Facebook private message to the mother of the 1-year-old boy. "I sent her apologies, prayers ... wished her Happy New Year's," and she wished Seven well, Seven said.

Seven recounted his brother's fall from high-fashion modeling to homelessness. The last time Seven saw his brother was two years ago. Riff had been sleeping in a dumpster near Oklahoma City. Seven picked up his brother around Thanksgiving and took care of him for a couple of days.

"Then he found some alcohol," Seven said. "And then he went on this weird, incoherent rant."

In the Wichita store incident, a police report said, Riff was suspected of using alcohol.

A week before the Wichita incident, Seven said, Riff called him and rambled on, incoherently, about moving from Wichita to California.

LaRue, the grandmother, said she has tried to approach Riff with the idea of addressing his problems in small steps.

His teeth have suffered from lack of dental care. So as one step, she urged him to get his teeth treated.

Nothing has worked.

Speaking of his Jan. 14 court date, she said: "I would bet you he would not show up for no court date. He probably doesn't think of that anymore. That's not even in Trace's reality."

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