Three college student from Ferguson found themselves trapped overnight behind the riot-ready police lines of this embattled St. Louis suburb roiling over the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.  

The women had come to protest but were unprepared for the sporadic clashes that unfolded after dark between police and demonstrators.  

Alexis Tucker had talked her two high school classmates into coming: Alexis Mays, a cautious biology major with a stylish handbag, and Elvony Pleasant, a psychology major with a quick wit.

Tucker, 19, a sophomore communications major at Howard University, had been protesting all week, despite her parents’ concern about her safety. Like her friends, she arrived on West Florissant Avenue dressed for a night out, her hair tied in a leopard-print scarf, wearing strappy sandals and carrying a matching purse.

They had parked in an area surrounded by a high metal fence behind a credit union, a spot that police had designated for protesters. They thought it was safe. But once the protest swelled after 10 p.m., police began massing, blocking the credit union entrance with their human chain:  dozens of officers clad in gas masks and riot gear.

The trio took shelter in the parking lot of a neighboring Family Dollar store and watched the standoff unfold, humming spirituals like "Wade in the Water" they had sung while marching earlier in the day, songs their grandparents had sung during civil rights protests.

They had reveled in the gathering that afternoon, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” walking the street with a crowd that included plenty of other women and youths.

“Justice is necessary to fight for,” Tucker said. 

But they grew worried.

“It was peaceful protests, but now it’s past that,” said Pleasant, 18, a sophomore at the University of Missouri-Columbia, as she watched police with long guns zoom by in a military-style truck.

“Do you see how many people they just added to that line?” said her college classmate Mays, 19.

Someone threw a glass bottle. It shattered on the pavement in the breach, and police rushed forward. 

The young women cringed, drawing back toward the brick storefront. The lot was fenced. They had nowhere to run.

“Do not throw an object!” police instructed over a bullhorn, moving in a caterpillar line toward the offender.

“They are actually moving like soldiers, like that movie ‘300,’” Pleasant said in awe.

She quickly grew frustrated.

“We’re not trying to fight them,” she said of police. “We don’t have any of the gear they have on.”

As they watched, police arrested a woman.

"Why did she just get arrested?" Mays wondered aloud.

Tucker scrutinized the blue line of police.