By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By April, he'd gained 25 pounds of muscle and was the man-child he'd dreamed of being. But these were not happy times for Emily and Taylor. His mood swings are what Emily remembers most. Violent, object-chucking, hand-bloodying mood swings that left Taylor, around Emily, in a perpetual state of apology. "We would fight all the time," she says. About what, she doesn't remember. The fight always upstaged whatever caused it.
And his reactions. God, how she hated his reactions. He once took a painting off the wall in his dad's home office, threw a phone through the wall and then put the painting back in place. Taylor punched the bathroom wall until his hand bled; he punched doors, punched fences, punched his truck. In chemistry class, Taylor once handed in a paper late. The teacher told him he'd get a zero for his tardiness. He turned and said, "I'm about to rage," walked toward the steel door, punched it as hard as he could and walked out. Sitting nearby, Billy Ajello thought, "This is not the Taylor I know."
But Billy never told Don and Gwen Hooton. Nor did Emily. Patrick Burke knew, but he didn't tell the Hootons either. "There was just this secrecy among themselves," says Lynn Taylor, Burke's mother. "It was almost like a code of honor."
In mid-April, Donald Hooton got a call from Taylor, his brother. Donald lived in Philadelphia at the time and was two semesters shy of a degree in business administration from Gwynedd-Mercy College. A few days earlier, his parents had phoned, saying how big Taylor was getting. Donald knew his brother was on steroids but had promised Taylor he wouldn't tell. That day, though, when Taylor called and complained of being angry all the time, Donald knew he shouldn't keep the secret any longer. He called home.
Don and Gwen had noticed how irate Taylor had become, but they'd raised two teenagers already and damn if they hadn't acted irate, too. When Donald called, however, it changed things. On a Sunday night in April, after dinner, Gwen and Don confronted Taylor. He denied using steroids. Yet, as he sat there answering their questions, Gwen noticed Taylor absentmindedly cutting the skin off his clenched knuckles with a serrated knife.
She asked him what he was doing.
He quit doing it but never really gave an answer.
Later that night, Don and Gwen decided to reach a friend of Mackenzie's who knew of the dangers of steroids but had never used them and now played for the New York Giants. Maybe this friend, the Hootons figured, would scare Taylor off steroids--if, in fact, he was using. They asked Taylor if he would speak to the guy. His face got red. "Well, you know what?" he said. "I might as well get a knife right now and get it over with."
He had never talked this way before, but Gwen had taken medication for depression, and Mackenzie, in high school, had attempted suicide after her best friend was killed in a car accident. Gwen called her psychiatrist, Dr. Babette Farkas. Farkas was too busy to see Taylor but recommended someone else.
Taylor sat through three sessions. "Mom, he thinks I'm just a typical depressed teenager." Taylor was sure he wasn't.
In May, though, he met regularly with Dr. Farkas to appease his mother. Dr. Farkas put Taylor on anti-depressants. Soon after, he admitted to Gwen and Don he had used steroids but was now off them. He told Emily the same thing. And he didn't act as rash around Dr. Farkas. Still, Gwen and Don, uncertain, put him through a drug test. Taylor's results came back clean. (Though after his death, the Hootons discovered Taylor was tested for street drugs, not steroids.)
By this point, he was melodramatic around Emily, saying how he couldn't function without her. At times he was depressed. Other times, angry. And never was he angrier than one Friday night in early June.
Kids from around Plano often gathered in the parking lot of a local Wendy's and talked about the evening's plans before heading out. That night, there was going to be a party; somebody's parents were out of town. As Taylor and Emily talked with everyone--there were maybe 30 people at the Wendy's--Emily's ex-boyfriend, Dan Culver, who went to high school in Carrollton, drove up in his Jeep. Emily said hello and gave Dan a hug. Taylor got upset. He yelled at Dan. When Dan didn't react, Taylor pulled him out of his Jeep, put him in a headlock, punched him until he was on his back and then punched some more. After a few more shots, Taylor stood up, Dan a bloody mess beneath him and everyone encircling the two and cheering Taylor on.
Emily saw Taylor from behind, and she was scared. The veins in his neck pulsed with anger. "C'mon," he yelled at Dan. "I'll give you more." But Dan was barely moving by then, and his shirt was drenched in blood. His friends took him to the hospital. The incident was never reported to the police. (Dan Culver couldn't be reached for comment.)