By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Luke had tremendous drive," says his father, David Stone. "Wherever he was going, he was going there like a steam engine. I was proud of him."
But David says his oldest son was always a challenge to raise.
Luke would debate anyone about anything. "His mind was so quick," David says. "Luke believed he could outthink you. That's what got him into trouble. He wasn't as smart as he thought he was."
David and Sondra married in 1983. After Luke was born a year later, Sondra became a stay-at-home mom and loved it. Sondra--not Luke--cried the first day she dropped him off at preschool.
The couple divorced in the mid-'90s after years of discord. One conflict, David says, was disciplining their strong-willed son. David, a military veteran, thought Luke needed tough love. A self-described former hippie, Sondra believed in a softer approach.
Luke's computer and math skills got him accepted at the Science and Engineering Magnet at Townview, recently named by Newsweek the sixth-best school in the nation for its percentage of students passing Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests. Luke wanted to study computer science and get an internship with Texas Instruments. If Luke was a bit of a nerd, though, he was also recognized as an outspoken leader.
Girls loved him. He was self-assured, cool, the guy who would instigate trouble at the back of the room then sit back and enjoy the fallout. By ninth grade, Luke had adopted a man-in-black persona. He got a couple of piercings and spent evenings flailing away on his drum set as rap or alt-metal music by Static-X and Rob Zombie blasted from his room.
He also went to a Disciples of Christ church with his mother and younger brother every week, and it was at church camp the summer after his freshman year that he first got caught with pot. Luke claimed the marijuana found in his backpack belonged to another kid. Though their minister and the camp director vouched for his story, Luke and the other boy were charged with possession. Luke and his mother had to attend counseling sessions once a week for a while.
Sondra and David had grown up in the '60s and were no strangers to drug use. They sometimes marveled that they were lucky to have made it through their teenage years more or less unscathed. Though she was upset, Sondra's attitude toward Luke's transgression was more laissez-faire than David's, "because I did it and enjoyed it thoroughly." Luke seemed to be maintaining his grades, so if he was getting high, he was handling it well. She was more worried about him smoking cigarettes.
David, who says he abused alcohol as a young adult, took a zero tolerance attitude. "Luke knew I had smoked pot," David says. "We'd sit down to talk about it. To me, pot can lead you on to other drugs. I never got through to him." Luke's argument: Marijuana is natural, no big deal, you-did-it-so-what's-the-problem. David looked for opportunities to challenge his son about his drug use, but only once or twice did he suspect Luke was high.
"I needed hard evidence before I confronted Luke," David says. "He only responded to hard evidence." Luke always had a one-word retort: hypocrite.
Even so, David saw Luke as a casual user. Like most parents, he didn't have a clue. Besides, Luke seemed to be on track to get into a good college, especially after passing a handful of AP tests and scoring a 1380 on his SAT.
His friends tell another story. By the end of high school, Luke was smoking pot regularly and occasionally doing mushrooms or sipping over-the-counter cough syrup containing dextromethorphan (DXM), like Robitussin. Luke loved altering his reality, not because he felt unhappy--though he was angry at his father about the divorce--but because life was amazing. He admired the edgy, dangerous life of his idols: rappers and rock stars, alive and dead. "Luke glamorized that whole lifestyle," says "Dennis," one high school friend. (All the names of students have been changed.)
"He wanted to try everything," says "Corey," another high school friend who smoked pot in high school to deal with academic pressure. "He did it first--and more."
Sometime after graduation in May 2002, Luke first snorted heroin, courtesy of "Tina," a girl he met through a friend at church.
Described as a "very hot chick" by Luke's buddies, Tina lived in North Richland Hills and was a year older than Luke. During high school, when neither could drive, they talked for hours online. After Tina got her license, she'd pick Luke up on Friday and he'd spend the weekends with her family. Sondra didn't know that Tina was a heroin addict who dropped out of high school.
"I thought she was real sweet," says Sondra, who remarried in 2002, about the time her son started dating Tina. "I thought she was a stable influence for Luke. I never suspected she had a drug problem. What I didn't like was that she wasn't doing anything. She didn't work or go to school. She lived with her parents."
Every now and then Tina dropped out of sight; Sondra would later learn her son's girlfriend had been in rehab during those times. She now believes that Luke learned a lot about drugs from Tina.