By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Shelley had been Luke's close friend for four months before they started a romantic relationship in April. Drug use brought them together at first. On Friday nights, everybody would hang out, pop Percocet and play video games like City of Heroes. Shelley liked Luke because he was so straightforward and happy-go-lucky. But like some of the drugs they'd tried, Shelley and Luke were a volatile combination.
From a small town near Austin, Shelley had struggled with depression most of her life. When she was 9, her mother shot herself to death, leaving Shelley to discover the body.
Though very anti-drug in high school, Shelley had since struggled with addiction. During her first semester at UTD, she and her roommate smoked pot one night. "That's what started it," Shelley says. "I have an addictive personality."
That led to a brief fling with cocaine abuse. In 2002 Shelley, her roommate and their boyfriends were arrested and charged with possession. The terms of her probation--monthly drug tests, staying away from other users--kept Shelley sober for almost a year.
But when she started hanging out with Luke in January 2004, Shelley was again using multiple drugs--some illegal, some prescribed for her by a psychiatrist. Diagnosed as bipolar at the beginning of her sophomore year, Shelley was taking Xanax for panic attacks; Lamactil, a mood stabilizer; Ambien and other sleep aids for insomnia and night terrors; and a high dosage of Seroquel, an anti-psychotic. Sometimes she took them as directed; other times she would crush a pill and snort it for a more immediate reaction. If she had a month before her next drug test, Shelley might smoke pot.
"I used to have hallucinations," Shelley says. "I kept darting my eyes around because I was seeing things. There were times when I had to throw away my car keys or I'd fly away."
When she got to know Luke, he was regularly using Valium, Percocet, Adderall, Xanax and, of course, smoking pot.
"I saw him take at least nine Adderall a day," Shelley says, "some in the morning, then a couple of Valium, then more Adderall." Luke used some of Shelley's medications, too. And when no Percocet was available, he sipped liquid codeine, the active ingredient in prescription cough syrup, sometimes called "sizzurp" and popular in hip-hop culture. One night before they hooked up, Shelley saw Luke crashed on his couch during a party, wiped out by Valium and sizzurp. The next day he didn't answer his phone. Shelley finally drove to his apartment and pounded on the door until he answered.
"He was so white, so pale," Shelley says. "He looked terrible. I think that was the first time he might have accidentally OD'd."
Shelley later urged Luke to go to the university counseling center. He brushed her off. "I don't think it was a physical addiction that drove him," Shelley says. "It was psychological. Stopping would bring him down, so that he'd think there was something wrong with his head. He thought he might have a disorder like mine."
Both knew they needed to quit. Adderall suppresses the appetite, so they weren't eating, and their sleep schedule had turned upside down. If they could just get through the end of the semester, then they could make some changes.
In early May, Luke took Shelley to a doctor's office for a routine appointment. After grabbing a bunch of cards from a Rolodex-type dispenser that described various medications, he cut and pasted the cards into a flip-type notebook, creating a log of seven drugs he had taken and more he wanted to try, complete with each medication's purpose, dosages, dangers and how they affected him.
At their Mother's Day lunch on May 9, Luke gave Sondra a lovely vase filled with yellow roses and a sweet card. Happy and full of enthusiasm, Luke talked about changing his major to law. With Jason's tutoring, Luke was making better grades.
Sondra saw no sign of drug use. But finals started the next day, and Luke was popping Adderall like M&Ms.
Still in disbelief, David called Sondra, who was in her car, and asked her to pull over. When he told her, Sondra's reaction was the same: "It can't be Luke."
David picked up her and their younger son, and they drove to the medical examiner's office in McKinney. Seeing Luke's body on a gurney through the morgue window, Sondra screamed. She refused to believe Luke had accidentally overdosed. Someone must have done it to him.
Over the next few weeks, his parents heard more details from Luke's friends and pieced together what had happened in their son's final days.
On May 12, Corey, Jason, Roman, Anthony and Luke had lunch together at The Abbey, their favorite pub. "We were talking about graduating and what we wanted to do," Corey says. "Luke was serious about [Shelley], as happy as I'd seen him in months. A real happy, not an opiate happy."