When 17-year-old Scott Peterson of Olney fatally shot himself on July 16th, he left behind an odd inventory of mementos in the family freezer - a redtailed hawk he was planning to stuff, a half dozen bass destined for the dinner table, and a small white envelope containing what proved to be a dozen "tabs" of LSD.
The hawk and the bass were in plain view in the freezer compartment. The LSD was stashed away in the rear. Likewise, while Peterson's love of hunting and fishing and his general enthusiasm for life were on constant display, his grievances against the world were aired so quickly, casually and infrequently that others could - and usually did - ignore them.
To be one of Peterson's many friends meant never knowing when he might show up at your door with a fishing rod or a rifle and an urgent invitation to abandon the TV set for some alluring pond or meadow.
"He was always moving," says one friend. Others remember him as a "happy-go-lucky" teenager who "loved life" and "lived with gusto."
In midnight, Peterson's friends have to wonder if he really loved life as much as he seemed to - and in questioning his enthusiasm for life, they question their own, too. "I think if [his manner] was a cover-up," says Billy Link, a close friend. "I think he was hiding something from everybody."
There was one discontent he never sought to conceal. He did not enjoy being cooped up at home, his usual fate on Saturday mornings when he was expected to do chores around the house.
"The kid was sloppy," says his father Deloyce Peterson, a successful wholesale paint salesman. "You had to get on his back . . . He'd walk around with a big puss on his face."
On Saturday July 16th, $83 of the elder Peterson's money, which he had inadvertently left on a table, disappeared. Although Scott Peterson at first adamantly denied having taken it, the money eventually was found inside a portable radio in his bedroom.
As a result, the son had to abandon plans to go skeet shooting that afternoon with his friend Lee Liller. He went to his room instead, and except for a short, unexplained trip to the basement, where the Peterson's freezer is located, that is where he stayed until his parents heard the fatal discharge of his deer rifle hal an hour later.
The Petersons now suspect that their son may have consumed as many as 13 LSD tabs - a huge amount - shortly before he killed himself.
"That's the only reason he would ever put a gun to his stomach, if he was high as hell," says Deloyce Peterson. "In a way, I'm kind of glad it wasn't one of those things you'd do in your right mind because then I'd feel completely responsible."
Deloyce Peterson often used to talk to his son about drugs. Sometimes the talks were prompted by a grim newspaper or magazine article that the father had read, and sometimes by his discovery of a marijuana pipe in Scott's car.
"I need to talk to him all the time," says Peterson. In fact I probably over extended myself with getting on (him) about marijuana. And by the same token, my wife used to get on him bad, bad, bad . . . Everybody smokes marijuana out here."
The Petersons live in Olney Mill, a quiet, well-manicured development where the houses start around $80,000.Teachers, salespeople, engineers, merchants and middle managers in and out of government tend to settle in Olney Mill because it seems like an ideal place to raise a family says one teen-ager who grew up there.
But nearby Olney is a "boring town," he adds, and "when your children are old enough to realize where they are and what they're doing, there's nothing to do . . ."
At Scott Peterson's funeral, which was packed with his friends and classmates from Sherwood High School, Father William Stock departed from his prepared enlogy to deliver extemperaneous remarks about drug use and values among Olney teen-agers.
"I kept getting madder and madder," says Father Stock, "because so many of the kids knew so much - not only about Scott but so-and-so had overdosed and so forth - and yet they didn't do anything about it."
Two deaths were fresh in the memories of most of Father Stock's listeners - not only Scott Peterson's, but also fellow Sherwood High student Randy Simon's fatal car accident a few weeks earlier.
Peterson and Simon, also 17, and a number of their mutual friends had been at a party together, celebrating the end of the school year, only a few minutes before Simon tried to pass track on narrow Layhill Road and crashed head-on into a station wagon in the opposite lane.
"Everybody at Sherwood was there, just about," says Peterson's friend Billy Link. "When people around here hear that there's a party going on you get a lot of people."
Another guest remembers that Scott Peterson was one of those to whom Simon addressed what were just about his last words. "Anybody want to go for a hell ride?" he asked.
"I felt that the Lord was trying to teach them something or say something to them through these incidents," says Father Stock. "That they had a responsibility to do something with life more than seeking pleasure after pleasure . . . There's very little concern for deeper values than have a good time."
"The kids out here have so much," says Father Stock. "They really have no problems as far as material possessions go . . . But they lack a certain sense of having achieved anything. You get to a point where there's a realization that your life is empty. I think we're going to see a lot more things like this happen. We're bulging with young kids."
Scott Peterson was not, by anyone's descriptions, a model teen-ager.
"He could be as charming and disarming as anyone I've ever known and he could be very difficult when he was put in what he saw as an authoritarian situation," says principal Leon Clay. His grades were poor to fair, but "there was certainly nothing wrong or very much different from a lot of othr kids . . ."
Driving to Ocean City, Md., recently, Peterson was ticketed for speeding. He was as polite as could be to the police officer who wrote the ticket, but afterward, according to Link, "he just looked at it, laughed and crumpled it up and threw it out the window . . . We kept on telling him you're crazy for throwing that out. He said. 'I don't care.'
Occasionally he was one of a group of students who would assemble in the Sherwood High parking lot before morning classes to smoke marijuana.
"You'd see everybody in their car lighting up a bong [water pipe] or whatever," said Link. "Unless we had something better to do, which we usually didn't."
But most of the Sherwood High students interviewed are tired, very tired, of hearing adults pin every youthful misfortune on drugs. Peterson's friends insist they are skeptical that he ever used LSD.
"There were some people around here that were selling acid, and he used to be against that," said Howard.
"Drugs were involved with the whole crowd he moved with," said a teacher. "But you can't answer every social problem with, or, it's drugs."
Peterson had difficulties with his parents, and a few of his friends point the finger of blame in their direction.
"Mr. Peterson man, he was too strict," said one friend, angrily rejecting all explanations of Scott Peterson's death in which drugs are assigned a significant role.
Neither his peers nor his parents, however, espouse their theories with confidence. On both sides, questions seem to outnumber answers.
For Deloyce and Virginia Peterson, the memory of their son is vivid but perplexing.
"From the time he was 8 years old to the day he shot himself," said his father, "if he were in a 7-Eleven (store) and you bought him a slurpy he just had to kiss you on the spot." Deloyce Peterson wondered if it was right for an adolescent son to kiss his father, "but my wife said you just better hope he'll still be kissing you when he's 30."
Yet it was the same son who, helping to plant fruit trees in the back yard a few weeks before his death, suddenly stopped and said, "I don't know why I'm digging these holes because I'm going to be gone in a year anyway."
"I told him, Scotty, your children and your grandchildren will be there to see those trees," recalls his father. "He said he didn't care."