Jennifer Garvey, a dark-haired high school junior with a yearning to act and a parrot named J.B., went with her boyfriend to a graffiti-scrawled storm drain in Crofton on a late Monday afternoon last October. Both penned goodbye letters in an English composition notebook. Then, according to police, Jennifer put the .38 revolver he had brought with him up to her head. She pulled the trigger.
Her boyfriend was supposed to do the same thing moments later--the violent denouement of the teenagers' short and tumultuous relationship. But he didn't.
That change of heart might make the 16-year-old the first person charged under the state's new and untested assisted-suicide law. Anne Arundel County prosecutors say the law, which targets those who "knowingly provide the physical means by which another person commits or attempts to commit suicide," could apply in this case.
Anne Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said police asked prosecutors whether the charge fit the scenario, and they responded that it did. His office is awaiting the completion of detectives' investigation; a deputy state's attorney said he expects to make a decision on charging next week. The suicide law is a felony carrying a one-year prison sentence. Other possible charges would involve weapons possession.
The assisted-suicide statute "appears to apply," Weathersbee said. "It's pretty clear. It says if someone provides the means, knowing the person is going to use it, that violates this law."
Charging the youth, whose name is being withheld because he is a juvenile under investigation for a crime, would be a highly unusual use of an assisted-suicide law. "I've never heard of a case like this," said Faye Girsh, president of the Denver-based Hemlock Society, which advocates for individuals' right to choose an end to their life.
Yet the author of Maryland's statute is not opposed to its consideration in this situation. Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County) wrote the assisted-suicide legislation last year with a goal of preventing elderly people, or individuals with grave medical conditions, from giving up hope.
"When we discussed this law, it was really aimed at a sort of Dr. Kevorkian situation," Stone said. "But I don't see any problem using it in another area if it applies."
Jennifer died Oct. 18, just over two weeks before her 16th birthday and not even five months after she and the boy--her first true romance--began dating. Anne Arundel homicide Detective Tom Torrence would not discuss the two notes--one hers, one his--found at the scene or what the youth told police after Jennifer was declared dead.
"I don't think he ever called it a pact. But he said they decided to commit suicide together," when he spoke with police, Torrence said.
Police grew concerned about the boyfriend's role when they began doing interviews. Although Jennifer's suicide note talked about how others had tried to keep the couple apart, theirs was no poetic love affair, according to her parents, friends and more than 80 notes the youth had written her during the months they dated.
Yes, the two smooched in the halls of Arundel High, and yes, they consoled each other in that typical-teenager way about how no one else understood them. But there was a far darker side to their affections, one revealed in the notes Jennifer's father found afterward in a brown Roxy shoe box, size 7, that Jennifer had hidden in her closet.
Reading them made him believe the youth held sway over his daughter and helped to explain in his mind why his daughter's behavior changed so dramatically, why she began pushing away longtime friends, lying, skipping class. "How could I have not known this?" Steve Garvey asks himself, sitting in a living room decorated with photos of his daughter, still stunned by her loss. "I just feel this kid had control over her."
In many of the rambling notes, scrawled on school paper and passed between classes, the youth berated and cursed Jennifer for repeated sins. For not getting to their meeting place quickly enough between classes: "I expect you to walk as fast as possible (without talking to people) to our spot. Is that hard to ask."
In others, his anger and pain alternated with almost desperate professions of love. Police have reviewed the letters, in which the youth wrote, again and again, that Jennifer was the only one he cared about, "my best friend, my girlfriend, my soulmate, my goddess, the only reason I live."
"I gave up the world for your love, I don't regret it. Your the last chapter in my story, it's my life."
Several notes in the shoe box indicated Jennifer's confusion and even anguish over what to do. "I'm sick of having him accuse me of checking out other guys," she complained to a girlfriend. To another, she wrote: "Life is so weird. . . . I'm insane and I don't know what to do with my insane [boyfriend]."
The couple's lives shared certain difficult parallels, including family divorce and emotional problems. The youth detailed his past in a lengthy autobiography to Jennifer, listing drug use, self-mutilation and arrests. "You don't know how close to suicide and murder I was," he wrote. "I was gonna kill my parents then, kill myself."
Neither he nor his mother could be reached for comment yesterday. Other students at Arundel High say he stopped coming to school in December.
As Jennifer's parents and friends see it, she was a vulnerable girl struggling at times to cope with the swings of manic depression--for which she was on two medications--who at the end wanted to pull out of the relationship but had no idea how.
"She was scared to death to break up with him," said Tim Ford, an 18-year-old student at Arundel High and the Garveys' across-the-street neighbor in Crofton.
He and others have taken sides in their grief. They remember Jennifer as a pretty girl who had written poetry since grade school and covered her bedroom walls with her own compositions and favorite verses of others. She was about to join the drama club at Arundel High, which she started attending in February after moving back in with her father.
Her friends and family minimize her explorations into the world of Wicca--a witchcraft practice--as well as two incidents in which she repeatedly cut at her arms--for attention, her mother says.
She spent her last weekend with her mother and stepfather in Glen Burnie. Jennifer made chocolate chip cookies. She pushed her stepdad to take her skydiving when she turned 16. She worked for several hours researching a school debate project that was due the next Monday. "She didn't want to let her teammate down," recalled her mother, Cheryl Sylce.
They did not talk further of her parents' decision to send her soon to an uncle's house in Oregon to put distance between her and her boyfriend. Jennifer had seemed almost relieved by the announcement, Sylce said. Her boyfriend, though, was very upset, she told her mother.
The day she died, she left the house early to catch the school bus--but didn't. She and her Romeo spent the day together, her parents believe. Then sometime in the late afternoon, they went to the dank, lonely culvert off Route 3 that local youths call "the underworld." Police say the youth carried the gun, stolen from his stepfather's cabinet, in a backpack.
Before she killed herself, Jennifer added a P.S. to her goodbye. "Feel free to go through my old writing, it may help you understand me," she suggested.
Her father mourns, "I used to say to her [when she was little], 'I'll never let anything happen to you.' I let her down."