REDMOND From the moment many of Barbara Thomas' closest family and friends heard she had been murdered, they say one name instantly came to mind.
”We all immediately assumed Adam had killed his mother,” said Karen Davis, a distant cousin and one of Thomas' closest friends.
In a case that has shocked normally tranquil Redmond and defies easy explanation, the 52-year-old Thomas was found shot to death in her home March 26. Prosecutors say she was bludgeoned with bottles before being fatally shot in the head with a high-powered rifle.
As gruesome as these details are, who police charged in the slaying was equally as shocking. Arrested for Thomas' murder were her own 18-year-old son, Adam, and four of his friends Seth Koch, 16, Justin Link, 17, Lucretia Karle, 16, and Ashley Summers, 15. All five have been charged as adults with 22 crimes including aggravated murder, which alone carries a minimum sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
The teens, being held without bail in Deschutes County detention facilities, are scheduled to enter pleas June 11.
Despite graphic details of the slaying included in police reports, the larger picture of the teens themselves remains hazy and fragmented, like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. Some point to a history of behavioral or legal problems in some of the suspects' pasts, but others who were close say they were basically decent kids and don't believe they were involved.
The families of Koch, Link and Summers refused to talk to The Bulletin about their children or the case on the advice of defense attorneys, who also declined to comment.
Officials at the Redmond School District, where all five had, at times, been enrolled, also wouldn't talk about the teens or the case.
Until now, the only ones talking publicly about the Thomas' death have been prosecutors, and their case goes roughly like this:
Thomas, a widow, arrived home after a day at her job as assistant manager of the local outlet mall.
Her boss, Ron Audette, said she probably arrived home later than usual, after 5:30 p.m., because she stopped to buy invitations to a baby shower she was planning for her oldest son and his wife, who gave birth earlier this month.
Once Thomas arrived home, the five teens, after planning the murder that afternoon, killed her to steal her 1998 Honda Civic to go to Canada, police say. Besides the beating and the shot to the head, police say they have evidence the teens had planned to electrocute Thomas and inject her with bleach.
The five were arrested at the Canadian border in northern Washington the next day.
While investigators say they know most of the details the how of Thomas' murder, they acknowledge the underlying reason for the killing the why may remain an unnerving mystery to all but those involved.
It also troubles the only immediate surviving member of the Thomas family.
”I still think, Why? What could have possibly brought them to that point. I'm not sure we'll ever know,” said Jason Thomas, Barbara's 25-year-old son and Adam's older brother, who said he is still not convinced Adam is guilty of the crimes he is accused of committing.
”My brother was a good kid. He had a warm personality. I still love him. I mean, my family is on both sides of this coin. Of course, I lost my mother, but I've also lost my brother.”
But other family members and close friends of Barbara Thomas say Adam had been heading down the wrong road in the months before her death. Linda Jones, an aunt who has know Adam since birth, called Adam a ”Jekyll and Hyde”-type character who changed his behavior to suit circumstances.
For example, Linda said Adam attended a church youth group to please his mother, a practicing Catholic, but told her ”there was no God. The Devil exists, but there is no God. He went to the Satan chat room, and he thought 666 was really cool. He was experimenting with Satanism.”
Authorities discovered after his arrest that Adam had created a Web site about a make-believe ”death metal” rock band and album titles such as ”Into the Mind of a Killer,” ”Pleasure and Pain” and ”Deadly Screams.”
”He definitely had a dark side that few people saw, said Sara Jones, Adam's 14-year-old cousin and the daughter of Rod and Linda Jones, Barbara Thomas' brother and sister-in-law.
Karen Davis and Kathy McDaniel, another of Barbara Thomas' close friends, both confirm the Jones' description of a troubled Adam. All four adults, among Barbara's closest confidants, agree that Adam became increasingly rebellious over the past two years, especially since he turned 18 last October.
Last November, police accident reports show Adam totaled his 1993 Plymouth Sundance when he ran off South Canal Boulevard and struck a tree. Six days before his mother's death, Adam was a passenger in another accident in which a 1991 Ford Tempo registered to his mother ran into a fence and was totaled, according to an accident report. Link was driving the car at the time and received a citation for driving without a valid driver's license.
A few months before Barbara Thomas' death, the Joneses said both they and their daughter, Sara, received explicitly pornographic e-mails from Adam.
When confronted about the incident, ”he just said, 'What do you want me to say?' He always said that,” Linda said.
Other reports of Adam's behavior by the Joneses, McDaniel and Davis:
-McDaniel and Linda Jones said Adam, a computer enthusiast, deleted all of his mother's computer files because he thought she had stolen two of his CDs. McDaniel said Barbara brought the computer over to her house and told her she was afraid Adam would destroy it.
-The Jones,' McDaniel and Davis each said Barbara told them Adam had smashed holes in the floor of the Thomas home and had kicked in doors in months prior to his mother's murder.
”He was just an absolute nightmare once he turned 18. He just wasn't normal,” McDaniel said. ”At the time, we just thought it was a stage, and he would grow out of it. We were wrong.”
All four said they implored Barbara to seek counseling for Adam, but she refused, claiming the strange behavior was part of a passing phase. In fact, she routinely made him breakfast and drove him to the movies or to friends' homes.
”She was always giving him one more chance. Her first concern was always Adam,” Linda said.
”She knew something was going to happen,” McDaniel said. ”She just didn't know what to do. She always said 'Adam wouldn't hurt me.'”
Adam's older brother, Jason, said his mother never told him of many of these incidents.
He said the death of their father from cancer in 1997 was especially hard on Adam, then 15, but that he and his mother thought Adam would eventually grow out of what they both considered little more than a rebellious phase common to many teens.
”I'm worried about people looking back and making things out of nothing. We're all going back trying to find a pattern, racking our memories to try and find a clue,” said Jason, now an Army sergeant and member of the military police stationed in Alaska.
At least one friend describes a much different Adam than the one, police say, was part of a conspiracy to murder his own mother.
Sam Thomas, a 16-year-old sophomore at Redmond High School who is not related to Adam, said Adam is a quiet, polite friend who simply liked the same music popular now among millions of teens. He said the accusations against Adam ”don't fit in with what I know about him. From what I knew of him, he was harmless.”
Thomas said the four teens arrested with Adam were not part of his normal circle of friends. Of Adam's Web site, he said, ”It was all just a joke. Sure, Adam liked dark-type things, but so do a lot of people. A lot of us listen to Eminem, Marilyn Manson. We all know it was started as a joke. It wasn't meant as anything terrible.”
Thomas also said Adam had never mentioned plans to run away to his closest friends. Rather, he had often talked about going off to college this fall.
Another of the accused, Lucretia Karle, also had problems, but was turning things around, according to her mother, Carolyn Stezowski. Karle, who turned 16 in jail this March, had run away from home several times in recent years and had experimented with drugs, her mother said. But that troubled facade belies a caring daughter and sister who also helped regularly with household chores, took care of her younger siblings and helped care for her mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, Stezowski said.
Karle had struggled at Redmond High School largely because of absences but seemed to be doing much better at the alternative Brown High School, her mother said. Because she repeatedly ran away from home, Lucretia spent a month in a foster home roughly a year ago but returned to her parents' home after that, she said.
”She had some troubles. But Brown turned her around,” Stezowski said. ”She does the dishes. She cleans house. She has helped me so much. She just got mixed up with the wrong crowd.”
Stezowski said her daughter, whom she described as a ”follower,” called en route to Canada in a panic and denied that she had a part in Thomas' death.
”She had no idea. She just said 'mom, it was so horrible, it was so horrible. I didn't know it was going to happen,'” Stezowski said.
Redmond High School student Melissa Thompson, who said she is friends with Summers, Link and some of the other suspects, said she was shocked to hear of Summers' involvement.
She said Link often acted the part of a ”tough guy”, but ”Ashley was really nice. It doesn't make sense.”
Of the five, only Summers, a freshman, and Koch, a sophomore, were regularly attending Redmond High at the time of their arrest. Karle was enrolled at the alternative Brown High School, and Thomas and Link had dropped out of school.
Court documents show only Link and Karle had been previously involved in the juvenile justice system. Redmond police Lt. Scott Koertje said Link had been taken into custody for suspicion of theft more than once prior to the Thomas case and had been reported as the victim of a robbery not long before the murder. He was also named in juvenile cases alleging first- and second-degree theft and second-degree burglary.
No legal disposition was reported for any of those cases.
Karle had also been named in a juvenile case alleging harassment, theft and criminal trespass. No legal disposition has been reached in that case either.
Thomas had been investigated for a computer crime, according to a search warrant affidavit, but police officials refused to comment further on details of that case.
From initial conversations with four of the teens and feedback from staff who deal with them every day, community justice department Director Dennis Maloney said the suspects appear to be the type of kids who often pass beneath most radar screens. Most attracted little attention from police and didn't stand out at school or in the community, he said.
”We have a pretty good idea who the really bad hombres are in this county, and really only one (Link) had the kind of record to be in that group,” Maloney said. ”This is clearly the most horrific case I've seen here in 14 years. To go from what they were involved with to this act is such a leap. It doesn't make sense. That's the reason we're still shocked.”