Young Lovers’ Triangle Sparks Odyssey of Hope, Despair, Death


The trooper’s blue lights flashed in the rearview mirror. Peck floored it, Josh grabbed the revolver and Jenny, curled up beside him in the back seat, looked frantically out the back window.

They were far from home on this desolate Arkansas highway. It was the middle of the night and the time had come for the best friends to fulfill their pact: If caught by police, the boys, just 15, and Jenny, 12, would commit suicide.

They had it all planned--or so they thought--days ago. Josh would shoot Jenny first. (She didn’t have the guts to do it herself and, if she was going to die, she wanted Josh to do it.) He would shoot Peck next, then kill himself.


They were rocketing faster than 100 mph in their stolen Grand Prix and the trooper was closing in. Just ahead, Peck saw a big rig blocking the only open lane in a construction zone.

They were trapped. It was time.

Peck slowed to a stop 20 feet behind the truck.

Josh cocked the gun, turned to Jenny and looked deep into her green eyes.

“I love you,” he said and kissed her.

“Close your eyes.”


Just five days earlier, on April 1, they were safely home in Robbinsville, N.C., a town of 775 nestled deep in the Great Smoky Mountains. Joshua Rogers and Kevin “Peck” Hyde cut school for the day--the first time ever--to break into the abandoned science building at the old high school. Jenny would meet them there. She had promised to choose between them.

Both boys, best friends and drummers in the high school band, were in love with the sweet and lively blond girl, well developed for her age.

Jenny skipped her seventh-period gym class, hurried down Moose Branch Road and slipped through the building’s back door.

Peck and Josh were waiting anxiously in one of the classrooms, littered with old textbooks, broken chairs and lab tables.

Josh spoke first, his voice trembling.

“If you want to go to Peck, he’s my best friend; I’ll understand.”

For three months, Jenny had been going with Josh, a shy and studious, rail-thin, dark-haired boy she met on the swim team. They had just had their first real date--a trip to church on Sunday. Josh was a straight-A student, except for a physical science class. He was failing and confided in Jenny that he was deathly afraid of disappointing his father and grandmother.


And then there was Peck. He seemed so boisterous and outgoing, but Jenny knew he was deeply troubled. His mother, a heavy drinker, had died less than a year ago and he was living with his father and stepmother. Peck, nicknamed for his nervous habit of “pecking” on his desk with his pencil, had tried to shoot himself twice before. But each time, his hand shook so hard the bullet whizzed past him.

The three of them were here in this ramshackle classroom because Peck had made her an ultimatum: Take him as her boyfriend or he would hurt himself.

The boys waited. And then Jenny slowly responded.

“I’ll be your friend for life, Peck,” she said, “but Josh is my boyfriend.”

Josh broke down and cried.

As they walked out, an adult passing by eyed them suspiciously and notified the principal.

It seemed so out of character for Josh and Peck to cut class, school administrators thought. They were both smart, popular, well mannered boys who had never been in trouble before. The boys were punished with in-school suspensions, and word of their truancy was sent home.

Life seemed so unfair to the young trio, so traumatic.

That night, Josh, Peck and Jenny made plans to run away. They didn’t want to live in this tiny town anymore, where there was nothing for kids to do but hang out at the video arcade or the Black Knight Drive-In, where the closest big cities, Knoxville, Tenn., and Atlanta, were hours away on narrow, winding roads.

Jenny was scared to go. But she feared that if she stayed behind, Josh and Peck would kill each other or themselves without her.

In life or in death, they all agreed, they would be together.

Thoughts of suicide were not new to Jenny. She had considered taking an overdose of pills once and even tried slitting her wrists. Death would take her away from the torments of her older brother and from her father, a Vietnam veteran who prowled the house in the middle of the night, believing he was still fighting the war. But she would miss her mom.


Jenny, Josh and Peck would leave the next night. The only way they would come back to Robbinsville, they agreed, was in a box.


Jenny packed a small bag with a spiral notebook and all the money she had--$9. She grabbed her teddy bear and “dream catcher,” an Indian weaving meant to catch bad dreams and let good ones pass through. She threw her brother’s black-and-white letterman’s jacket over her shoulders and slipped out the sliding glass door.

It was 12:45 a.m. when she met Peck at the foot of Poison Branch Trail, just as they had planned. Peck, wearing his marching band jacket and baseball cap, had packed some crackers, peanut butter and a couple of oranges.

He had left a note behind: “Dad, I’m sorry, I got into some trouble and I had to leave. I’ve gone South.”

On their way to Josh’s house, they traveled by moonlight along the narrow gravel road that cut through the forest of sugar maples and sycamores, curved around a weathered tobacco barn and passed an old truck rusting in a field of wildflowers.

The dense canopy of trees blocked the moonlight at times and Jenny stumbled into barbed wire. Her legs were scratched and bloody when a snarling pit bull jumped in front of them. In an instant, Peck had drawn a gun--his daddy’s .22 revolver.


The dog scampered off, but Jenny was terrified: Peck had a gun, and Jenny had always hated guns.

They picked up Josh and by 2 a.m. had found a car with keys and a purse in it. The gas tank was empty and so was the billfold inside.

Josh got behind the wheel. They bought five dollars’ worth of gas before leaving town, then headed down the mountain. They had no destination and no maps, but they were out of Robbinsville and that’s all that mattered.

Jenny was asleep in the back seat when they pulled into a gas station across the Georgia state line. It was dawn, they were lost and they were running on empty. Peck pumped five dollars’ worth, while Josh shook Jenny awake.

“You’re going to have to take the money in there,” they whispered.

But Jenny had only $4 left.

“Four dollars in gas,” she told the attendant, trying to seem nonchalant.

The woman wasn’t buying it and asked to see Peck’s driver’s license. But he had only a learner’s permit. They panicked and ran, leaving the money on the counter. They sped off, Peck behind the wheel.

They were halfway to Knoxville when four sets of police lights charged up behind them. Jenny slept serenely in the back, but up front there was panic: Had the time come to fulfill their pact? But the police flew by.


It was early afternoon when Peck pulled off the highway and into a field. He was bored and started doing doughnuts. Jenny tolerated his antics as she slammed from side to side, crushing the rest of the crackers sitting on the back seat.

By late afternoon, they had arrived in Knoxville tired and hungry. The peanut butter was gone and the last orange had gone bad. They shared the cracker crumbs. For four hours in the hot sun, they slept in a shopping mall parking lot. Some people peered in the windows, startling them awake. They had to move on, but they were dehydrated by now and scrounged around for change. They managed to find 50 cents--enough for a Mountain Dew. They shared it and wandered around to the back of the shopping mall.

A verdant field lay before them, a babbling stream meandering through it. A beautiful, peaceful place, Jenny thought, a place to rest.

But the conversation soon turned again to suicide. If caught by police, they decided, Josh would shoot Jenny first, then Peck, then himself.

Just in case, though, the boys also taught Jenny how to fire the gun: All you have to do is pull back the hammer and squeeze the trigger, they said. That’s all you have to do.

As dusk fell, so did the rain. The boys built a crude shelter. As the chilly night wore on, they hugged Jenny and huddled close to her to keep her warm.


At some point, Jenny pulled out her spiral notebook. If anything should happen, they would each leave a note.

In printed capital letters, Peck wrote: “Josh’s love for Jenny grows every second, and with every second it hurts me more. . . . Love gives you strength and integrity, but also a weakness at heart.”

In a page and a half, Josh recounted their trip and his love for Jenny.

“I’ll probably be in a better place by the time you read this,” he wrote, part in printing and part cursive. “Tell my dad that I’m sorry and that I love him.”

Jenny wrote to her mother.

“I love you Mom so please forgive me on this last chance to get away. . . . Josh was my hero. I love him. . . . Peck was and will always be my bestest friend. . . . Just know I will not let you down again. I love you Mom.”

She signed it with a little curlicue after her name.


It was dark when they got to Memphis. They had been away from home for almost 48 hours and had nothing--no gas, no money, no food. Jenny felt sick to her stomach and cried.

They had to rob a gas station, that’s all there was to it, the boys said. They looked to Jenny.


You have no charges on you and you’re a minor, they said, handing Jenny the gun.

She took it reluctantly, stuffing it into the roomy pocket of her big brother’s jacket. While Josh filled the tank, Peck and Jenny wandered through the store, picking up a Twix candy bar for Josh and an Almond Joy double-pack for Jenny and Peck to share. Jenny grabbed a Mountain Dew, Peck took a big Coke and Josh came in and got a grape juice drink.

They walked toward the door. Jenny’s hands were shaking as she pulled out the gun and waved it around.

“I’m sorry, we gotta go now,” she said, her voice quivering.

Peck floored it, turned a corner and hid for five minutes, while Jenny sobbed in the back seat.

In less than two days, the threesome--seemingly model kids at home--had stolen a car, stolen gas, subsisted on crumbs and held up a store at gunpoint. There was no turning back now.

Ten minutes later, they were crossing the Mississippi River bridge. Peck and Josh let out hoots and cheers.

Arkansas! They had made it to Arkansas!


An hour down the road, a trucker noticed the car weaving erratically and radioed police. Within minutes, the trooper was behind them and Josh had the revolver in hand.


“Close your eyes,” Josh demanded.

Jenny closed her eyes tightly and tensed her body.

A shot rang out and Jenny felt Josh’s body slump onto her. He had shot himself under his chin and blood was pouring out the back of his head. Jenny screamed loud and hard and didn’t stop.

Peck, who had come to a stop behind the truck, reached back for Josh’s gun.

“Lean up here!” he shouted at Jenny, ready to do what Josh could not. But Jenny felt paralyzed.

Peck turned forward, jammed the gun barrel in his mouth and fired. His foot hit the gas pedal as he died. The car lurched ahead, crashing into the back of the truck.

Jenny flipped over the seat and slammed her head into the dashboard. Crouching down, she lifted Peck’s foot off the pedal and groped around the floorboards for the gun. This isn’t how they planned it! They were all supposed to die together!

Smoke was filling the car now and she could hardly see a thing except Josh’s eyes, still barely open. She leaned her head back and felt faint.

RAP, RAP, RAP! The trooper’s flashlight beat against the window, trying to break into the locked car. Jenny opened the door, and the trooper dragged Josh out and laid him on the pavement, then pulled out Jenny. She sobbed uncontrollably as she watched Josh slowly die, right there on the Arkansas highway.


“Kill me,” she begged the trooper, “kill me now!”


Four hours later, Jenny was in the Brinkley Police Department, lying on a bench in an unlocked cell. Every time she closed them, all she could see were Josh and Peck, dying.

“Are you OK?” the investigator asked.

“No, there’s blood all over me,” she whispered back, looking down at the stains on her brother’s jacket and the leg of her pants. “It’s his blood, I know it. I was right beside Josh when he shot himself.”

She sat down with the investigator and, in a 45-minute taped interview, recounted her story of love and death.

When she went to their funerals, she told him, she would put her friendship ring in Peck’s casket and bury her dream catcher with Josh. She would give each of them a red rose and visit their graves every day with fresh flowers.

“I feel so guilty ‘cause I feel it’s my fault,” she told the investigator, tears streaming down her face. “I was supposed to be with them when they died. I was in the middle of both of them. I watched them kill themselves and I couldn’t do nothing about it.

“I hate myself. I hate everything,” she murmured, her normally sweet Southern accent turning coarse. “I even hate the Lord for doing this.”


Her parents picked her up and drove her more than 400 miles home. All the way, she kept Peck’s band jacket wrapped around her and Josh’s gold chain hanging securely around her neck--two things from the car not soiled by blood. Josh had given the chain to Jenny on the trip, telling her, “I want you to have something of mine.”

Jenny spent a month and four days in a North Carolina mental health facility. But she is back at home in Robbinsville now, and receives counseling every day.

On Sundays, she sings in the church choir.