Tragedy followed Jenny back to Robbinsville, and the people of this tiny mountain town wanted none of it.
They were afraid. Mothers would not let their sons talk to her. One paid a high schooler $20 a week to protect her daughter on walks home from the bus stop after she and Jenny squabbled.
They were angry. They blamed Jenny Waldroup for what happened 20 months ago to the two people she loved most - Josh Rogers and Kevin “Peck” Hyde, 15-year-olds who died in a suicide pact in which Jenny, too, was supposed to die.
But Jenny didn’t die. Now, all of 14 years old, she is a pariah.
Jenny’s brother overheard classmates in the halls. “Jenny should have shot herself,” they whispered.
Josh’s cousin confronted her at a friend’s house. “I hate you!” he shouted. “You killed Josh!”
“I didn’t!” Jenny yelled back, breaking into tears and running out of the house. She jumped a split rail fence and scrambled hand over hand up the wooded mountainside, not stopping until she ran out of breath.
But in a town of 750 people, there is nowhere to hide. And when three other young men killed themselves, this blond-haired girl was treated as if she were Robbinsville’s own Angel of Death.
No angel has ever had to endure a life like Jenny’s.
She would lock herself in her room for hours, afraid of her father, a Vietnam veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some nights, he would roam the house with gun in hand, believing he was still fighting in the jungles. And she always seemed to be fending off an older brother, who would hit her much as his two older brothers had hit him.
Often, Jenny scratched her skin with a pin or a staple until it bled.
Then she met Josh and became infatuated with the bashful boy who called her “Pooh Bear.” But Peck - Josh’s best friend - also loved her. One afternoon in April 1996, he demanded that Jenny choose between the two. She chose Josh, and that’s when their lives began to unravel.
They had cut classes, and they were afraid their truancy would bring them trouble. So they stole a car and took off down a mountain road, determined that the only way they would return would be in a box.
Peck had his father’s gun. Hungry and out of money, they held up a gas station. In three days, they got as far as Arkansas. When police noticed them driving erratically and tried to pull them over, Josh pulled out the gun.
The suicide pact had called for one of the boys to shoot Jenny before they shot themselves. Jenny survived because neither could take the life of the blue-eyed girl they adored.
Jenny spent the next month in a mental health facility on suicide watch.
She was released to attend the funeral. Josh’s father and grandmother invited Jenny to sit with them, but Josh’s mother refused to enter the church as long as Jenny was inside. Finally, the minister coaxed her in.
In the coffins, Jenny placed angel figurines and her cherished dreamcatcher earrings and necklace.
The church was packed.
The fact is, both boys were troubled.
Josh lived with his father and was often at odds with his mother, who lived across town. And though “Peck” often appeared boisterous and outgoing, he grieved for his mother who had died a year earlier. Since then, he had tried twice to kill himself.
Nonetheless, the townspeople blamed Jenny. She was a living symbol of out-of-control youth - of everything parents feared for their own children.
Jenny was no innocent, people gossiped - she had pitted two fine boys against each other. Even though police ruled the deaths suicides, some people believed Jenny pulled the trigger.
Like many small towns, gossip spreads fast here, at the local uniform factory and furniture mill and after church on Sunday.
“She was branded, marked. That was it,” said Janie Wiggins, one of a few parents who stuck by Jenny. “People don’t let you live things down here.”
Jenny found solace in writing poetry.
She didn’t bother with proper spelling and grammar, she just let the words flow onto scraps of paper.
Time has not brought healing. Instead, a string of tragedies has left Robbinsville parents even more fearful that Jenny might suck their own children into suicide.
When Josh and Peck died, suicide was an anomaly in Robbinsville. But within the year, three other young men shot themselves.
First, a man in his 20s killed himself after his girlfriend broke up with him. Then a 16-year-old died when he was playing a form of Russian roulette with friends. It was ruled an accident, but parents were terrified.
And just a week before the anniversary of Josh’s and Peck’s deaths, one of Peck’s best friends told Jenny that he wanted to die. Coy Phillips had been depressed since his mother died, and he had been sent to a foster home.
She told school counselors that Coy needed help. They called him in, but the 15-year-old went home and shot himself anyway.
After that, rumors flew that Jenny was recruiting people for suicide pacts, that she played with an Ouija board to contact Josh and Peck.
“People want to blame me for every kid that dies,” said Jenny, her sweet Southern drawl quivering. “I walk down the street and they look at me with hatred.”
One Sunday, Jenny’s Baptist minister preached that anyone who committed suicide would go straight to hell. The thought of Josh and Peck burning in the fires of hell terrified Jenny. She mustered all her strength to remain in her pew.
But she couldn’t find the fortitude to stay in school. Last spring, with two months left in the school year, Jenny dropped out.
“It’s not worth it here,” Jenny said. “Everybody goes around saying this is heaven because it’s so isolated. But to me and people who have problems it’s hell because of the isolation.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “It’s a cold world Its filled with empty dreams. Things I use to love. Friends who use to love me. It’s a cold world Filled with hate. The thing that could set me free. Fled from this cold world.”
Jenny Waldroup original poem
Jenny Waldroup original poem