Methology - Part II

Arizona is awash in crystal methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that makes the weak strong, the lazy motivated, the fat thin, the trivial profound. Abuse it enough, and it can also make you psychotic.

"I'm getting my GED in a few weeks and I'm going to start school to be a nursing assistant," she says brightly. "But I'm still going to keep going back to the [detention] center to talk to the other kids. They're always saying they can't quit using. Well, I had lots and lots of problems and I quit. And I'm not going back to the stuff. I've got better things in my life."

With that, DeiDra Mounce leans down and kisses Avery on the cheek.

Horror Stories
Anti-meth warriors are always on the lookout for sensational--and preferably blood-drenched--poster children. However, the families, friendships and careers squandered to meth addiction aren't often sexy enough to pass muster.

"I guess that abused and abandoned kids, and strung-out moms with eyes the size of goldfish bowls don't make for big enough stories," says Maricopa County's presiding juvenile judge John Foreman.

But meth abuse, sadly, provides ample poster material.
Few Arizonans have forgotten the July 1995 murder of 14-year-old Eric Starr Smith Jr. What possessed his father to stab him to death, and then to behead him on a New Mexico highway?

Smith himself blamed Satan.
But many experts attributed the crime to methamphetamine psychosis, a diagnosis akin to paranoid schizophrenia.

Smith tested positive for meth after his arrest, which followed a 100 mph chase. He told police he'd believed his son to be demon-possessed. The story went international. "Man Who Beheaded Son Was On Speed," a headline blared.

Police records show Smith's woes predated his introduction to meth in the early 1990s. Before that, he was a violent alcoholic with misdemeanor convictions for domestic abuse.

In hindsight, it seems clear that Smith--now serving a life prison sentence--became a time bomb once methamphetamine started racing through his blood.

The same can be said for Mesa's Lynn Cox, sentenced last May to 13 years in prison for killing her 4-year-old son, Chris. Cox, now 31, was arrested in September 1994, after police found the single mother seated near an open door to her apartment. She was gazing on the body of her son, who had suffered more than 150 knife wounds.

An eight-inch chef's knife lay a few feet away from Cox, who was bleeding from superficial knife wounds on her arms and legs, and from one deep abdominal wound. Minutes earlier, she'd fallen or jumped from her third-floor balcony onto a parked car.

Cox tested positive at a hospital for an undetermined amount of methamphetamine, and also for a greater-than-prescribed amount of the prescription stimulant Cylert. Some experts speculated the combination of meth and Cylert sent Cox over the edge.

Cox denied slaughtering her son, and she attributed his murder (or his disappearance, as she refused to acknowledge that Chris was dead) to "tricksters" punishing her for past wrongs.

Witnesses told police that Cox had acted oddly in the days before the murder, rummaging through garbage, wandering into apartments uninvited, ending conversations in midsentence.

Cox spoke openly to authorities about her abuse of alcohol, and of her longtime addiction to cocaine. However, the ex-stripper, waitress, bartender and salesclerk told varying stories about the extent of her meth use:

She told a psychologist after the murder that she'd been using about $20 of meth per week. She told the same psychologist, Dr. Lorna Cheifetz, that devices at her apartment were "talking" to her, and that someone was hiding messages for her in nearby Dumpsters.

She told a psychiatrist she was trying to wean herself from cocaine addiction by periodically using meth, usually on weekends.

Although she had meth in her system when arrested, Cox told a presentencing officer she'd only used meth a few times, and not around the time of her son's demise.

Court-appointed psychiatrist Jack Potts blamed meth:
"Had it not been for the defendant's use of the illicit drug methamphetamine, I believe the alleged offense would NOT have occurred," he wrote.

Just two days after Lynn Cox murdered her son, another tragedy floored the Valley--the suicides of 14-year-old Crystal Williams and 13-year-old Heidi Ehmke.

On September 9, 1994, passersby found the girls' bodies on a dirt slope across the street from Apache Junction High School. Both girls died of single gunshot wounds to their right temples. A .22-caliber revolver lay a few feet away.

The two left no note.
During lunch hour, the girls had hugged friends and said their goodbyes--friends said they thought the girls intended only to run away.

Blood tests indicated that Crystal and Heidi--both products of troubled homes--had ingested methamphetamine the day before they died.

Heidi's short, difficult life included placements in crisis shelters and foster care. A few years before her own death, she'd watched an older brother's friend kill himself with a gun. Against the odds, she made straight A's as a 12-year-old and was a member of the National Junior Honor Society. Crystal, too, was a fine student, but those successes masked a mercurial home life.

The girls grew close in the months before they died.
It's impossible to say for sure why someone chooses suicide. But the girls' use of meth--a powerful, mood-altering drug--so close in time to their deaths surely was a factor.

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