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A twisted, modern 'Romeo & Juliet'

Jul 24, 2013 - By Chris Peck, Associated Editor

Maybe that's what two Wisconsin teenagers thought they were just before the collided deliberately with a pickup truck on the Riverton-Lander highway last month.

Days after his high school buddy swerved his car into oncoming traffic east of Lander, AJ Samson posed this question on his Facebook page:

"Is it wrong not to feel sorry for people who kill themselves?''

It's a question that lingers like broken glass on blacktop after the tragic deaths of Chase Schweitzer and his girlfriend, Andrea Esser -- killed in a suicide pact that began in Wisconsin and ended in a fiery accident on the Riverton-Lander highway on June 12.

Back in Wisconsin, people are shaking their heads.

"He was a good kid,'' recalled Carl Burdick, who graduated from Adams-Friendship High School in 2012 with Chase.

"He was happy. He wasn't a troublemaker. I was just devastated when I heard about it.''

Devastated. Shocked. Hurting.

These are the words left after Chase killed himself and his girlfriend when he jerked his 1998 Ford Contour across two lanes of traffic outside Lander.

What would make a teenager do such a thing?

"People who knew them couldn't understand why it happened,'' said one of AJ Samson's co-workers at the Adams County Fire District office.

"But there was talk around town that they ran away together, and decided they wanted to die together.''

No one will ever know, for certain, why Chase and Andrea drove 1,000 miles from home, then scrawled the letters DNR ("Do Not Resuscitate") on their arms before Chase slammed his car into the big truck driven by Michelle Caines of Lander who frantically tried, and failed, to get out of their way.

But we do know this.

We know that Andrea's parents didn't approve of Chase, so the teens ran away from their little town in Wisconsin without telling anyone.

We know that their escape was planned, but not very well, because Chase had all of 48 cents in his pockets on his last day of life on this Earth.

And we know that they were teenagers who thought they were in love.

From all of this emerges a storyline: a twisted, tragic, modern version of "Romeo & Juliet." Young lovers doomed -- who decide they will end their lives together.

Could that have been what flashed across their adolescent minds moments before Chase jumped the car across two lanes of traffic?

Perhaps the more haunting question is this: what if another five minutes had passed? Might these impulsive, teenage emotions have turned to some less-drastic thought, like perhaps whether the 48 cents would be enough to buy some fries at McDonald's in Riverton?

This is not to make light of the tragedy. Two young people are dead, and their families and friends are left in agony.

But science and biology reinforce the reality that young minds and emotions aren't fully formed in teenagers.

They don't think straight all the time.

Impulsive emotions can, and do, periodically overtake the growing up that young people are doing as teens. It happens all the time. Every adult has been there.

But adults learn, in time, that that the torrid, rushing torrent of emotions that well up at 19 aren't to be trusted. They are good for bungee-jumping, and snowboarding at breakneck speed, but aren't the emotions suitable for work, and marriage and raising kids.

No, the flaming feelings that well up in teens make for three-hankie teenage movies. They aren't the stuff of happy endings.

There was no happy ending for Chase and Andrea on that June afternoon in Wyoming.

They cut short lives that were just starting out.

They left holes in the lives of their families and friends.

In the end, they couldn't see the bigger picture of what it means to live and love in this world.

They needed help. They needed shelter. They needed adults in that moment to help them understand that taking their lives would only leave hurt and heartache.

But there was no one in that car on that afternoon but two tortured teenagers.

For the living, the lesson from these tragic deaths is simple: talk your teenagers into resisting impulsive decisions, and the dangers of young love, and youthful mistakes in judgment.

No teenagers should ever think the only way out is to scrawl DNR on their arms.

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Fremont County native Chris Peck recently retired as editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., where he lives. He is associated editor of The Ranger.

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