In this episode, I talk about going to extremes to get attention. Particularly in today's society of instant gratification, instant entertainment and instant reward, we seem to crave attention more and more each day. In 2011, the year that this crime occurred, social media was just beginning to boom, and Facebook was still being utilized by the younger generation. The suspect of this crime was using Facebook to communicate with his peers, and we now see social media continuing to be used as a means of gaining attention for one's crimes (i.e. the recent mass shootings).
As I was researching this episode, I was simultaneously listening to another podcast which covered another young individual who annihilated multiple members of his family. As with Tyler, there were warning signs, there were indications of harmful thoughts, but not even their closest family members, had any idea they themselves would become targets.
Ryan Hadley Book: A Thousand Fireflies
Transcribed Episode / S3 EP30: A Killer Party • Tyler Hadley
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We live in a world of instant gratification. We seek approval and validation from strangers online on a daily basis. If we don’t get the attention we need from our friends and loved ones, we go after that attention from others via likes and comments. Now if I’m not describing you, you’ve managed to avoid the social phenomenon that we all living in.
But what happens when the attention we get from others isn’t quite enough. When we need so much recognition, so much approval, that we go to an extreme and commit unlawful acts to get it? And which unlawful act would give someone the ultimate amount of attention?
Blake and Mary-Jo Hadley lived in Port St. Lucie Florida, a city on the Atlantic coast of southern Florida with a population of around 200,000. The couple had moved there from Fort Lauderdale 24 years earlier to be closer to Blake’s parents, who were living in retirement in the nearby town of Stuart.
Shortly after they married they had their first son, Ryan, then six years later in December 1993 they would have a second son, Tyler.
Port St. Lucie is generally a sleepy town, with plenty of shops but not a whole lot for teenagers to do. The town has no access to the beach, no downtown area, and no place for teens to hang out at night other than a giant arcade called Superplay USA. The town’s parks are even closed at night.
Blake was a plant operator at the Florida Power & Light Co. in Port St. Lucie, and Mary Jo was an elementary school teacher. One of her students had said of her that “No matter who you were, even if she didn’t like you, she would never give up on you.”
The Hadley’s were known by family and friends as sweet, patient people, who unfortunately would often indulge their two boys - sometimes to a fault.
Both boys were close to their parents, but in his teen years, Tyler began having problems and started skipping school and began buying, using and selling drugs.
His classmates recalled that he had a “bizarre personality” and would just blurt stuff out in class and that one time he started mooing loudly, like a cow. In June 2010 Tyler was driving his father’s car when he hit and injured a child, resulting in a $15,000 civil lawsuit.
His parents, frustrated with his drug use, enrolled him in an out-patient drug treatment program. The treatment was not successful as Tyler continued to use.
Since Tyler was a young child, he’d talked about wanting to kill his parents. Mark Andrews, one of Tyler’s friends, recalled a time when Tyler was 10 years old, when he showed up at the Andrew’s house after a fight with his mother. He told Mark and his brother that he vowed that he would kill his parents. Mark told Tyler that all parents piss off their kids. Tyler eventually calmed down and agreed with him, and the two laughed it off.
Over the years Tyler had received counseling for depression, for an eating disorder and for poor self-esteem. Mary Jo herself suffered from depression, and was concerned that Tyler might have inherited that from her. She had Tyler take injections of human growth hormone during his early adolescence because she thought that it might give him a boost of confidence and she didn’t want him bullied in school for being short and chubby. By the time Tyler was 17, he would grow to be 6 feet tall and weigh 160 pounds.
On April 10, 2011 Tyler got into a fight at a friend's house and was arrested for battery. Because he had a juvenile record from a previous burglary conviction, he was sentenced to a week at St. Lucie County Jail and then two weeks of house arrest with his parents.
In June 2011, Tyler came home on drugs, following a night in which he’d urinated on his friend Desiree Gerhard’s bed. Mary Jo and Blake admitted him to New Horizons, an in-patient mental health clinic, where he was forced to attend counseling daily. The Hadley’s invoked the Baker Act, which under Florida law allows for parents to commit their children, if under the age of 18, to involuntary psychiatric treatment. Tyler’s parents also took away their son’s cell phone as punishment.
A concerned co-worker asked Mary Jo if she was worried that Tyler might hurt her, but she said she was only worried that he might hurt himself.
In early July 2011, after going through treatment at New Horizons, Mary Jo was excited about Tyler’s progress, telling friends that he “was over the hurdle.” And that she felt he was back to his old self.
But Tyler was not back to his old self. He would exchange Facebook messages with his friend Isadora Gascho, where he said he was considering suicide because he just wanted to die, and that he drank to excess because “it fills the emptiness inside me.”
He then told his friend Markie Phillips that he was going to kill his parents and have a huge party afterwards - telling him that having a big party after killing your parents had "never been done before."
On July 15th the Hadleys went out to dinner as a family, and on the way to the restaurant they stopped at Circle K, where Tyler ran into his friend Cameron Adams. Cameron noticed that Tyler appeared to be in a good mood. Cameron said that it was his birthday and Tyler told him, “Happy birthday! Come to my house tomorrow, I’m having a party. We’ll celebrate.”
Tyler had never thrown a party before, and with his parents basically grounding him and taking away his phone, they would’ve never allowed it.
Word of this “party” started getting around, and people were talking about who this Tyler guy was that was throwing the party. Really the only thing they knew was that he went to Port St. Lucie High School and that his parents were supposedly going to be out of town.
It was July 16th, at around 11:25am when Tyler exchanged Facebook messages with his friend Antonio Ramirez and told him he was trying to have a party at his house and that his parents were leaving soon.
Other friends asked him if the party was still on, and he’d tell them “I’m working on it.”
At 1:15pm Tyler posted a message to his Facebook wall:
“party at my crib tonight…maybe”
No one was really believed him about the party, but then at 8:15pm, he posted another message: “party at my house hmu” [hit me up]
Friend Ashley Haze messaged him on facebook: “what what if your parents come home”
Tyler replied to her: “they won’t, trust me.”
Earlier that day, Blake and Mary Jo had gone to a Farmers Market and were just returning home. When they got to the house, Tyler grabbed their cell phones and hid them, then locked the family’s black lab Sophie (who he knew would come to the defense of his parents) in a closet. He then headed to the garage, thinking about which weapon he would choose.
Just before 5pm that night, he took three Ecstasy pills, knowing he couldn’t go through with it sober. Ecstasy is a psychoactive drug that alters your sensations, causes increased energy, empathy, and pleasure. If taken by mouth, usually the pills will start to take effect in 30 to 45 minutes and last from 3 to 6 hours. He also listened to “Feel Lucky” by rapper Lil Boosie to get himself psyched up for what was about to happen.
Mary-Jo was sitting and working at her computer in the family room when Tyler walked up behind her and stood silent for about 5 minutes, just watching her, not saying a word. He then struck his mother in the head with the back-end of a 22 inch claw hammer. When he began striking her, she screamed and yelled "WHY? WHY?” Blake, who was in his bedroom at the time, heard his wife’s screams and rushed out to see what was happening. He saw Tyler striking Mary-Jo and stood there frozen, in complete shock.
Tyler turned around and saw his father standing there, frozen. Blake was a large man, 6’3” and 300 pounds and Tyler knew it wouldn’t be easy to take him down so he took the opportunity with Blake standing there in shock and lunged at him. Before he struck his father with the hammer, Blake yelled out “WHY?” and Tyler responded with “why the fuck not?” He kept repeating this question while he beat his father to death.
After both his parents were dead, he wrapped towels around their heads and dragged their bodies into their own bedroom, laying them face down on the floor and threw the hammer in between them. For the next three hours, he cleaned up the blood with towels, Clorox wipes and coffee grounds. He threw the towels and wipes on the bed and grabbed anything that reminded him of them - pieces of furniture, files, books and family photos - and threw it all on top of their bodies.
He then took a shower, where he looked at his reflection in the mirror and laughed. He grabbed his parents debit cards and drove to an ATM where he took out about $5,000 in cash from their account and purchased supplies for the party. In between this time, he would check up on social media to make sure that word was getting around about this massive party he was about to throw.
It was around 11:30pm when Mike, a popular athlete, arrived with about 10 of his friends at the Hadley house. Mike didn’t really know Tyler - just knew that he was the quiet kid who used to shout randomly in class. Tyler’s friends - potheads, juvenile delinquents, pill poppers - were not the same crowd that Mike hung around with.
Tyler answered the door wearing a long black t shirt, black shorts and black Nike Air Force high-top sneakers. He seemed to be super anxious, his pupils were dilated and he kept rubbing his hands together and clenching his fists.
He told Mike and his friends: “I don’t want no one smoking inside, it’s my parents’ house.”
When 12:15am rolled around about 60 people showed up and the majority of them had no idea who Tyler was. The high schoolers played beer pong in the kitchen, rubbed out cigarettes on the walls and on the carpet, scrounged for food in the kitchen, tossed empty beer cans outside and urinated on the neighbor’s lawn. The house was filthy, even before the party began, but some of the kids noticed that the computer was even dirtier than the rest of the house - the keyboard had tacky brownish dried liquid on it.
With the teens going in and out of the house, Tyler was getting nervous that the neighbors were going to call the cops, so he told everyone “Actually, just stay in the house, you can smoke inside. I don’t care.”
Kids at the party kept asking Tyler where his parents were. He would tell them that they went to Georgia, or Orlando, or that they didn’t live there, or that it was his house.
Crowds continued arriving until there were about a hundred in the house. At 12:30, beer was running low so Tyler asked Mark Andrews and his girlfriend, Ashley Gershman, to drive him to the gas station. Tyler gave some cash to Mark, who was 21, so that he could buy the beer. While Mark went inside, Tyler and Ashley stayed behind in the car. Tyler told her that his father had died, but Ashley who didn’t know him too well, assumed that he meant that his father had died a long time ago.
When they got back to the house, a boy walked around with a baggie of round white pills, selling them for a dollar each. Another kid was selling marijuana. Another teen, Anthony Snook, showed up around 12:45 because someone had sent him a text that said that Tyler’s party was the “biggest thing ever.”
Snook noticed that the door to the primary bedroom was closed and assuming that someone was inside getting high, he tried the door but it was locked. He looked down and noticed a black smear, about a foot long, beneath the door. It looked sort of like oil-based paint that someone had tried to wipe off the floor.
A collegiate soccer player arrived at 1:15am and said that the first thing he noticed in the house was the smell - it smelled like sweaty clothes that had been sitting around too long. The place was dirty, the white ceramic floor tiles were grimy and picture frames were obviously missing from the wall. He asked if there were any house rules and Tyler told him: “Just do whatever you want.”
During a game of beer pong, the ball bounced to the floor and rolled beneath the table. One of the kids went to retrieve it and noticed it was stuck in a sticky, thick brown liquid. They didn’t think much of it and just picked it up and rinsed it off in the kitchen sink.
As Mark Andrews was leaving the party, Tyler asked if they could speak privately. They went outside and ordered all the kids standing there to get back into the house, so that his neighbors wouldn’t call the cops. Once everyone was inside, Tyler turned to Mark and told him that he might go to prison - that he might go away for life.
Mark couldn’t figure out what he was talking about, and Tyler told him that no one was going to believe him, that he killed someone.
Mark told him that he didn’t want to hear about that, that he didn't need to know.
Tyler then told a few other kids at the party that he was going to kill himself because he did something really bad, and that he was going to go to jail for a long time. The kids just brushed him off, they knew he was always saying weird stuff.
At around 1am, Tyler went for a walk with his best friend, Michael Mandell, and confessed to him what he did to his parents.
Michael didn’t believe him, but after they got back to the house, Tyler told him to look in the driveway - both of his parents' cars were there. So if they weren’t home, why were there cars still there? Still not believing him, Tyler told him to look in the garage. When no one was watching, Michael snuck into the garage and turned on the light. On the floor he could see what looked like a bloody shoe print. After seeing the blood in the garage, he started spotting blood on the floor near the computer and kitchen table, and near the primary bedroom. He tried to open the door to the bedroom, but it was locked, so he went around to the back bedroom door which was located near the pool. When he pushed the door open slightly, it looked like someone had dumped a bunch of furniture and other stuff in the room. He then spotted a thick white leg buried under the pile of rubble. Stunned at what he saw, but not really know what to do, Michael stayed at the party another 45 minutes, pausing for a minute to take a picture with Tyler, knowing that it was likely the last picture he’d take with him.
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It was around 2am when about fourteen cars left the party. With their music blasting, they revved their car engines as they tore out of the Hadley’s driveway, getting the attention of the neighbors.
Neighbor Raeann Wallace had enough. She couldn’t understand how the Hadley’s would allow Tyler to throw such a noisy party. Raeann had known Tyler since he was born - she thought highly of the family and of the Hadley boys. She recalled that Tyler was a happy kid and was very respectful and polite. She knew that he liked to skateboard, ride his bike and toss a football in the street. When her and her husband would go away for the weekend, she’d trusted Tyler and paid him to watch their house.
As far as Raeann knew, he seemed close to his parents. He’d wait up at night for his dad to return home from work, and they’d play basketball for hours in the driveway. During the weekend, she could hear the Hadley’s hanging out and laughing in their backyard pool.
That all changed when Tyler entered high school. He became eccentric and troubled and acted hyper all the time, always trying to get attention.
Another of the Hadley’s neighbors, DeeDee Maynard, refused to let her son be around Tyler after she caught him smoking in the nearby River Park Wildlife Preserve with other teen boys. When she confronted Mary Jo about it, she seemed dismissive and told her that “My son doesn’t smoke.” When DeeDee confirmed that she saw him smoking, Mary Jo just said, “well, you know Tyler.”
It was just two weeks later after DeeDee caught him smoking, that Tyler and several other boys dragged an abandoned couch into that same preserve, doused it with gasoline, and dropped a match on it. The fire department was called, but they only gave the kids a warning.
When a group of boys from the party walked onto Raeann Wallace’s front lawn and started peering in her window, she called the police.
A couple of officers from the Port St. Lucie Police Department arrived within minutes. When they rang the Hadley’s doorbell, Tyler told the 20 or so people left at the party to stay quiet and go and hide in his room. He then opened the door.
The cops explained to him that there had been noise complaints, and Tyler made some excuse to them about friends being over and that they’d keep it down - the cops eventually left.
By 2:30am, more people began heading back to the party. Paranoid that the cops were going to come back, Tyler began checking the windows, closing the blinds and turning off the lights in the front room. Just before 3am, people finally began to leave, and Ryan Stonesifer, one of Tyler’s best friends, recalled that before he left he saw Tyler making himself a sandwich in the dark.
Michael Mandell was also just about ready to leave the party when he grabbed 10 Percocet pills that Tyler had told him he was going to use to commit suicide and hid them inside a hall closet. Then he left the Hadley house, and decided that he needed to do something about what he’d seen in the house and what Tyler had confessed to him…he then made a call to Crimestoppers at 4:24am, a local crime hotline, and told them everything.
Two other individuals,who were at the party, a girl and a boy who are unidentified, also called 911:
[911 Call: Male/Female Unidentified]
[Unidentified Female to Dispatcher]
He’s claiming that he killed his parents like around 5 o'clock last night. I guess they were constantly fighting and they’re supposed to be in their bedroom.
[Unidentified Male to Dispatcher]
He told me that the (inaudible) and he was like, he told me like, he told me like the gist of it, that he did something to his parents and I was like 'bro I don’t want to know any details.'
Did he say spec...did he hurt them, are they still alive?
[Unidentified Male to Dispatcher] No my understanding of it was that he killed them. His parents, like the bodies are supposed to be at his house apparently that’s my understanding of it, it all got jumbled up. I’m really scared, confused you know, that anyone would be this serious about, take it this far, I don’t think it’s joke, i don’t know I think he really needs help.
At 4:40am, Tyler posted another message to his Facebook wall:
“Party at my house again hmu" [Hit me up]
But there wouldn’t be another party, because parked across the street from the house were officers Adrian Zamoyski and Charles Greene. They’d been called back to the house after receiving the Crimestoppers call from MIchael Mandell.
The officers ran the plates of the three vehicles that were in front of the house: a cream-colored Lincoln, a black Toyota Tacoma truck, and a red Ford Expedition. One of the cars was registered to Tyler Hadley, the others to his parents.
As the officers approached the door, they could hear someone inside the house talking. Officer Greene spotted the shadow of a person walking back and forth through the large bay window in the front of the house. He knelt down by the window and peered inside. A tall teenager was pacing back and forth across the living room, talking to himself, with “a very disturbing look on his face,” Greene would note in the police report. “His eyes were very wide and he was not blinking.” The kid grabbed a stack of books from a bookshelf near the front door and took them into a back room and dumped them on the floor. He did this two more times - bringing books to the back room and dumping them on the floor.
The officers then knocked on the front door and rang the doorbell. The lights in the house were turned off, then Tyler opened the door, with his left hand hidden behind his back. Officer Zamoyski immediately drew his gun and ordered Tyler to put up his hands and step outside the house. The officers frisked him for weapons, then told him to get on the ground when they handcuffed him.
Tyler appeared nervous, talkative and frantic, and the officers noted that he had a blank stare, and that his pupils were dilated.
They asked him if any adults were home, he said no, that his parents were in West Palm Beach….then said “I know I’m going to Rock Road,” (referring to St. Lucie County Jail) “So just take me.”
Ignoring his comments, the officers left him handcuffed in the driveway and entered the house as Tyler screamed behind them “ you can’t go in there, don’t go in there!”
The house was a mess, beer bottles and red Solo cups littered the floors and counters, and furniture was turned over throughout the house. Tyler’s bedroom had unraveled cigars scattered on the floor. About a dozen empty beer bottles were on his bed along with a woman’s purse. In the other bedroom, which was Ryan’s bedroom, the furniture in the room was turned over, and clothes and bedding were thrown on the floor. Inside of a locked closet, they found a black Labrador.
The officers went into the kitchen, where there were pots and pans on the stovetop. They then made their way to the primary bedroom but the door was locked. They could see streaks of dried blood on the door frame and baseboards, and one of the officers turned the knob hard enough to force the door to open.
Inside the room they saw pieces of furniture piled up including dining chairs, a coffee table, mirrors, clothes, towels and papers. They could see a large amount of blood on the floor as well as a blood soaked towel. Underneath the towel they could see the body of 54 year old Blake Hadley. They continued navigating through the piles of furniture and found a second body, 47 year old Mary-Jo Hadley.
When news of Tyler’s arrest hit the news, the teens who had attended the party started to get phone calls and messages about what had happened - that Tyler’s parents had been dead in the house during the entire party.
One of the attendees named Mike said “I was like damn, brother, that’s creepy as hell. I can’t believe we partied last night where there was dead people.”
A 16 year old Cheerleader said “I wasn’t upset when I heard, I wasn’t scared, or disgusted. It’s not like I knew him personally. I was just in awe.”
And when attendee Anthony Snook found out about the murders, he thought, “Wow. I just went to the party of a lifetime. It’s messed up what he did, but 20 years from now, I’ll be able to say I was there. I hate Port St. Lucie, but that’s kind of cool.”
A service for Blake and Mary Jo was held and nearly a thousand people attended. Tyler’s older brother Ryan would be heading to St. Lucie County prison to visit his younger brother for the first time since the murders. Even though he was angry with his brother over what he did, he would tell a family friend that his parents “wouldn’t want him to abandon his brother.”
Tyler’s friends struggled to comprehend what possibly could’ve motivated their friend to murder his parents. One of his friends stated that she knew that he was under a lot of pressure from his parents - that his parents didn’t allow him to be himself, but would find fault with anything he would do. Tyler had told his friend Michael that his father had punched him in the face, and told his friend Markey Phillips that Blake wasn’t his real father, but Markey would find out later during a police interview that that was a lie.
Ryan Stonesifer, thought it was out of character for Tyler and described his relationship with his mother as “really close.” Tyler had told him about a time that he’d had a fight with his mother, where he told her to shut up. He felt so badly about it that he apologized to her immediately and told her how sorry he was for yelling at her.
But the majority of his friends blamed the murders on drugs, but none of the drugs that he was known to take would induce violent behavior and were used by hundreds of other kids in town, including those that attended his party.
When police searched the Hadley home, they found prescription bottles in Tyler’s name for Hydroxyzine, a mild anti-anxiety medication, and Citalopram, an anti-depressant that can increase the risk of suicide in adolescents and young adults.
While held in jail, Tyler wrote a letter to one of his friend’s he wrote “I regret everything I did. I swear it’s those drugs man.” But six weeks prior to the murders, he’d confided in his friend Michael that he would wait for his older brother to move to North Carolina to attend college before he would kill his parents.
Tyler had originally plead not guilty to the charges, but on February 19, 2014 he changed his plea to no contest to two counts of first-degree murder with a weapon. Because he was 17 at the time of the murders, he was not eligible for the death penalty in Florida.
While awaiting sentencing, he’d sign autographs for inmates by taking a news article about the murder and writing "It's Hammer Time" across the article, then sign it with his nickname - Hammer Boy.
During his sentencing hearing in late 2014, the chief medical examiner testified at the hearing in regards to the autopsies, stating that Mary Jo Hadley suffered 36 blows to the head and back, and that she was alive during every part of the attack. Blake Hadley was hit 39 times.
Mike Hadley, Blake’s brother, testified, urging the judge to sentence Tyler to life in prison, saying:
“We have, once again, sat through a gut-wrenching horror show, only it was not a movie or a play, it was reality, it was my family, people who we loved…my brother Blake and my sister-in-law Mary Jo were the main actors in this horror show. The villain was my nephew Tyler; he was loved so dearly by his mother and father, and all of us. Yet he premeditated the killing of his mother and father and I know without any doubt he was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong.”
“He … carried out his evil act of pure selfishness, and enjoyed every minute of horror he inflicted on his loving parents. Then he goes and celebrates his long-planned-out accomplishment by throwing a drunken party with friends.”
Two expert witnesses were brought to testify by the defense, claiming that Tyler was in no way acting as an adult when he killed his parents.
Tyler Hadley also spoke at the sentencing, expressing remorse for the murders and apologized for what he’d done:
[Sentencing Hearing: Tyler Hadley]
I apologize and make amends for the horrible acts I’ve done I committed. Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about my my parents, or my family that are effected by this. I’d like to direct this to my entire family, all of you, everyone, all of you.
I don’t expect forgiveness and I know that they will never forgive me and I’m not expecting forgive me.
His public defender claimed that Tyler wasn’t an adult with a sound mind when he committed the murders:
[Sentencing Hearing: Public Defender]
In fact, it is the state’s evidence that shows this was the result of a severely mentally ill child.
But prosecutor Tom Backedaw wasn’t having it, and said that Tyler was a cold blooded killer:
[Sentencing Hearing: Prosecutor Tom Backedaw]
[Prosecutor Tom Backedaw]
He is done- no jury in the world would buy the self-def..excuse me, the insanity defense in this case.
The judge then sentenced Tyler Hadley to two life sentences without parole.
[Sentencing Hearing: Judge]
The court takes no pleasure in imposing this sentence. The court find that the defendant at the time of the homicides on July 16, 2011 was not suffering from a severe major depressive disorder. It is hereby the judgement and sentence of the court that to both counts 1 and 2 that the defendant be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
But in December 2018 his sentence was overturned on appeal and he was re-sentenced to life in prison with an added Judicial Review mechanism in place - which basically is the power of the courts to declare that acts of the other branches of government are unconstitutional, and thus unenforceable.
Tyler often writes to his grandparents in prison. In one letter he mentioned a psychiatric pill hed been taking the time of the murders and said that quote “I wish I never started taking that damn pill. None of this would ever have happened.”
Ryan Hadley, Tyler’s older brother who was 23 years old at the time of the murders, was designated as Tyler’s legal guardian and the executor of his parents' estate. He’s written a book about surviving tragedies called A Thousand Fireflies: Living in the Aftermath of My Parents' Murders - I’ll put the link for the book in the show notes for this episode.
In 2015 the Hadley home was demolished. In August 2018, Tyler spoke with a state-hired psychologist for more than three hours. Not really giving a solid reason why he killed his parents, he said that he has recurring dreams in prison that take him back to his parents' home, saying quote:
"I know, like, in my mind they're dead in the bathroom and I feel scared. I feel extremely frightened. I feel goosebumps. And I'm looking over. I never go to the bathroom, though. But I can picture it.”
He regretted never applying himself in life, and wished he would’ve taken the time to really know his parents, saying that: "I wish I would have known them more as people, instead of just mom and dad. I never really seen them as real people.”
Whether it was drugs or the inner turmoil of a mentally ill teenager, we may never know the real reason why Tyler Hadley murdered his mother and father. Could it have been that he craved attention and acknowledgment from his peers so intensely, that he was willing to murder his own parents to get it.
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