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Star Ledger

Posted on 01/23/2005 8:08:32 AM PST by MissYouLaur

A LOSS THAT STILL HAUNTS RANDOLPH A year after high school cheerleader Lauren Crossan fell to her death in Hawaii, the tragedy continues to anguish and bewilder her friends and family Sunday, January 16, 2005 BY ROBIN GABY FISHER AND MAURA McDERMOTT Star-Ledger Staff

It could have happened to any teenager.

Anyone's son ordaughter. Anyone's friend.

A year after Lauren Crossan fell to her death off a Hawaii hotel balcony, parents in her hometown of Randolph are watching their kids a little closer. Teens are thinking more about their own mortality. Her community is still mourning and wondering how something so terrible could happento such a nice girl.


Last Wednesday, the anniversary of Lauren's death, her family and more than 100 teenagers gathered for a low-key memorial service at Resurrection Parish Church in Randolph.

The mourners dabbed their eyes and held each other in long embraces as snowflakes swirled outside.

"You shouldn't have to write a memorial for your 18-year-old friend," said Elyse Nashmy, who attended the service and later helped comfort the Crossansat their home.

Lauren Crossan was a gifted athlete, a member of an elite cheerleadingteam who was eagerly on her way to perform in a college football halftime show.

The weeklong trip to Hawaii was a dream come true. It was the kind of exhilarating adventure thousands of teens -- from club athletes to marching band members -- take during school breaks and summers.

"All of our kids go on trips. ... There but for the grace of God go all of us," said Ann Saxon, whose daughter, Amanda, was on the Randolph High School cheerleading team with Lauren.

Lauren and two other Randolph girls had been selected by the National Cheerleaders Association to perform at the Hula Bowl All-Star game with hundreds of other cheerleaders from across the country.

A photograph taken shortly after they landed in Maui shows the girls smiling and mugging for the camera while squeezed together in the back seat of a rented Mustang convertible. All are wearing vivid colored leis.

Less than 12 hours later, Lauren lay dead in the bushes at the bottom of a tower at the Hyatt Regency Maui hotel.

"This was our daughter's first and last trip to your paradise," Charles and Diane Crossan wrote to Hawaiian authorities on Nov. 9.

"We lost our daughter who came home, not with a smile and tales of a glorious stay in Hawaii, but in a body bag."

Time has done little to ease her parents' grief.

"The Crossans were very proud of their daughter," said William Krais, the attorney who speaks for them. "She had worked hard as a cheerleader. She was very excited to be selected to go on this trip.

"Their emotional wounds remain open."

Those who knew Lauren -- teens and adults alike -- still burst into tears or raise their voices in anger at the mention of her death.

Their grief and frustration are intensified by rumors -- many of which have been disproved, or at least contradicted, by an exhaustive police investigation -- such as that Lauren was thrown or pushed off the balcony.

"It's an open wound," said Alejandro Arrese, a classmate who attended the memorial last week in Morris County. "It's never going to close because there's always going to be that doubt you have.

"I wonder what really happened to her."


Lauren Crossan was an irresistible girl with a good head on her shoulders, even if she had a bit of mischief in her heart, friends say.

The thing that stunned them most is how something like this could happen to someone so strong and sensible.

Lauren was a "base" on her cheering teams. She was powerful enough to hoist smaller girls -- "flyers" -- in the air and catch them as they fell, then toss them back up.

At 5 feet 6, 140 pounds, she had muscular legs and strong arms. Even when a flyer's foot struck her in the face, she was unfazed, concentrating only on keeping the other girl safe.

"She was really strong," her friend Nicole Ciolko, a fellow cheerleader, recalled in the days after Lauren's death.

"She never let anyone fall."

Lauren was blonde and pretty in a wholesome way.

Nashmy, 19, now a freshman at County College of Morris, recalls being so intimidated by Lauren when they first met in the sixth grade that she avoided her in the halls of Randolph Middle School.

But Nashmy couldn't stay away from the girl who seemed so jovial and sweet-natured.

"Let's not hate each other," she recalled blurting out to Lauren one day.

The girls became "the closest of friends" over the next six years of sleepovers and rambling telephone conversations about boys, Nashmy said.

At times, Nashmy was mortified by Lauren's exuberance.

"Anywhere we'd go, she'd start cheering," Nashmy said. "We'd always yell at her, 'Stop, you're embarrassing us.'"

But Lauren also was the sort of friend who would keep any secret, answer any late-night call, listen carefully and give good advice.

Lauren, like any teenager, tested boundaries set by adults, but she always knew not to step over the line, according to her friends and the adults who knew her well.

"Lauren would call me up and say, 'Let's go to the movies tonight,' when a lot of other people were saying, 'Let's find a party,'" Nashmy said.

She wasn't the type to let her parents worry.

"She was always saying, 'I have to call my mom,'" Nashmy said.

Adults recall Lauren as a responsible, respectful girl who was always welcome to tag along on family trips down the Shore.

"Something ominous happened because if you know this girl, I mean, no way. There's just no way," Saxon said. "She was a responsible kid, and that's why this whole thing is so strange."

That's how Lauren's friends reacted when the news hit Randolph High, too.

"The hallways were just absolutely quiet," recalled Arrese, who graduated last year. "Nobody was talking; everybody was crying."

Lauren's friends left school early that day and agonized over the bizarre circumstances of her death in instant-message exchanges that lasted late into the night, he said.

"We didn't know what happened," Arrese said. "We felt like maybe she got raped or who knows what."


Maui police, the Maui medical examiner and the Crossans' private investigator paint this picture of what happened in Hawaii:

The Randolph girls -- accompanied by Sue Sadler, the mother of one of the cheerleaders -- pulled up to the Hyatt Regency shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11, 2004. They had traveled 4,900 miles in 13 hours, but their excitement staved off fatigue.

On the trip were Sadler, her son, Drew, 15, and the three 18-year-old cheerleaders: Lauren, Michelle D'Aconti and Mandy Mason, who is Sadler's daughter.

All five jammed into the convertible. The girls had begged Sadler to rent a ragtop. Lauren's luggage took up the entire trunk. So Mason and D'Aconti piled their suitcases on the back seat and all three girls sat on them.

The Hyatt sits on 40 lush acres on Ka'anapali Beach. The grounds, with cascading waterfalls and palm-fringed lagoons, are intoxicating. When Sadler went to check in, the girls stayed outside to take in their surroundings.

They also traded phone numbers with three local boys in a pickup truck. The boys had followed the convertible into the Hyatt driveway. The girls made plans to meet them later that night.

Sadler and the teens settled into their room and ordered snacks from room service. Around 10 p.m., the girls headed downstairs to check out the resort. Sadler said she gave them "the typical parent lecture: Stay together. Don't leave the hotel grounds. Don't do anything stupid." She set their curfew at 2 a.m., and they promised not to be late.

The girls met up with the local boys, and the group went to a liquor store for vodka, cranberry juice and a 40-ounce bottle of a premium malt liquor.

Around midnight, they returned to the girls' hotel room. The cheerleaders changed into swimsuits, and they all left again. Sadler said the boys seemed nice enough. She saw no signs of drinking.

The Hyatt's open-air atrium has two swimming pools, a massive hot tub and several bars. That night it had a "Mardi Gras" atmosphere.

The college football all-stars and hundreds of teenage cheerleaders were staying at the hotel. Everyone was partying.

"It was chaos behind the bar," Roger Ross, one of the bartenders, told investigators.

The three cheerleaders and their Hawaiian friendsarrived in the atrium shortly after midnight. There, they met Erik Larson, 20, a college student from Folsom, Calif., and his friend Donald "D.J." DeVorss, 19, according to Lt. Tivoli Faaumu, who led the Maui police investigation. Larson invited the group to a party in one of the hotel rooms. They were only there a few minutes when Lauren and Larson slipped away.

At 1:30 a.m. Lauren called D'Aconti on her cell phone, saying she would be back soon. At curfew, the others returned to their room, and told Sadler that Lauren had gone off with a boy.

Sadler said she left angry messages on Lauren's cell phone and sent the girls to look for her. Sometime between 3 and 3:30 a.m., she alerted hotel security.

Around 9 a.m., the phone in Sadler's room rang. "We're sending an officer up," a voice said.

A hotel guest had gone out on her balcony to check the weather around 7:30 that morning. It had started to sprinkle. She looked up at the sky, then down over the lush grounds. Something caught her eye.

At 7:40 a.m., Maui police took a call: There was a body at the Hyatt.

Sadler identified Lauren's body at the scene.

Then she called the Crossans.

"There's been an accident," she recalls telling Charles Crossan.

The next thing she remembers is the sound of the couple wailing.

Sadler and the Crossans have never spoken again.


The death of Lauren Crossan shook Randolph to its core.

Before she died, dozens of Randolph High seniors had been looking forward to a five-night party at a Cancun resort in July to celebrate graduation.

"Nobody ended up going," said Arrese, who now studies criminal justice at Centenary College.

On a New Year's Eve trip to Montreal, Lauren's death cast a shadow over the festivities.

"Every time you go to a hotel room and you see a balcony, it's on your mind," Arrese said. "It gave everybody a reality check, like anyone can die. It calmed everybody down a bit, you know?"

Parents were even more uneasy.

Mothers and fathers who once counted on chaperons to keep order on trips suddenly were afraid to let their kids go.

It could have been my child.

I could have been the parent on that trip.

"It served as a warning not only to Randolph residents, but to anyone who read the stories, that there are risks on these seemingly safe trips you send your kids on," said John Lovell, township manager, whose daughter Katie played softball with Lauren.

"There's more of an awareness: 'Boy, you better find out a lot more about these trips.'"

The Hawaii trip was not a school function, but people expected Sadler to conduct herself like a chaperon on a field trip.

Sadler was active in school affairs. She was president of the Randolph High School cheerleading booster club and paid for the new Ram mascot costume. Her home was a hangout for local teens, and some kids called her "Mom."

But some parents thought she was too lax with kids.

She maintains "teenagers will be teenagers" and says she doesn't put up with any nonsense.

Still, Sadler wonders what she could have done differently and can't understand why people in town avoid her now.

Sadler says she lost friends after Lauren's death. Neighbors turned against her. She stopped shopping at local stores because she felt so unwelcome. The booster club asked her not to attend itsannual banquet, and when she did, some people turned their backs when she stood to speak.

"Until you've identified the body of a dead child and listened to the screams of her parents, don't ever think you know how I feel," she said. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."

Mandy Mason, her daughter, felt so shunned she moved to Florida to finish high school there.

"I didn't feel like I could live in New Jersey anymore," she said. "Everyone turned against me. I lost my best friend, and it ruined my life."

If Sadler could move away, she said, she would.

If she had the answer everyone wants, she would give it.

"How could this have happened? I run it through my mind a million times a day," she said. "It was truly just a tragic accident."


Lauren fell from Room 978 in the Lahaina Tower of the Hyatt -- the room shared by Larson and DeVorss, the men from California.

She died sometime between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m., Faaumu said. The likely time of death was probably nearer 2 a.m. because temperature sensors in the room indicate the sliding glass door to the balcony opened then.

Six hours later, when Maui police went to Room 978 to question the men, they appeared to have just woken up. When asked if they knew Lauren, the boys said she had spent time in their room the night before but they didn't know where she was. They seemed stunned when police told them she was dead. Lauren's clothes and her purse were still on the hotel room floor.

"The fact that her belongings had not been picked up and moved suggests they didn't know what was going on," said Anthony Manoukian, the Maui medical examiner.

Larson and DeVorss were questioned over two days. Police believe the boys may have withheld information, but they don't believe they caused Lauren's death.

Manoukian ruled that Lauren died from multiple traumatic injuries. The manner of her death is listed as "undetermined," he said.

"Do I have theories? Yes, I do," Manoukian said.

"She arrived here and immediately met with friends and did the kind of things young people do when they first come to Maui -- travel, meet people, party a little bit," Manoukian said. "She was probably tired, intoxicated and perhaps disoriented."

At the time of her death, Lauren's blood alcohol level was 0.17 percent, "the equivalent of eight or nine alcoholic beverages," Manoukian said. No drugs were found in her system.

Manoukian said he was able to determine from her injuries that she fell backward off the balcony and dropped perpendicular to the hotel tower.

"That would be inconsistent with someone picking her up by the arms and legs and throwing her off the building, and it is inconsistent with her jumping or being pushed," he said.

Manoukian said he believes Lauren, who smoked, may have been on the balcony having a cigarette and lost her balance. An open pack of cigarettes and a Bic lighter were found on the balcony planter. Or perhaps, he said, she didn't realize she was nine floors up.

"I stood there on that balcony and tried to imagine being intoxicated, tired and looking down on the top of palm trees," Manoukian said.

"And I wondered if maybe she thought she would step over the balcony and onto the grass and take a shortcut home."


The year since Lauren's death has been filled with grief, recriminations and regrets.

Sadler has visited Lauren's mausoleum at Locust Hill Cemetery in Dover nearly every other day.

The flowers and letters she left became the subject of a court fight after Lauren's parents complained to police.

The families reached an out-of-court agreement last month, and now Sadler -- still too tormented to stop visiting the girl's tomb -- leaves gifts in a place where the family won't find them.

Krais, the Crossans' attorney, said the family feels Sadler let them down.

"The parents of the cheerleaders met ahead of time and were led to believe the girls would be closely supervised by Ms. Sadler," Krais said.

"It was important for the Crossans that Lauren be supervised by a responsible adult."

The Crossans also blame the hotel and the men from California. They're considering lawsuits against all of them.

In November, Maui liquor control authorities fined the Hyatt $50,000. The hotel did not dispute it had served liquor to Larson and DeVorss, who were both underage.

Erik Larson, the young man who was with Lauren in the moments before her death, is "emaciated emotionally," said his father, Bradley Larson, a prominent attorney in California who is an expert in wrongful death suits. "Afterward, he became withdrawn and very, very angry at any suggestion that he was involved."

Bradley Larson said his son, now 21, "just happened to be there at a time when a horrible tragedy occurred. No more, no less." The young man is still so distraught he is in counseling and has taken medication for depression, his father said.

What happened in Maui is the nightmare all families of teenagers fear, Bradley Larson said.

"With all these kids at these hotels, I'm surprised there aren't more incidents."

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Extended News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; US: New Jersey
KEYWORDS: cheerleader; holdmuhbeer; laurencrosssan; mightaswelljump; stupidcheerleader; takeaflyingleap; teens
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1 posted on 01/23/2005 8:08:33 AM PST by MissYouLaur
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To: MissYouLaur

"Don't do anything stupid." She set their curfew at 2 a.m"

The stupid thing done here was setting high schoolers curfew at 2 AM in the morning!!!! a strange place at a hotel no less. The chaperone was negligent and grossly irresponsible.

2 posted on 01/23/2005 8:13:55 AM PST by SunnySide (Ephes2:8 ByGraceYou'veBeenSavedThruFaithAGiftOfGodSoNoOneCanBoast)
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To: MissYouLaur

Alcohol and balconies don't mix.

3 posted on 01/23/2005 8:15:55 AM PST by MisterRepublican ("I must go. I must be elusive.")
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To: MissYouLaur
They also traded phone numbers with three local boys in a pickup truck. The boys had followed the convertible into the Hyatt driveway. The girls made plans to meet them later that night.

Sadler and the teens settled into their room and ordered snacks from room service. Around 10 p.m., the girls headed downstairs to check out the resort. Sadler said she gave them "the typical parent lecture: Stay together. Don't leave the hotel grounds. Don't do anything stupid." She set their curfew at 2 a.m., and they promised not to be late.

The most amazing part of the article IMHO. That is a "typical parent lecture" only if you're a braindead nimrod or are planning to go out yourself and don't want to be saddled with the kids until 2am.

4 posted on 01/23/2005 8:19:45 AM PST by PMCarey
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To: MissYouLaur

She's a high school eighteen year old girl who smoke, drank and ran around with the boys until 2 am. What does one expect?

5 posted on 01/23/2005 8:21:35 AM PST by HarleyD
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To: MissYouLaur

Teenage girls with no supervision, underage drinking, exchanging phone numbers with strange men, visits to unchaperoned boys' hotel rooms... why would it be so shocking that something bad would come of this???

I doubt the chaperone was any more responsible or strict at home, so why would anyone send their kids with her???

So many questions...

6 posted on 01/23/2005 8:25:25 AM PST by nodumbblonde
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To: MissYouLaur

Everyone involved has regrets...and blame.

The friends admit the girl was popular and a bit
on the wild side. Parents choose NOT to admit that
tidbit about their otherwise "perfect" daughter.
Any parent who thinks their child will obey ALL
rules when out of sight of home and family are
less than realistic. Booze, ciggies, going into
the hotel room of two boys after midnight? Hello!

Those boys are guilty as well. They were perfectly
willing to sow some wild oats. The girl should NOT
have been in their room. But then, they were
probably used to the routine in the co-ed dorms
back home.

As for the chaperone...I probably feel she is
NOT the chaperone of choice for my kids.
If she knew these girls as well as she
thought she did, she'd also know that at least one
of the gals would break the curfew. At the time
kids make a "promise" they definitely mean it. THE
temptation to break that promise shows up quite a
bit later. And how many kids have reported in BEFORE curfew, then sneaked out again once bed check was

7 posted on 01/23/2005 8:34:24 AM PST by Grendel9
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To: nodumbblonde

"...exchanging phone numbers with strange men...."

Yes, this part is very bad. And this girl broke the #1 rule for partying girls: don't leave your girlfriend(s). They probably were all so blitzed the boys didn't realize she had fallen. Her friends should have insisted she re-join them when she called at 1:30.

I feel very bad for all these people, but I gotta tell you, you watch other people's children even more closely than your own.

8 posted on 01/23/2005 8:36:38 AM PST by jocon307 (Ann Coulter was right)
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To: MissYouLaur
It could have happened to any teenager.

... who was a drunken imbecile.

9 posted on 01/23/2005 8:42:33 AM PST by SedVictaCatoni (<><)
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To: MissYouLaur
There has to come a point where we make young people understand that nothing good is going to happen when they are that drunk. We simply don't have the luxury of letting someone reach eighteen years of age with so little self-control that he or she will drink that much if given the chance. Our Constitution wasn't written for a people who are that irresponsible, and unless we can bring back that responsibility even in early adulthood, our society will fail.


10 posted on 01/23/2005 8:47:32 AM PST by WFTR (Liberty isn't for cowards)
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To: jocon307

" watch other people's children even more closely than your own..."

Unfortunately, today there are too many parents who don't watch their OWN kids, so certainly can't be bothered to keep track of yours. :\

11 posted on 01/23/2005 8:53:35 AM PST by nodumbblonde
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To: SunnySide

Agree: negligent and grossly irresponsible AND STUPID.

"Don't do anything stupid. She set the curfew at 2 a.m."

Considering that the kids had 13 hours of travel time AND their body-clocks were 5 HOURS AHEAD of local Hawai'ian time, the curfew was ACTUALLY SET AT 7 a.m. EASTERN STANDARD TIME (they came from New Jersey, correct?).

The combination of the alcohol, the balcony and EXTREME FATIQUE resulted in the accident.

Sadler, IMHO, should have exercised more control in the overall scheme of things, perhaps: "It's really been a long day kids, let's get some rest!"

Stupid!...and sad as well. As a parent I would never survive a loss like this.

12 posted on 01/23/2005 8:53:38 AM PST by Joe Marine 76 ("Stupid is as stupid does.")
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To: Joe Marine 76

"It's really been a long day kids, let's get some rest!"

You can believe she wishes she'd done just that. She could also have gone with them, if they wanted to go for a swim, or whatever. Obvioulsy these "good" girls went straight to the bottle with strange men, which to me is pretty wild behaviour. It's never good to drink with strangers. And I've done it, and I survived it, and I know.

13 posted on 01/23/2005 8:59:53 AM PST by jocon307 (Ann Coulter was right)
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It's a LONG trip to Hawaii from NJ. Fatigue plus that much booze is a recipe for trouble, which duly showed up.

14 posted on 01/23/2005 9:01:14 AM PST by 1066AD
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To: MissYouLaur
At 5 feet 6, 140 pounds, she had muscular legs and strong arms.

Mmmm.... Muscular legs...


Well, let's see, she was drunk off her ass and fell to her death. Sad.

Remember folks, despite the official "seal of approval" of the government and the glamorous marketing; alcohol isn't exactly a "safe & sane " drug.

15 posted on 01/23/2005 9:09:10 AM PST by csvset
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To: MissYouLaur; Poohbah; mhking

Look who's back.

16 posted on 01/23/2005 9:17:18 AM PST by TheBigB (Life is good. It'd be better if Jaime Pressly was here naked with a pizza. But it's still damn good.)
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To: jocon307

"It's been a long day kids, let's get some rest!"

As the mom of 3, and my oldest a girl, I can testify that the girl who tragically fell to her death would'nt have stayed in the safe hotel room, unless the chaperone chained her to the bed.(Ropes- no good- the girl would've bitten thru them eventually.) My kids aren't perfect- I am not perfect- but I am truly shocked and amazed at what the parents of young girls will let them wear, let them watch on tv,etc. And that is just a start- our 10 yr old neighbor girls has had 2 'boyfriends' already.
If the chaperone HAD been responsible and kept the girls safe and in their room, the parents would probably still be enemies...the girl who would've lived-but been denied fun and death- and certainly bad mouthed the chaperone, perhaps made up things to get her in trouble or cause problems.
And I know many decent, well adjusted, polite girls- it just seems there is just as many troubled girls who parents' are unwilling to do what is right. Best intentions work.

17 posted on 01/23/2005 9:24:44 AM PST by aaronbeth (Our freedom was won from the barrel of a gun.)
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To: Joe Marine 76

"Stupid!...and sad as well. As a parent I would never survive a loss like this."

Stupid!...and sad as well. As a parent, THE CHAPERONE would never survive a loss like this.

18 posted on 01/23/2005 9:28:16 AM PST by Luddite Patent Counsel
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To: aaronbeth
As the mom of 3, and my oldest a girl, I can testify that the girl who tragically fell to her death would'nt have stayed in the safe hotel room, unless the chaperone chained her to the bed.

But that essentially is what a chaperone is supposed to do. My kids went on a choir trip to Texas. One of the boys tried to sneak out in the middle of night and was surprised to find the chaperone in hall, waiting for him. That's why being a chaperone is hard work and this woman saw this as a Hawaiian vacation and it seems to me didn't even do the minimum. My goodness, telling a teenager to go out without going with her and setting a curfew at 2am? That's criminally neglegent. She's lucky that she wasn't charged.

19 posted on 01/23/2005 9:42:09 AM PST by PMCarey
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To: 1066AD

Ok I'm confused here. Did everyone here live in a convent when they were 18?? Are you telling me that none of you partied when you were that age? (Which is technically an adult by the way.)

Do you only exchange phone numbers with people you know? What is the need to exchange numbers then? How do you date exactly if you only hang out with people you know?

I don't think there is anything out of the ordinary about this except that the curfew was probably set too late.
What about all of the other cheerleaders and football players that were partying at the hotel that night? I'm sure most of them had adult chaperones there as well and most probably set fairly late curfews. No one is upset about those kids or their chaperones because they came back safe.

Has no one here ever drank too much when they were young? It's happened to just about everyone.

The only thing I see that this women may have done wrong is set the curfew too late and I don't think that is reason enough to condemn her for what was a tragic accident. She did not know they were going to go to a liquor store and buy booze either.
Did you let your parents know when you were drinking underage? Give me a break! Pretty much most teenagers experiment with alcohol even if we tell them not to and most teenagers go out and party with friends and give phone numbers out to cute boys or girls that they meet. There is nothing unusual about any of that.
Do I like it, being that I have a young son and am looking ahead to when he is a teenager, no it scares me, but I'm not going to keep him locked up in a bubble to make sure nothing can happen to him.
What about all those teenagers that go unchaperoned to Cancun for spring break and are even younger. What do all of you think they do there anyway??

As far as missing curfew, 2 of the girls came back on time and the only reason the girl who died did not was because she had fallen off a balcony. Remember as soon as Sadler knew she was missing she started trying to locate her. If the girl didn't answer her cell phone at 2am she was probably already dead.

Now to anyone who is going to attack me for being a bad parent, I never suggested that the teenagers behavior is necessarily ok, just that it is pretty darned normal for this age group and in my opinion is not Sadler's fault. It was an accident! Just think about the next time your son or daughter asks to go to a friends party on the weekend. This could happen to anyone.

What happened to this girl would actually be a good tool for teaching our kids what can happen in these kinds of situtations. A good scare is always helpful in keeping kids out of trouble.

20 posted on 01/23/2005 9:53:19 AM PST by libertygirl
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