Shortly after 8:30 p.m. on March 3, 2011, 16-year-old Susan Jackson returned to the Vanguard School in Lake Wales after a trip to Starbucks with a classmate. The girls' dorm monitor, Kami Land, had driven them in her car to the coffee shop and then dropped them off near Boyd Hall, their dorm at the center of campus. They were supposed to be in bed soon. Curfew at the private Florida boarding school for kids with learning disabilities was 10 p.m.
Instead of heading to her room, however, Susan walked away from the main cluster of buildings and toward the gym, the athletic field, and the woods that ringed a lake on the south end of campus, which is just south of Orlando. During the day, students played tennis, soccer, golf, and paintball on the grounds or canoed on the pristine water. At night, however, the campus' remote areas became popular spots for students looking to hook up or do drugs.
Therefore, they were off-limits to Susan unless a staff member accompanied her. Already, in January, she had been hospitalized after smoking marijuana laced with methamphetamine that she and a friend had bought off-campus. Following that incident, the school had promised Susan's parents it would monitor her more closely -- and even imposed a strict 9:30 curfew. Her mother demanded constant adult supervision of her daughter. "Susan is a follower and will not make the correct choice on her own," she warned.