When Deserae Turner messaged a boy she knew, her life changed forever.
O￼ne evening, in February last year, April and Matt Turner faced every parent’s worst nightmare. Their 14-year-old daughter Deserae hadn’t come home from school. A keen saxophone player who loved to ride horses, her disappearance was out of character. So the worried couple raised the alarm.
Police launched a search, asking April and Matt to stay home until there was news. Knowing the wait would be agonising, friends and family members jumped in to join the search party. Keen to help, Sue Hintze, Deserae’s former teacher, and Christy Layne, her old daycare worker, both set out into the night. By now it was after 11pm. Scouring social media for clues, Sue noticed a comment saying Deserae’s phone had shown activity in an area called Sky View. Although it had already been searched, the pair decided to head there for a second look at an old canal that had dried up.
Flashing their torches and calling her name, they each searched an opposite bank. Suddenly, they heard a strange sound. It was a moan. Shining their lights into the ditch they were shocked to see Deserae lying motionless on the canal bed. Had she fallen or collapsed? Christy jumped in and tried to warm the freezing teen. Her face was distorted and swollen, but she was alive. Sue called emergency services while Christy called April. Putting the anxious mum on loudspeaker, she let Deserae hear her voice.‘The way Des responded to her mother’s voice was something I will never forget,’ Christy later told her local paper, the Herald Journal. The teen seemed to get stronger as she listened to April’s comforting words. Rushing to her side, April joined Deserae in the ambulance as she was raced to hospital suffering from hypothermia and a head injury. After medics examined Deserae, the horrifying truth emerged. The teen had a bullet in her brain.
Matt and April struggled to understand what had happened. Who could have shot their precious girl? Why would anyone want her dead? With Deserae having no memory of the attack, detectives had to piece together what had happened. The trail led them to two teenage boys, Colter Peterson and Jayzon Decker. Two years older than Deserae, she counted them as friends. Chillingly, when officers searched Decker’s room, they found a bullet casing on his window, displayed as a trophy. It was during police interviews that the truth began to emerge.
Peterson revealed he’d received messages from Deserae on social media, including Snapchat. He said he’d got ‘tired’ of her, and had told Decker how he’d felt. That’s when Decker had suggested it would be easy to ‘get rid’ of Deserae. As the pair played video games, they hatched a plot to kill. The story seemed unbelievable. Could they really have planned to murder a girl just because they found her messages annoying? Luring Deserae to the canal after school, they planned to slit her throat. However, they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Decker told Deserae a tale about looking for a lost ring, but eventually she decided to go home. That’s when Peterson struck. Pulling out a hand gun, he fired a bullet into the back of her head. Afterwards, believing she was dying, the boys took her backpack. They stole money and went to buy snacks, also taking her iPod and phone. After the pair threw her bag in a bin, Decker went home with the bullet casing as a sick memento of the ‘killing’. But what they didn’t know was that Deserae wasn’t dead.
When Sue and Christy stumbled across her, she’d been lying alone in the bitter cold for eight hours. The determined volunteers had saved her life just in time. After two months of treatment, Deserae was allowed home. Remarkably, the bullet was still in her brain, with surgeons unable to safely remove it. The bullet, and fragments, left the teen with long-term health problems, including paralysis on one side and constant pain. She also lost much of her sight. Facing a press conference, brave Deserae said she was thankful to be alive.
In October last year, at the 1st District Court in Logan, US, Colter Danny Peterson, 17, pleaded guilty to aggravated attempted murder and robbery. In December at the same court, Jayzon Decker, also 17, pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder and obstruction of justice. The court heard Decker had encouraged Peterson to fire the gun and that the murder plot had indeed been sparked by social media messages. During his sentencing hearing, Peterson sobbed, ‘I will spend the rest of my life making up for this, with the hope that one day I will be forgiven.’ Facing him in court, Deserae explained how her life had been affected by his actions. ‘Welcome to hell. I have been here for a year now,’ she told him. ‘I hate what you did to me. I hate that I trusted you. Your life will be confined to a small room, and my life will also be confined.’ However, she told the judge she was more frightened of Decker, who had planned the murder.
Last month, both youths were sentenced to at least 15 years in jail, with the judge who jailed Decker describing Deserae as ‘indomitable’. Defiant, Deserae declared she would have her happy ending despite her injuries. ‘I’m tougher than a bullet,’ she said.