WESLEY CHAPEL — After she got off the phone with the detective, Susan Wood went into her dead son's room to tell him the news: The young man wanted for his shooting had been caught.
Derek Pieper was 17 when he died two years ago. Wood hasn't sprayed her son's favorite cologne, Hugo Boss, for months now, but she could smell it, strongly, as she sat on his bed just after midnight Monday and cried.
She called Pieper's cell phone, which was still on after all this time, but held as evidence by detectives in the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
"Derek," Wood said, sobbing as she left a voice mail message. "I love you and I miss you."
The hunt for Luc Pierre-Charles, the man authorities say gunned down Pieper and his friend Raymond Veluz more than two years ago, ended late Monday night. Six weeks after naming him one of America's most wanted fugitives, U.S. marshals closed the net on Pierre-Charles. They found him hiding in a relative's house in Brevard County, crouched between the bed and the wall, partly concealed under some dirty clothes.
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Pieper and Veluz were murdered July 28, 2006, on a dirt road in Trilby, 25 miles from their Wesley Chapel homes. Both were students at Wesley Chapel High School. Pieper was a lacrosse player and Veluz, 18, was a new student.
According to detectives, Pieper had gotten mixed up with a bad crowd. His mom and stepdad, Steven Wood, said in the weeks before their son died he wasn't sleeping and was scared, but he wouldn't tell them what was wrong. They said they found out later that he had befriended some rough kids at school who carried guns. Pieper, they said, wanted out. Susan Wood said the teens asked him to help them kill a rival drug dealer.
Sheriff's officials say that on the night the two died, Pieper and Veluz left a party in Wesley Chapel to buy marijuana. Their bodies were found face down the next morning in Trilby. They were shot multiple times in the back.
Because of a fear of reprisal, few witnesses came forward. Then earlier this summer, witnesses decided to speak and detectives had enough information to get first-degree murder warrants for Tyree Jenkins, 22, and Luc Pierre-Charles, 20, both former students at Wesley Chapel High.
Jenkins was picked up on a traffic violation in Hillsborough County less than an hour after the warrant was filed in the system. Recently he also was charged with another murder in Tampa.
Pierre-Charles, whose yearbook photo appeared next to Pieper's, had been a fugitive since May 14 — before the murder charges were filed — when a Pasco deputy stopped him for a Polk County home invasion arrest warrant. Pierre-Charles escaped from the back of the cruiser, according to a sheriff's report, assaulted the deputy, shrugged off a Taser blast and got away.
"He's been moving around from house to house, family member to family member perhaps," Sheriff Bob White said of Pierre-Charles' movements since then.
In August, Pierre-Charles was added to the U.S. Marshals' 15 Most Wanted List and his profile was posted on the America's Most Wanted Web site. There was a $25,000 reward for information leading to his capture and arrest.
Wood feared Pierre-Charles could hide for years. She worried he or his friends might come for the rest of her family.
At church with her husband on Sunday, Wood went to the front of the chapel and prayed for help in catching Pierre-Charles. Please, God, let there be justice.
On Monday, the U.S. Marshals got a tip that Pierre-Charles might be in hiding at a relative's house in Rockledge. They found him in a bedroom. Pierre-Charles refused to go quietly. He was shot with a Taser and arrested on two warrants for first-degree murder.
He is being held at the Brevard County Jail.
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Tuesday afternoon, Wood was groggy. She slept a little bit that morning, but forced herself to stay up. She wanted to see Pierre-Charles' face on the news, another thing to make this real.
Soon, she and her husband will go to the quiet dirt road where Derek and Raymond's bodies were found. They've made a memorial there, with crosses and flowers and solar-powered lamps. When they were there a few days ago, a sudden strong breeze blew.
"Do you feel that?" Steven Wood said.
"Yes," Susan Wood said, and both of them knew what the other was thinking — that it was Derek. The wind felt warm and good, like a hug, and Susan Wood leaned into it, wanting it to last.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609. Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.