Last fall, Cameron Richard Terhune found out he couldn't join the Navy because of mental health problems and was under mounting family pressure to get his life on track, his friends said.
He was struggling to find a job and told people he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Terhune, 24, is now in jail awaiting trial in his parents' deaths. Diane Terhune, 56, and Ken Terhune, 65, were found shot to death in their Del Rio home Jan. 15. They had been killed two days earlier, according to court records.
Terhune has pleaded not guilty. He returns to court Friday.
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Several of Terhune's friends say he had never been violent, although he was "slipping mentally" after a recent series of disappointments: He dropped out of several colleges; had a disillusioning reunification with his birth parents; suffered romantic frustrations; and faced mounting mental health problems.
He told friends he struggled to control schizophrenia, migraines, depression and anxiety. They blame the medications he was prescribed for causing the violence.
"I don't think Cameron was in his right state of mind in January," said Candice Graves, 18, of Oakdale. "He's not a bad person. He loved his parents."
One family friend said Terhune's parents had started to pressure him to take more responsibility for his life and help pay for his most recent attempt at college. Terhune, the friend added, tended to blame others for his failures.
"It always seemed to be someone else's fault," the friend said. "He always told people what they wanted to hear. His parents finally stopped believing him."
Diana Martinez, 22, of Oakdale said she argued with Terhune just days before the killings because he had been drinking while using prescription drugs.
Another friend said Terhune confessed to him one day after the killings.
"His words were, 'I broke up with my girlfriend and I killed my parents,' " said Paul Guerrero, 23, of Modesto. "He jokes around. I just thought maybe he was joking."
Guerrero said he has talked to Terhune in jail, and Terhune told him he doesn't remember the killings.
"He said he knew what he did by looking at it," Guerrero said. "He says he doesn't remember. I said, 'When did you think this was wrong?' "
Guerrero said Terhune responded, "When I stopped blacking out, I realized what I was doing was wrong. It was already too late. They were already on the ground."
Notebooks full of 'everything'
To his friends, Terhune was a giving person who never expected anything in return. He was passionate about making music, watching films and drawing. According to Jacob Andrew Dodge, 22, Terhune has filled more than 50 notebooks "full of his imagination, stories, real-life trauma, etc. Just everything."
But Terhune had a hard time making good choices. Friends described him as passive and reserved.
"Cameron's always struggled," Guerrero said. "He worked at different things, went to different places, and nothing ever worked out. Every time he would give his heart out, it would get stomped on. That's the type of person he was."
They described his relationship with his adoptive parents as respectful and affectionate.
"He never raised a hand to me or a voice to me in the three years we were together," said Martinez. "This is the first time he's ever had an outburst."
In July, Terhune signed up to join the Navy but was released from that obligation in the fall.
"He was really depressed about being discharged," said Martinez. "He said this was his last chance to succeed."
The years after Terhune graduated from high school were marked by a series of false starts.
In 2003, Terhune graduated from Modesto High School then attended California State University, Chico, for one semester. He went to Missouri for about six months and attended a community college there before coming back to California.
He lived in Ceres for about a year, according to Eric Wolford, a former roommate. Terhune delivered newspapers briefly for The Bee, Wolford said. They worked on recording and video editing and did the "post-high school thing."
Terhune took classes at Modesto Junior College and worked with Guerrero at Denny's. In 2006, he and Dodge moved to Los Angeles to attend a campus of the New York Film Academy.
Several clips have surfaced on YouTube depicting scenes from one of Terhune's film school projects called "We're All Zombies." Some of the videos show Terhune eating pizza covered with fake blood. Friends who knew about the project said an instructor assigned it, and the gore is not a sign of Terhune's mental state.
Terhune completed film school "all up through the last project, which he didn't do," according to Dodge. Martinez said Terhune told her film school "wasn't what he thought it would be."
In 2008, Guerrero said, Terhune decided to move to Georgia to get to know his birth parents. He worked at a golf course and a liquor store, but had trouble with the new relationships.
Terhune flew back to California in July, Guerrero said. He stayed in Modesto for two weeks then signed up for the Navy. About two months later, the Navy decided not to give him a position. Guerrero said Terhune was secretive about why it didn't work out.
'Not truly in the Navy'
Terhune had visited a recruiter in July, but was never a service member, said Lt. Cmdr. John Daniels, a Navy spokesman.
"He signed up but he never shipped off," Daniels said. "He was not truly in the Navy. He was not wearing the Navy uniform. He was under contract to join."
Daniels could not release further details about Terhune because of privacy laws, but spoke generally about the sign-up procedure. Recruits visit the processing station, undergo a medical screening and take an aptitude test to determine job placement. Then they wait for a spot in basic training.
Terhune's friends said his test results were stellar and that he was scheduled to go into the Navy's nuclear power program. Daniels could not confirm this.
According to Daniels, 59 days passed from when Terhune signed up until his "administration separation." He could not divulge why Terhune was released, but said there can be various reasons: a criminal violation, a medical problem, recreational drug use, acknowledging homosexuality.
Terhune's friends said the Navy let him go because of mental health problems. He had struggled with anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression.
When the Navy didn't work out, Terhune moved to Chicago for a couple of months to be with a woman. He also was diagnosed with schizophrenia, friends said he told them. A doctor prescribed a slew of medications for his treatment.
In October, he took the train back to California but was kicked off in Arizona when he had a seizure. He rode a bus to San Jose and was homeless for several days before his father drove out to bring him home.
Friends said Terhune didn't know what to do with himself when he returned from Chicago.
"He seemed really upset. He was a shadow of his former self," said Guerrero. He said Terhune was depressed because he couldn't find work.
Friends said the medications he was taking for anxiety and depression changed him.
"It wasn't him that killed his parents, it was the damn prescriptions that took him over the edge," wrote Guerrero in an e-mail to The Bee.
"He had told me before that he trips out when on the meds and feels even worse when he doesn't take them," Dodge wrote.
Martinez, an emergency medical technician, said she never noticed signs of schizophrenia.
"He had his ups and downs," she said. "If he was feeling down, he didn't talk. When he was up, he was more social. He would always try anything once."
When he wasn't taking his medication, Martinez said, Terhune could become "very secluded" and anxious. "
As fall became winter, things seemed to improve, said Guerrero. Terhune was getting along better with his parents and taking classes four days a week to get certified as a pharmacy technician. But Guerrero was busy with three jobs and 20 units at MJC, he said, and wasn't paying close attention.
On Jan. 10, three days before the Terhunes' deaths, Martinez said, she argued with Cameron Terhune when she learned he had been drinking heavily on New Year's Eve in addition to taking his medication.
Around the same time, Dodge wrote, he "received strange e-mails from him (Terhune) asking me if I knew what it was to be a man and that he would have to commit two unspeakable acts in order to be set free.' "
Dodge said he would not provide the e-mails to The Bee but had turned them over to authorities.
Detective Ken Hedrick of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department said he could not comment because the investigation remains open.
The family friend who wanted to remain anonymous said tensions grew throughout the holiday season. Ken and Diane Terhune asked Cameron to help pay for his pharmacy technician classes. Ken Terhune also told his son he was disappointed with him, the friend said.
Friend was sleeping on floor
On Jan. 14, Guerrero was at school when he got a call that Terhune was at his place. When he got home about 11 a.m. Terhune was sleeping on his floor.
"He was shaking, hungry, pale. I thought he got into a car accident," Guerrero said. "He looked at me and shook his head. He said, 'I can't talk about it.' And I said, 'Let's go for a drive.' "
About 10 minutes later, Guerrero said, Terhune told him he killed his parents. Guerrero said he thought Terhune was joking, or that he'd had a bad dream, and sent him home.
The next day, officers found the bodies. That night, police arrested Terhune when they found him sitting in a car on Floyd Avenue near Rose Avenue in northeast Modesto.
Guerrero said, before the killings, he remembers Terhune being warm toward his parents, hugging and kissing his mother. Terhune's dad, he said, co-signed for two college loans and bought him two cars. He remembers Terhune e-mailing him in all capital letters about his high score on the Navy test, saying how he wanted to succeed, to settle down with the right woman and make his parents proud.
"This wasn't Cameron who did this. He was just like everyone else. He was an A-plus student, really smart, kind of nerdy. He listened to rock, but he wasn't a dark person," Guerrero said. "He just couldn't keep the momentum going."
Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at 578-2235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.