This Teen Wanted to Be Popular. Did That Lead to Her Murder?

updated 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/14/2005 01:00AM

Popular, with a close group of friends, Sarah Kolb was the alpha girl at Black Hawk College Outreach Center, an alternative high school in East Moline, Ill. Adrianne Reynolds, 16, was the new girl who desperately wanted to be part of Sarah's circle. That led to conflict, like at a party one day in December. "Adrianne called me after and said, 'Sarah pulled a knife on me,' " says Adrianne's boyfriend, Andrew Polanchek, 17. "She said, 'Get the hell out of the house and stay away from me and my friends.' " Adrianne's reply, says Andrew: "Do what you need to do. Kill me. I don't care." Classmates at Black Hawk knew the two girls were at odds, but no one gave much thought to Sarah's threatening behavior. No one apparently told school authorities—or police.

Now it's too late. On Jan. 25 police discovered Adrianne's burned and dismembered body, and within two days Sarah, 16, and a friend, Cory Gregory, 17, were both charged with murder. The ghastly crime has this working-class town in northwest Illinois reeling. "This is a case I've lost sleep over. It's something that's bothered me," says Rock Island County prosecutor Jeff Terronez. Says Adrianne's mother, Carolyn Franco, 32: "These kids have no heart. All Adrianne wanted was for everybody to like her."

For much of Adrianne's short life, everybody did. Adopted by her grandmother and her then husband, Tony Reynolds, shortly after birth, Adrianne eventually moved back with Franco, a convenience store manager in Kilgore, Texas, who was 16 when Adrianne was born. The outgoing, talkative girl loved to sing and astonished family members with her touching rendition of "Amazing Grace." Her biggest dream, in fact, was to be on American Idol. "Unfortunately she was so focused on it that she didn't care for school too much," says Franco. Adrianne fell behind her classmates when she was 12, after suffering a burst appendix. Then, her mother says, she started running with a tough druggie crowd. In November she went to live with Reynolds in East Moline so she could get her GED, rather than go through four years of high school. Franco had another reason for letting her daughter go. "I sent her there thinking she would be safer," she says.

Adrianne enrolled in December at Black Hawk. Among the school's 80 students was Sarah, who lived with her mother, Kathy, and stepfather Darrin in Milan. Friends say Sarah was usually laid back but could be moody with a hair-trigger temper. "I've seen her get crazy, but I'd never seen her beat anybody up or say she'd kill somebody," says a former boyfriend, Josh Thurman, 16. "She'd say, 'I want to kick their ass,' but nothing serious."

Friends say the bubbly Adrianne quickly made friends at the school but was obsessed with gaining entrée into Sarah's clique, which included Cory and Sarah's boyfriend, Sean McKitrick, 16. Adrianne even cut her long hair and ditched pop and hip-hop music for heavy metal to fit in. "At school she'd always be somewhere near Sarah, just watching her," says Sarah's friend Betty Wilson, 16. Sarah, however, eventually grew weary of Adrianne, who some friends say had an unrequited crush on Kolb. At the same time, Wilson says, Adrianne "really ticked Sarah off" in early January, when she asked Cory out and expressed an interest in Sean.

According to friends, Sarah appeared to make up on Jan. 21, inviting Adrianne to join her, Cory and Sean for lunch at Taco Bell. But Sean later told friends that Sarah and Adrianne got into a fight on the way and, fearing trouble, he jumped out of the car. Police say Sarah and Cory then strangled and bludgeoned Adrianne to death. The two, say police, first tried to burn the body, then dismembered it with a saw and dumped parts at several rural locations. On Feb. 1 both Kolb and Cory pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges. (A third teen has also been charged in connection with the crime as a juvenile.) Attorney Steve Hanna says his client Cory "feels bad that he didn't exercise better judgment. He had no idea this was going to culminate in murder." That's small comfort to Franco. "I'm not even able to bury my daughter. They tell me they don't even have all of her," she sobs. "I believe in God, and I believe she is in a better place—but I would rather have her here with me."

Bob Meadows. Lauren Comander and Kelly Williams in East Moline, Noah Isackson in Rock Island, III., and Darla Atlas in Kilgore

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