Tom Peterson has surpassed all conventional odds. He endured the trauma of his mother's death, then accusations that his father killed her.
In June, the 18-year-old Peterson will graduate first in his class of 817 students as valedictorian at Bolingbrook High School in Illinois.
He is the son of Drew Peterson -- the man accused of murdering two of his four wives, including Tom's mother, Kathleen Salvio.
Tom has maintained a GPA above 4.0 and hopes to study neuroscience at Harvard University, among other elite colleges, according to an interview in the Chicago Tribune.
Tom Peterson was 11 when his mom was found dead in an empty bathtub at their Bolingbrook home in 2004, just before his parents' divorce was finalized. He has said he believes she died of an accidental drowning.
His father, now 57, is awaiting trial. Drew Peterson is also the prime suspect in the disappearance of his later wife, Stacey Peterson.
"After she died, it was by far the worst moment in my life," Tom told the Tribune. "I realized life was not the fairy tale I thought it was. So, after that, nothing really seemed to affect me emotionally, I guess. That's, honestly, how I'm getting through all this, just because nothing could have been worse than that."
"We do see resilience like this," said Christine Courtois, a counseling psychologist from Washington, D.C., who specializes in children who have survived trauma. "I have seen in my case load, people who compensated for terrible things that happened to them and even have drawn inspiration."
"There are different trajectories that come out of people with bad childhoods," said Courtois.
Tom Peterson tells the newspaper that he scores "off the chart" on psychological stress quizzes -- the product of a divorce and loss of a parent, not to mention alleged murder.
"I felt like, 'Wow, I must be a wreck right now," he said. "I must be an emotional disaster,' you know?"
Tom was only 14 in October 2007 when his father's fourth wife, Stacey Peterson went missing. He and his brother Kristopher, then 12, were thrust into the limelight dodging television cameras, ogling neighbors and hate mail.
But today, according to his Facebook page, Tom is in a serious relationship, has been involved in his high school's marching band, math team and tennis club. He says he loves computers and, with some parallels to his own life, perhaps, the book, "Outsiders" -- a coming of age novel about young teens and violence.
Tom Peterson is likely doing well because he has support from family and friends. "That makes a difference," said Courtois. "This young man has a lot of intelligence and is able to make his own sense out of things and find meaning."
One high-profile survivor is Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron, who was only 15 when her mother killed her father in self-defense in their native South Africa.
Uxoricide, or parental homicide, affects an estimated 3,000 annually in the United States, according to a study at University of Virginia School of Nursing.
"These kids are caught in the middle," said Richard H. Steeves, who with co-researchers Barbara Parker and Kathryn Laughon, began a study on the lasting effects of domestic homocide in 2002. "It's hard for them to think the person supposed to be the protector of the family -- usually it's the man who does the killing -- did it."
"That means, 'I am the son of a killer,' they say," said Steeves.