Meth Makes Winter Deadly for Young Couple

On Jan. 4, 2005, Janelle Hornickel and her boyfriend, Michael Wamsley, both 20, were heading home to their apartment in Omaha, Neb., when they got caught in a snowstorm.

Over the course of the evening the couple made a series of bizarre, frantic phone calls to 911 asking for help in finding their way home.

At one point, Wamsley said they had come across hundreds of bystanders who didn't speak English. Hornickel said others were taking cars apart and putting them in the trees.

The couple also left their truck, which still had a half-tank of gas, warm clothes and Wamsley's cell phone. It was minus 10 degrees with the wind chill.

Wamsley's body was found the next day. Six days later, authorities found Hornickel's body. Both had frozen to death.

The 911 dispatchers receiving the couple's phone calls that night had no idea what was happening. But authorities now know the young couple was high on crystal meth -- a super-concentrated form of methamphetamine, a drug that has become a scourge of Middle America.

A small amount of crystal meth, 90 percent pure, was found in the couple's truck and both tested positive for meth at levels that indicate they had taken the drug some two to three days before they called 911.

The Star Student and the Boy of Her Dreams

Hornickel, a college junior at Creighton University in Omaha, seemed to have it all. She was a member of a sorority, she was in a business fraternity and she had a job.

Her family in rural Ord, Neb., said she was a star student and athlete. She was in the drama club, sang in the choir and was a cheerleader.

She also had a devoted boyfriend, Wamsley, whom she had known since the seventh grade.

"He was great. They were always together. Janelle would get up at 5 in the morning, every morning, to talk to him on the phone before he went to work," said Danielle Schuitz, one of Hornickel's former college roommates.

But Wamsley was different. He had dropped out of high school, and his older brother Chris says he suspected his brother was using drugs and even confronted him about using crystal meth.

"Honestly, I'm pretty sure he's tried it before," Chris Wamsley said. "He's made comments to me about trying different drugs."

Chris Wamsley says he gave his brother a warning around Thanksgiving. "I told him, 'Whatever you're on Michael, think about it in the long run,' " he said.

The Trees Above the Mandalay

When Wamsley and Hornickel first sought the help of authorities on the night they died, they were not immediately suspected to be drug users.

They were pulled over in the small town of Geneva at 7:30 in the evening for failing to signal. They told the officer they were lost, and received a warning ticket and directions to the highway.

They were 120 miles from their apartment in Omaha. Five hours later, at 12:30 a.m., and 23 miles from home, their truck spun off the road. Hornickel called 911 and painted a bizarre picture for the dispatcher.

"There's a lot of Mexicans and African-Americans and they're all dressed up in, like, these cult outfits, and they're moving all the vehicles," she said.

She said people were taking the cars apart and putting them in the trees. She gave their location as "Trees above the Mandalay" -- the Mandalay apartments in Omaha.

But authorities were confused. Her cell phone signal was coming from Sarpy County, Neb., not Omaha. Nevertheless, they sent police to the Mandalay and found nothing.

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