Drew Peterson's Son to Graduate Valedictorian

Son Tom Peterson thrives, despite death of mother, father's murder charges.

ByABC News
March 21, 2011, 10:49 AM

March 21, 2011— -- 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?"