LEWISTON, Maine — It has become "Scotty's Tree."
Doris Croteau-Robinson named it that in memory of her 17-year-old son, a star athlete and national honors student whose body was found there a couple of weeks ago. Scott Croteau had put a noose around his neck and shot himself in the head with a handgun --his limp body hanging from one of the tree's umbrella-like branches.
Four days after the ghastly discovery, Croteau-Robinson visited the 20-foot choke cherry tree, whose fruit is as bitter as the pain of her son's suicide.
She came with her mother and two sisters. They were all shaking and holding each other and Croteau-Robinson's legs were giving out on her.
"I wanted to feel the closeness with Scott," she said. "I felt the ground. I just wanted to feel where he was last. I really felt his presence. I did not want to think what he looked like at the time of his death. Right away, I prayed God to remove that thought. It's too horrid."
She pinned a long-stemmed rose to the tree with this note: "To my beloved son Scotty, W/all my love. Your Mom. XOXOXO."
She also left a dime in a yellow manila envelope.
"Because Scott, when he was a youngster, had a dime, and he wanted to get me something with it," she explained. "So now, all the dimes I get as change, I put Scotty's dimes in a little pot at home."
"Scotty's Tree" has become a symbol of tragedy and mystery, a memorial for the Lewiston High School football co-captain and scholar, a magnet drawing the curious, the sad and the stunned to the wooded site behind a small shopping plaza. It is only 500 yards from his brick home on the outer edge of downtown Lewiston, and directly behind a drugstore.
Hundreds of people from this central Maine mill town of 40,000--friends and strangers--have flocked to the site, their eyes fixed to the tree and the many letters, notes, photos, footballs and flowers left there.
"Dear Scott," said one letter from senior Derek Levesque, "You will be missed by people who knew you and by people who didn't know you. Fellow students looked up to you as a role model and person who had everything going for him as a star football co-captain and as the all-American student . . . "
The visitors stare at the remnants of a branch of the tree from which Scott was suspended nine feet above the ground. They cry. They pray. They try to make some sense of it, to grasp how short life can be.
"A lot of people feel if it would be their son, they want to know what happened," said Jeannette St. Amand, explaining why she had come.
"He became everybody's grandson," said her friend, Gil Desmarais.
"Yes, he became everybody's son and grandson," said Mrs. St. Amand.
"Nobody believes it," said Mrs. Desmarais.
"No, no," her friend replied.
Even after the funeral on Sept. 22, they continued to come, walking from the plaza's parking lot along a path to "Scotty's Tree," pushing the underbrush aside.
"To find some sense of closure, to find live things and get it stuck in my head, because it was really unbelievable," explained Anne Bissonnette, a classmate who went to the tree after Scott's funeral.
Scott Croteau had it all as co-captain of the high school football team and as a national honors student recruited by 40 colleges. His classmates and the town adored him.
"A great guy to be around," said Melissa Filion, a 17-year-old classmate.
"He had everything going for him. He didn't seem to have any problems," said Renee Sheltra, a 15-year-old sophomore.
But Scott's smile, the charm and the good looks masked a torment inside that few seemed to detect until it was too late, his relatives said. His mother said she was the one thing missing in his life.
"To me, Scotty felt lots of pain not having his mother around," said Croteau-Robinson, a recovering alcoholic with a police record for petty crimes, including shoplifting liquor. She lost custody of Scott and his older brother, Brian, in a bitter divorce in 1983. Scott was only 5 years old then. Both parents remarried, only to divorce again.
On Thursday, Sept. 7, the day that No. 42 had his photo taken wearing his blue-and-white football jersey for the senior class yearbook--the day Scott told his co-captain he wanted to win the state championship--a tragedy was in the making. But there was no warning, relatives, school officials and classmates say.
Scott returned home from football practice that evening and had dinner with his father, Ron Croteau, a sales manager at a car dealership who had been given custody. Scott watched "Seinfeld" on television, said good night and went to his bedroom about 10 p.m.
The next morning, Sept. 8, the day of the big home opening football game, his co-captain, Jason Auger, came by to pick him up. But Scott already was gone from his room. The light was on and Tyson, the kitten he loved so much, was lying on his bed.
When Scott didn't show up for school, his father called the police. His disappearance set off a 10-day search that ended Sept. 17, under the cherry tree.