Authorities Detail the 8-Page Note, Axe and Handcuffs Found by Cheerleader’s 19-Year-Old Suspected Killer After His Suicide
In the minutes after Texas investigators watched 19-year-old college student Paul Audrey Adams shoot himself in the head, they discovered a handwritten suicide note apologizing to the family of the 14-year-old high school cheerleader he was secretly dating — whom he had allegedly killed hours earlier.
“He didn’t know their names, but he was sorry for what had taken place,” Jasper County, Texas, Sheriff’s Lt. Ryan Cunningham tells PEOPLE.
Adams’ note was written on eight index cards, found on top of his phone and “neatly stacked and weighed down” with a knife on the hood of his white ’94 Toyota Corolla, Cunningham says.
Yellow and purple flowers were also placed underneath the knife.
“He was waiting for us to show up,” Cunningham says. “He just didn’t know when we were coming.”
Adams, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the side of his head, didn’t sign his note. “It was kind of like he just ended his sentence,” Cunningham says.
Investigators found the Lamar State College nursing student lying next to his Corolla along an irrigation canal east of Vidor, Texas, where he had set up a tent.
From left: Tristan Dilley and Paul Audrey AdamsChristopher Dilley/Facebook; Paul Adams/Facebook
Paul Adams’ suicide noteJasper County Sheriff’s Office
Authorities say he killed himself on the morning of Oct. 2, less than a day after he is suspected of fatally shooting Silsbee High School cheerleader Tristan Dilley in her second-floor bedroom at her mother’s home in Buna, Texas.
Tristan had been shot twice in the head with a .22-caliber magnum revolver, two days before her 15th birthday.
Her brother found her the night of Oct. 1 lying on top of her bed, clothed, in a large pool of blood. Her mother thought she’d been sleeping.
In the days following Tristan’s death, investigators have released more details about what was found at Adams’ campsite, where he killed himself after being cornered by law enforcement.
Among his belongings, authorities say, were an axe, a machete, a couple of hatchets, four camping knives, 32 meal rations, four cases of water, four burlap sacks, duct tape and eight sets of handcuffs — and his suicide note.
Lt. Cunningham, who worked alongside Jasper County Sheriff Mitch Newman and Lts. Scotty Duncan, Jason McClelland and Cal Morgan, says Adams also purchased two dumbbells weighing 70 lbs.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Some of the belongings, including an axe and hatchets, found at a campsite near where Paul Adams’ killed himself.Jasper County Sheriff’s Office
Some of the belongings, including handcuffs, found at a campsite near where Paul Adams’ killed himself.Jasper County Sheriff’s Office
Adams began to buy the items, mostly from the local Wal-Mart, in the week before Tristan’s slaying, Cunningham says, raising the possibility of premeditation.
“He spent around $1,500 or $1,600,” Cunningham says. In addition, investigators also found $570 in cash at the campsite as well as an anatomy book, which would not be unusual by itself given what Adams was studying in school.
Cunningham suspects Adams may have planned to dismember and dispose of Tristan’s body in the nearby canal — which is “pretty deep for sinking stuff” — though he says Adams’ true intention is unconfirmed.
‘Text Me Later and Tell Me What’s All Going On’
The sheriff’s investigation into Tristan’s death began the night of Oct. 1, not long after her body was found. Investigators quickly ruled out a break-in and began to suspect she knew her killer.
The teen, who had stayed with friends the night before, was home alone that day while her mom ran errands. Her body was found shortly after 7 p.m. According to Cunningham, authorities believe she was killed sometime after 3:30 p.m.
Investigators discovered that at the time of her death, Tristan had been dating a 16-year-old boy named “Adam.”
But after searching through Tristan’s phone and Facebook, they learned Adam’s true identity was 19-year-old Adams, who lived in nearby Vidor with his parents, and that Tristan’s parents had no idea she was dating the older teen.
It remains unclear how long the teens knew each other or how they first met, according to Cunningham.
Paul Adams’ carJasper County Sheriff’s Office
Meal rations were among the belongings found at a campsite near where Paul Adams killed himself.Jasper County Sheriff’s Office
However, it does appear that Tristan and Adams may have known each other for at least a month and had corresponded through Facebook during Hurricane Harvey.
According to social media activity by Facebook users with their same names and photos, Adams posted a plea for help and photos of his house flooded with water from the storm. Tristan, along with others, attempted to get him emergency assistance.
“I think someone’s on there way,” Tristan wrote in one exchange.
“We are being rescued now thank,” Adams answered.
“Your welcome,” she responded. “Text me later and tell me what’s all going on.”
Police say on the day of Tristan’s killing, there were messages between her and Adams showing they were planning to meet at her mom’s house.
The investigation into who killed Tristan proceeded rapidly and, after obtaining evidence of a relationship between Tristan and Adams, investigators started looking for him themselves.
“I called dispatch and had them start pinging his cellphone,” Cunningham said. “We put out a BOLO out for him in the surrounding area. We were able to get a general location of the cellphone and we learned of his address,” in Vidor.
Authorities arrived there about 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 2, but Adams wasn’t home. His mother said he’d left the afternoon before, about 3:30, to meet “some girl in Beaumont he met at school,” Cunningham said.
“Both kids were deceiving the parents,” he said. “He [Adams] knew he was too old to be seeing the child.”
• PEOPLE’s special edition True Crime Stories: 35 Real Cases That Inspired the Show Law & Order is on sale now.
Some of the belongings, including two weights, found at a campsite near where Paul Adams’ killed himself.Jasper County Sheriff’s Office
The gun Paul Adams used to kill himself.Jasper County Sheriff’s Office
‘Everything Lines Up’
At 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 2, detectives got a call from a Texas Ranger who told them he had gone back to interview Adams’ mother and was talking to her when Adams called her, Cunningham previously told PEOPLE.
“The Ranger listened for a few minutes and took the phone,” he said. “He tried to get Paul to come in and speak to us, but he didn’t want to come in.”
Cunningham alleged that, in that phone conversation, Adams admitted to the Ranger he’d been over at Tristan’s house the day she died when they heard an intruder coming upstairs.
“He gave a description of an older white male with a beard,” Cunningham said. “He said he hid in the shower and he could hear Tristan screaming, ‘Get off of me.’
“He said he heard two gunshots and heard the man running out of the house. He waited a couple of minutes and then found Tristan dead and he didn’t know what else to do, so he ran.”
After Adams told the Ranger this story, the Ranger then “heard a distinct gunshot and he believed Paul had shot himself,” Cunningham said.
He said authorities started searching for Adams when they came upon a tent and his Corolla next to the canal. They were about 150 yards away from the vehicle and continuing to approach when they saw Adams — and saw him reach for a gun.
Cunningham says part of the suicide note they found reiterated Adams’ statement that he had nothing to do with Tristan’s murder.
“It states in there that he didn’t know what else to do but run, and talking to law enforcement wouldn’t do any good because we would believe what we wanted to believe,” he says. “He didn’t want to go to prison and it was better to die.”
Cunningham says investigators found a .22-caliber magnum revolver at Adams’ campsite. Although ballistic tests have yet to be conducted, Cunningham says they are certain it is the same gun used to kill Tristan.
“There were three spent rounds,” he says. “She had two gunshots to the head and he had one. It was a .22-caliber that killed him and her. Everything lines up.”
Despite the evidence against Adams implicating him as the killer, the extent of his relationship with Tristan remains unknown, as does what may have motivated him to violence.
“It was senseless, and it makes no sense,” Cunningham has said. “There are so many questions we can’t answer. We will never know what was going on in his mind and what was said between them.”
Tristan’s funeral was held Saturday in Buna, according to her obituary, in which she was remembered as an athletic student and “a very kind, sweet and compassionate young lady who was loved by so many.” (Efforts to reach her family directly have been unsuccessful.)
Last week, Tristan’s cheerleading coach, Danielle Wehmeyer, mourned her “unimaginable” death.
“Tristan is the type of person when she’s gone, you feel the void,” Wehmeyer told PEOPLE. “What has happened to Tristan is unimaginable and has shaken our team to its very core. My girls will miss their teammate, their sister, and their friend. I will miss my cheerleader.”
The case, Cunningham says, is now closed.