July 14, 2008 12:00 PM

The crime was as violent and horrific as it was seemingly senseless. In the early morning hours of May 12, 2007, an intruder burst into the home of the Haines family, in Manheim Township, Pa., and stabbed to death father Tom, 50, mother Lisa, 47, and their son Kevin, 16. Only older daughter Maggie—asleep at the time—managed to escape. A month later police arrested Alec Kreider, now 17, one of Kevin’s closest friends. But the question remained: why had he done it? On June 17 Kreider, showing no remorse and offering no explanation, pled guilty to the murders and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. In a video statement shown in court that day, Maggie, now 21, spoke movingly of her family and what Kreider had taken from her: “It’s really hard to wake up every morning knowing that I am the only one left.”

Even a year later, that same sense of stunned bewilderment still pervades Manheim Township, a short drive from Amish country. “Nobody really wants to talk about it at school, because it still hurts,” says Rachel Hoh, 17, who was friends with both Kevin and Alec. “People cry about it all the time.” But at least in recent weeks and months, residents have begun to gain some insight into what possibly motivated Kreider, who had no prior history of violence, and whether the tragedy could have been averted. District Attorney Craig Stedman says that while many students found Kreider “dark,” “cynical” or “arrogant,” and at least one harbored the suspicion that he might someday “do a Columbine,” no one saw any clear sign that he was on the verge of a murderous frenzy. “But if someone would have had access to all of the surveys together,” says Stedman, “what he ended up doing would not have been a great surprise.”

The most compelling clue to Kreider’s inner turmoil is a journal he started keeping shortly before his arrest. The journal, excerpts from which were obtained exclusively by PEOPLE, is by turns grandiose, pathetic and chilling. With the murders less than a month old, Kreider blithely talks about his infatuation with one girl at school, and how he wants to “throw a cookout/get together” for her and other buddies. In another spot he casually mentions how his “want/need to kill people” had “increased.” He writes elsewhere, “I don’t know if God wanted me to hate so much but things have been very hateful lately.” Nowhere does he voice any regret over killing Kevin—whom he stabbed 11 times—or his parents.

Dr. Louis B. Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, points to one telling passage in the journal: “I hated happy people,” Kreider writes, “they make me sick.” While Kreider’s parents were divorced, which he clearly struggled with, the Haineses, whose house he visited regularly, were widely seen as an uncommonly close and loving family. “He may have been jealous because they were happy and normal,” says Schlesinger. “Alec may have become very, very angry at that. There’s a reason he did this; nobody does anything for nothing.”

Kreider’s erratic behavior helped lead to his arrest. Three weeks after the murders, he threatened suicide during a phone call with a friend, which prompted his parents to have him committed to Philhaven, a psychiatric hospital, for treatment of depression. Around the same time, authorities received two anonymous tips implicating Kreider. In one the tipster said that Kreider bragged he could “get away with” the murder. In the meantime, while in the institution, Kreider confessed to his father, Timothy, that he had killed the Haineses. Stedman ultimately negotiated a deal under which the parents would cooperate with the investigation.

Last fall Maggie, who lives now with her aunt and uncle, returned to Bucknell University. But in her video statement, she said, “There were days I had to skip class because I couldn’t stop crying about my family.” She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and feels deep guilt that she wasn’t able to protect Kevin. “That’s what big sisters do,” she said. As it was, she only escaped when she heard a commotion and went into her parents’ bedroom, where her mother—who had suffered a mortal stab wound to the stomach—managed to tell her daughter to go for help. Maggie was able to flee out the front door and get to the neighbor’s. And the echoes of that blood-curdling fear have stayed with her ever since. She told the court that even with Kreider behind bars, she has found it impossible to feel safe. “Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night to a strange sound, that someone has broken in and will murder me,” she said. “Even though it is probably the wind, this feeling of sheer terror can take hours to go away.”

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