Courtesy Michelle Carter/Facebook; Courtesy Conrad Roy/Facebook
March 09, 2015 12:00 PM

Michelle Carter referred to Conrad Roy III as her boyfriend. But the 18-year-old behaved in a manner that has left Roy’s close friends and family grasping for answers in the wake of his suicide.

“You did not fail him, even a little bit,” Carter wrote to Conrad’s mom, Lynn, 12 days after the teen from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, was found in his pickup truck last July 13, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“You tried your hardest, I tried my hardest, everyone tried their hardest to save him. But he had his mind set on taking his life, there was nothing anyone could do to save him no matter how hard they tried.”

Police disagree. They discovered Carter’s written admission to a friend that she told Roy to “get back in” his truck during a phone call in which he told Carter that he was scared and didn’t want to abandon his family. And last month, authorities charged Carter, also 18, with involuntary manslaughter.

The allegation – denied by Carter’s parents and a family attorney, who say she’s innocent and was overwhelmed by Roy’s suicidal talk leading to his action – has shocked those whose initial sadness over Roy’s loss has turned to anger.

“Conrad was the type of guy who was always there for his friends,” Evelyn Murdock, 18, tells PEOPLE. “He would tell them not to hurt themselves if they were thinking of doing something like that. He was there for everyone, which is what makes this so ironic.”

“I’m a little more forgiving than some people, because I feel bad for Michelle,” Murdock says. “But people are angry. A lot of people are mad at her, because she did something that you can’t change. It’s not like she just sent him a mean text. She encouraged him to kill himself, and how can someone do it?”

“In the moment that he needed a friend the most, when he needed the most help, she did the opposite. She’ll have to live with that for the rest of her life.”

Louie Pina, 19, counted Roy as one of his best pals. Even so, Pina says he didn’t meet Carter until she came up to him last fall at a softball fundraiser that she helped organize in Roy’s memory.

“I didn’t even know who she was,” Pina says. “She was just like a random face. She was talking to me and my friends like there was nothing wrong.”

After the revelation of Carter’s role, however, Pina says he struggles with the idea that anyone could have encouraged Roy’s death.

“I’ve been thinking about that nonstop,” he tells PEOPLE. “I don’t know how someone, after knowing what they did, could play it off like they did nothing wrong. And how someone can organize an event in his name, claiming to have all this love for him, knowing they were a big part of why he did what he did.”

“If he talked to me, I know he’d still be with us right now. If he talked to anyone other than her, he’d still be here.”

Asked by police if Roy had a girlfriend when he died, his family members said no. Roy’s friends also were befuddled by Carter’s claim that she was a relationship with Roy.

But even Roy’s mother acknowledged to an investigator that Carter’s emails to her after her son died showed that Carter had an insight and sway over her son that Roy’s mother did not know Carter possessed, according to police.

The two had met several years ago while on separate vacations to Florida. Carter was the granddaughter of a Roy family friend. Although they lived about an hour apart – Roy in Fairhaven, and Carter in Plainville, Massachusetts – they continued to stay in touch mostly through calls, emails and texts, Roy’s family and friends say.

Those friends describe Roy as a popular, funny athlete with clear goals: He recently had earned his sea captain’s license, and hoped to one day take over a family marine towing and salvage business. He’d also told Pina that he’d applied and been accepted to Fitchburg State University.

But Roy’s father, Conrad Roy Jr., told Detective Scott Gordon of the Fairhaven Police that his son suffered from anxiety, “so much so that they had difficulty getting him to go to school and into the classroom with other kids,” Gordon wrote in a police report. Roy had canceled his planned move to Fitchburg.

To his parents, Roy was quiet and spent a lot of time at home. He was taking antidepressants. His father said that leading up to his suicide, his son didn’t want to go to work and “was always struggling and depressed but he got through it and he didn’t complain too much about it,” Gordon wrote.

Roy’s closest friends knew that Roy had tried to kill himself previously.

Says Pina: “Whenever I used to ask him about it, he would never give me details about it. I don’t think he ever really felt comfortable opening up about that. I told him, ‘I know it’s like an uncomfortable thing to talk about.’ I just told him if he ever needed someone to talk to, he should never feel like he was alone, and should just ask.”

Apparently Roy found that confidante in Carter. Although Roy’s father told police he “didn’t know too much” about the girl or her friendship with his son, the younger Roy told his father “she was going through a tough time too.” The elder Roy thought his son said the girl’s struggle “was related to anorexia or bulimia or something similar,” according to a police report.

Where their shared compassion and concern for each other took a turn, police don’t know. What they do know: On July 10, two days before Roy left his mother’s home for the final time to kill himself, Carter began texting and emailing others, stating – at a time when she knew otherwise – that Conrad was missing.

That day police say she texted a friend of hers, Samantha Boardman: “Is there any way a portable generator can kill you somehow? Because he said he has that and some other tools at the store, he said he needed to replace the generator at work and fix stuff. I didn’t really think anything of it, but he didn’t go to work today so (I don’t know) why he would have got that stuff.”

According to police, at 9:22 p.m. on July 11, Carter texted a friend: “Still haven’t found him. I’m a mess.”

At 10:51 pm, another friend texted Carter, asking: “Did they find him.”

Carter responded: “Thank you for asking, but no not yet. Im losing all hope that he’s even still alive.”

Just prior to that reply, however, Carter sent Conrad a message that said, “Let me know when you’re gonna do it,” according to police.

Carter then sent her friend another message, stating: “Yeah, he’s been missing since Wednesday night when u guys slept over. He hasn’t called or talked to me or anyone since. I just don’t understand, he didn’t even tell me. Like we were supposed to hangout today and he knew that.”

According to police: “She continued to send similar messages to both (her friends) continuing to mislead them into believing that Conrad had already gone missing. It is believed that Carter acted in this way because she was planning to continue to encourage Conrad to take his own life, so as a result she was beginning to put together a plan to get sympathy from her friends, which was evident because at this point she already started explaining that it’s her fault that Conrad is dead, even though he was still alive and speaking and texting with her regularly.”

On July 12, Carter texted her friend Samantha Boardman: “Sam he just called me and there was a loud noise like a motor and I heard moaning like someone was in pain and he wouldn’t answer when I said his name I stayed on the phone for like 20 mins and that’s all I heard.”

(She would later write to that same friend: “His death was my fault he got out of the car, and I told him to get back in because I knew he would do it all over again the next day.”)

After the discovery of Roy’s body on July 13 inside his pickup parked outside a Kmart, Carter texted that friend again on July 21: “And I just got off the phone with Conrads mom about 20 mins ago and she told me that detectives had to come and go thru his things and stuff. Its something they have to do with suicides and homicides. And she said they have to go thru his phone and see if anyone encouraged him to do it on texts and stuff … Sam they read my messages with him I’m done. … His family will hate me and I could go to jail.”

Four days after that text, on July 25, Carter wrote to Roy’s mom that she had “never tried harder at something in my life,” to stop Roy from taking his own life.

“He was the most important person in the world to me, I saw my life with him,” Carter wrote. “I wish things could be so different now too, but you need to know that it’s not your fault. It’s hard to believe it now, and it may be for a while, but it’s something that you need to let yourself accept and believe, or else you will never truly live again. If anything, it’s my fault. And it’s something I’ll never forgive myself for. ”

With reporting by STEVE HELLING

For more on the case against Michelle Carter, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

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