EASTON -- As this small, picturesque town in Talbot County struggles to cope with a grisly triple homicide, friends and neighbors are asking themselves how an apparently normal teen-ager could be accused of killing his mother, stepfather and younger brother.
Michael Fisher, arrested Monday after his pre-dawn 911 call brought authorities to the family's home in a working-class neighborhood, has become a local enigma. He is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, Chris and Susan Fisher, and his 14-year-old brother, David -- crimes police say were committed with a claw hammer and a kitchen knife.
To his peers he was quiet but friendly. He liked playing with computers. He also was an enthusiastic player of fantasy games -- an interest his stepfather shared. A short story titled "Last Days of Life" he wrote in a school literary magazine last year shows an interest in science fiction.
To teachers and school administrators, he was a good student whose grades slipped just enough last semester to keep him off the honor roll. He wasn't interested in athletics, but enjoyed his computer classes and took a demanding schedule of classes.
To his pastor, he was a church member who had become less active of late, but was and is still a child of God -- the elder son of two faithful and active members of the Talbot Bible Church, an independent evangelical church with 340 congregants.
To his attorney, he's a "very young 16-year-old," whose "confession" as described by police may not have been legally obtained, she said, because no attorney or other adviser was present.
A neighbor, Caleb Yancey, 16, who lived next door to the Fishers, said, "He was outgoing."
He and Michael had been close friends until about a year ago when they drifted apart for no particular reason. Michael was a junior at Easton High School, Caleb a sophomore at a private school.
"I don't think he liked his stepfather much -- he said he didn't," Caleb said. "He didn't like his real father, but his real father bought him a lot of presents."
Kelly Griffith, principal at Easton Middle School, said she saw no problem between Michael and his stepfather, who was 27. Mrs. Fisher, 41, was a popular, active teacher at Easton Middle until she moved to Easton High School this year to teach science.
"Chris adopted the boys -- the boys were real excited about that," Ms. Griffith said. "I can still remember Michael being mad with me because we hadn't changed his records. He wanted to be a Fisher."
When he was a student at her school, Ms. Griffith said, Michael was a good student and always courteous to adults. Although well-spoken, he was less gregarious than his younger brother, she said.
At the church where the family attended services most Sunday mornings, there had been some sense that something might be amiss. Michael's interest in the church's youth activities had declined since last summer, said Pastor William Glass.
"David was very active in the junior youth group. Michael was not active," Mr. Glass said. Asked what might have prompted the change, he said only, "There's things I can't say. Mike is a good kid, with a lot of good qualities, who got confused."
A neighbor had a similar impression.
"Michael was the lost child. He had no childlike qualities," said David Williams, a mental health worker who occasionally hired Michael as a baby sitter.
Although rumor and speculation have swirled through Easton since the slayings, no real explanations have emerged.
There are "rampant rumors" of Satanism as an element in the killings, said Lt. David Spencer, but it's just one of the things they're investigating.
"We are checking under every rock and stone," he said yesterday. "Right now, we just can't address the motive. We don't have an answer.
Michael Fisher is in the Talbot County Detention Center. Because of his youth, he is in an isolated area, said his attorney, Jane Tolar Kollinger.
He asked for a Bible, she said, and Sgt. Pam Hoxter of the detention center staff said he has been given one as well as other reading material.
Services for the three slain Fishers will be today at St. Mark's United Methodist Church.