Editor's note: In the weeks leading up to this weekend's graduation coverage, the newsroom contacted various schools in the area and asked officials to suggest one outstanding student to profile. This was one of their picks ...
WILMINGTON -- Separated from his biological parents, spending years in and out of treatment facilities before he was even a teenager, Dillon Last's life has been anything but conventional.
"Part of having a rough childhood is you learn to take one day at a time," the soon-to-be graduate of Twin Valley High School said. "You don't look too far into the future past tomorrow."
Many of his classmates think he's strange and weird because he's interested in metal
But as Principal Bob Morse said, "it's because they don't know or understand what he's had to go through. Although I've only been here a year, I feel like I've known him forever because he's in my office so often and I've been able to hear his story. He's one of the most genuine, good-hearted student's I've ever met."
Dillon said he tries his best to ignore the names people call him and their taunts, returning their gestures with a smile or a joke because he's tired of being angry.
"I try to laugh off the cracks about my weight or whatever they've decided to make fun of that day because, if I don't, I end up in hell," he said.
At the age of
As the fabric and gasoline caught fire, it quickly melted to both of his thighs.
"I nearly lost both my legs," he said.
When rescue personnel and police arrived at the house they also found various drugs inside the home and Dillon was moved to Vermont where his uncle lived.
The move wasn't easy for him.
"I had a hard time dealing with my emotions and anger management," he said. "I lived there for about a year before my outbursts became too much and I was moved to the Brattleboro Retreat."
After three months he was transferred to the Abigail Rockwell Children's Center, a residential center for children.
"Since I was there for anger management issues I had a rough time," Dillon said. "Their job was to try and make me react, to get me to explode. It was hard not to."
To busy himself and prevent further blow ups, Dillon spent days creating art projects, drawing constantly -- anything he could image, tying knots and building origami masterpieces.
"I can make anything out of paper if I'm shown how," he said folding up a paper square into a working crane-like bird. "With five hours of quite time a day for two years you have to occupy your time otherwise you'll go crazy."
More than anything art let him escape his thoughts, his memories that angered him.
"Dwelling on them just made me even more mad," Dillon said. "I was angry I couldn't live with my parents. I was angry about my legs. I was angry I couldn't do the sort of things other kids my age got to do. My entire childhood I was angry."
Unbeknownst to him, there were two men observing Dillon's behavior while he was at ARC.
A Dover couple, Cliff Turpin and Kelly Last, were considering fostering another child in their home and after spending time with Dillon asked if he wanted to live with them.
The two years Dillon lived with Turpin and Last were good, until Dillon got into an argument with a bus driver and, as he put it, "took a walk without permission."
His outburst and threats of throwing a bottle caused him to move again, this time to a farm owned by Leslie Paris and her son.
It was there that Dillon said her learned the value of money, and started to attend Twin Valley High School. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be, Dillon said, as Paris eventually had to move out of state because she couldn't afford her mortgage.
Again Dillon was on the move, but instead of having to find yet another home, another parental figure, it was Turpin and Last who asked him to move back in.
This time was different, Dillon said, as Turpin and Last asked him if they could adopt him, to be his legal parents forever.
"When they asked me, I was nervous," Dillon said. "I didn't want to be held accountable to one family, but at the same time it let me set down roots. In a sense I've always had parents, but now I see the difference between people I lived with and those who have taught me life lessons. Now I can say these are my parents, this is my home."
Dillon's adoption was finalized in early January.
"It can be awkward with two dads, but they're both great parents," he said. "Being gay doesn't affect their parenting skills or how they love their children. They're family."
In spite of all the hardships he has faced, even at school where he's often shunned by fellow students because he enjoys reading science fiction and fantasy novels, his openness to speak whatever is on his mind and his short temper, Dillon has two dads that love him and he's going to graduate and attend College of St. Joseph's this fall.
Although he's not quite sure what he wants to study, Dillon said he's interested in being a forester, a game warden or a park ranger ... something that lets him work outdoors -- his great escape.
Josh Stilts can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.