For a while, after she returned to Crescent, things went well for Chelsea. She moved in with her father, Brian, her stepmother — named Susan like her own mother — and her stepbrother. Her father gave her an old pickup truck and paid for the insurance, and Chelsea began learning to drive. Brian also found her a job at a local software company called Zoto.
Chelsea’s boss at Zoto, Kord Campbell, was very impressed by her programming skills. He was also impressed by her interest in current events and by her ability to support her opinions with facts and logical arguments. By late 2005, the war in Iraq was becoming unpopular with the American public and was a common conversational topic everywhere in the country. According to Kord Campbell, Chelsea could run circles around him when the subject came up. (2, 19)
In a later interview, speaking of these conversations, Kord said Chelsea:
Didn’t like that people were being killed, particularly the citizens, innocent people. I remember us specifically talking about how we were having a hard time getting information on how many people were being killed.
Kord made friends with Chelsea and even gave her driving lessons. However, something that happened during one of those lessons raised doubts in his mind about Chelsea’s stability. Kord thought that Chelsea was going to drive through a stop sign. He told her to stop and she did, but then she seemed to “freeze” as if she had become unaware of her surroundings. Kord pulled on the emergency brake, got out of the car, and walked around to the driver’s side so he could take over. It was only then, when he opened the door and touched Chelsea on the shoulder, that she snapped out of her trance. After that, Kord began to notice that Chelsea was behaving in a similar way at work: she couldn’t seem to remain focused on what she was doing and so eventually Kord had to fire her.(1, 20) (2, 19)
That, at least, is Kord Campbell’s explanation of what happened. Chelsea apparently had a different view of things. According to Chris Madar, one of her biographers, she later told a friend:
It was company funding and lack of manpower that killed my job at Zoto...Flickr creamed us because my boss was a marketing retard (2, 20)
And apparently, in the same conversation, Chelsea also claimed that she had tried to persuade Kord Campbell to take up her idea for a sort of video-uploading software which, if it had been developed, would have anticipated YouTube. But, she said, Kord didn’t listen to her.(2, 20)
After she lost her job at Zoto, Chelsea was at home most of the time, and her relationship with her stepmother, Susan, quickly deteriorated. Susan had a strict rule against smoking, but Chelsea was continually sneaking off to the garage to have a cigarette. Susan also had a rule against eating or drinking anywhere except the kitchen, but the floor of Chelsea’s room was always littered with empty tins of “Dr Pepper,” a popular soft drink. This behavior annoyed Susan, but what seems to have annoyed her most was the fact that Chelsea didn’t have a job and was not even looking for one.
The tension in the household came to a head one evening in March, 2006. Susan, according to her own story, had been insistently telling Chelsea, that she had to get a job. Listening to her, Chelsea got angrier and angrier. Finally, according to Nick Denver’s biography, Chelsea “pulled out a knife.” Brian was on the scene by that time and, when he saw the knife, although he was still recovering from an operation and using a walker, he threw himself between Chelsea and her stepmother. Then he fell onto the floor. Susan called the police.
Several years later, after Chelsea had been arrested, a recording of this phone call was broadcast on American television. At one point Susan can be heard speaking, excitedly, to Brian:
He ain’t staying here. I ain’t staying here with him. You better find somewhere for him to go because he ain’t staying here.(3)
The police came and took Chelsea to an overnight shelter. But she didn’t have to stay there because Brian called Chelsea’s sister, Casey. She went to the shelter to pick Chelsea up. Chelsea spent the next few days with Casey and her husband. Then, driving her old pickup, she headed for the city of Tulsa, 150 kilometres to the northeast.(1, 27)
Chelsea’s old friend Jordan was living in Tulsa with his family. Chelsea stayed with him for a while, working at minimum-wage jobs. Then she drove to Chicago and found similar work there. She slept in her truck in the airport parking lot. (2, 20)
In early 2007, she went to Washington, D.C., to live with an aunt, her father’s sister. There, her life became more settled and comfortable. For a while she worked at an Abercrombie and Fitch clothing shop and then at a Starbuck’s café. She began a program at a community college, but she quit after doing badly in an exam.(2, 20)
Then in late 2007 — perhaps because of her failure to do well as a student, perhaps because of other pressures, Chelsea enlisted in the armed forces.(2, 20)