This is the story my son told me before his death at just 17yrs old. I have left it raw and emotional. The Young Life Organization is a Christian youth ministry with a special focus on public schools. In fact they are practically non existent outside of the public school system and their elaborate summer camps, usually located in very scenic and expensive areas of the US.
My son attended a public high school in Reno NV. My first knowledge of YoungLife was when he asked if he could go out with a friend that had a car. He said that he was older and a very nice person from his high school. At just 15 yrs. old I was skeptical and wanted to meet this person. A very young looking person shows up at the door and assures me he is a safe driver and that they were just going to his house to meet some friends. I assumed he was a student and lived at home. What I didnt know was that he was a YoungLife recruiter and was in college. He looked like a teenager. He concealed who he was and never identified himself or his true intentions. An adult picking up a teenager at his home in order to recruit him into a religious cult! What kind of political power does it take to have access to school children like this. High school can be hard enough without the drama of religious fundamentalism.
My son later asked me if he could go to a YoungLife meeting but did not tell me that he had already been going to them. He was missing his bus home and being driven home by YL recruiters and was told to keep it a secret. He was told that we wouldnt understand because we were not christian! He told me not to worry-that they were “nice people”. Later that year he asked if I would take him to a fund raiser for YoungLife summer camp that all his friends were going too. We went and that is where I got my first warning that something was wrong. While at the fund raiser a very sly man started talking to me. When he said to me “You know, most non-christian people wouldnt let there children come here”. I should have taken his warning!
My son begged to go to YoungLife camp at beautiful Lake Tahoe. He said all his friends were going. Please, please he begged. It was advertised as the greatest week of his life and he was excited. At first he was having a great time and loved it. On the second to last day, while his group was getting ready to start the day, the group counselor came in his cabin and told him to follow him- but did not say why.
He said that he was taken to a building he had not been to before and was told to go inside, and the counselor left him there. He went into the building and there were 5 men sitting at a table. He described them as 50+years old some with gray hair. He said he had not seen them before and that they were not part of the regular camp that he was introduced too. He was asked to sit down. One of the men said that he had heard that he was not a christian and wanted to know “why”. My son explained to them the best he could. He told them that he was there with his friends, and that he was having a great time, and that he respected and even supported YL. The men kept taking turns questioning him, and their comments kept getting darker and darker and that they even insulted his mother and family. He said that they became angry at him. That they demanded he convert to Christianity on the spot or he would not be allowed to continue camp! He tried to explain to them that he was with his friends and that he liked their camp and that he respected their religion and liked learning about Jesus, but he could not convert “just like that”. He said one of the men shouted at him, “You might as well kill yourself if you cant convert”. He was very shaken up and frightened. What YL didnt know was that he had started school a year early and was a year younger than most of his class. He was a month away from his 16th birthday. They also didnt know he had struggled with a speech impediment most of his life, and that it acted up when stressed. This group of wicked lunatics were attacking a 15yr old! Telling him he “Might as well kill himself!”, that his family was evil, and that he would never know joy and happiness.
He was told that the rest of camp was only for Christians and that he would not be allowed to continue. He was told he would have to stay in his cabin for the last 2 days of camp and that he was not to leave or talk to anyone. My son said that they gave him a bible, and he was told too “contemplate the loss of his soul and eternal hell!” He told me that they were so angry at him that they practically threw him out the door. To his surprise he found out later at the end of the day, when his friends arrived, that his friends didnt even notice that he was missing. They had already had dinner, and he was never brought food or water and ate only some granola bars and juice that his mom had put in his pack. No one came to talk to him and he was left to cry and suffer alone. Without his cell phone, that they confiscated, and without proper counseling, he was left to just suffer alone and contemplate “the loss of his soul and eternal hell” and told to “consider suicide as an option”. Just 15yrs old. Could your sensitive, loving and trusting child take this kind of abuse? From the people he trusted. From the people he had made his parents trust, and even got them to spend the money on camp. The betrayal he must have felt, the anger. Where is the teaching of Jesus?
The next day he said that when his group went for breakfast the counselor just gave him a cold stare and shut the door with him still sitting on his bed. Later that day, when he was told that his mom was there to pick him up, he was surprised again that no one seemed to even noticed that he was missing. Nobody asked him where he had been. He said that he had a strong feeling that nobody even knew that he was missing. He was demoralized, betrayed, angry, embarrassed and alone. He would not talk about it and kept it to himself.
Back at his high school the battle continued. Many of the school employees and the senior class where supporters of YL. YoungLife closed ranks against him … He became so angry and upset that he became ill and the doctor said he was suffering from stress. A perfectly healthy child with a good home, a bright future, and he was suffering from stress! YL had damaged my son. I watched it happen and could not help him. I asked him to give up YL but he continued his relationship with his YoungLife recruiter and most of his friends, but he felt lost. They had become his best friends… He wanted his friends back and didnt recognize the power YL had over them. He tried everything to be a member of YL. He told me that he had even had alcohol at his recruiters house and while playing violent video games. “Dont worry Dad” he said, “its no big deal to have a drink”. Just 16yrs old…and a family history of alcoholism. But of course YL would not know his family medical history…
I later found out that he started to fail one of his science classes that he used to love, and was excelling in, and after his death a scholarship was even given in his name for science. The school never notified us that our A student was failing a class! I also found out that his recruiter was telling him that he could not hang out at meetings or go on YoungLife field trips because he was not a christian. He wanted his friends back, he even wanted to be a member of YL again but he found no conversion and could not pretend like so many others… He also remembered what happened at camp and knew that YL was run by lunatics, but he felt enslaved by them. Emotional blackmail!
He no longer wanted to go back to school and begged to be allowed to finish high school at the junior college. I never thought that I needed to protect him from a dangerous cult authorized to be on a public school campus. I was wrong.
After Thanksgiving weekend when school had started. He showered and put on his best suit. He stole a gun from my room and loaded it with three rounds. He drove himself to the school in the truck I had bought him for being such a good boy and staying out of trouble. “He was a good son and I loved him”. He parked in the high school parking lot- texted some friends to say goodbye and then wrote on a piece of paper- “someone please call my mom”- and her phone number. He executed himself on campus during classes. Just a hundred feet from the administration building and before lunch break, and nobody heard the gunshot. His body was not found for an estimated 3-4 hours after, and by a 15 year old fellow student and friend, who told me that he was pulled away from my sons body by gun point. Surprisingly, after his school- that has its own police force- had released the students from the lock-down, and the search for him had been canceled. We had reported him missing and the stolen gun, and a description of his truck with license number; but he was already dead and waiting to be found.. He had just turned 17 yrs old. It was a bloodless murder- with the only witness dead and just a grieving father to tell his story.
There was no police or school investigation that we were ever part of! I was told that it was “just another suicide”. We never would have believed that a student could actually die on campus and that no one would even question us! The only law enforcement we ever met was a cop that came to the house to make sure that we did not leave the house!! Someone calling themselves a police detective called a couple of times during the first 48hrs, but when I went to the station I was told, and with an unsympathetic expression, that there was no detective by that name, and that my sons case had been closed. They hadnt even questioned us…
My only son. He was just an innocent teenager that enjoyed the company of nice people. My whole family is ruined. My sons life had ended and all his potential forever gone. He was a beautiful child.
How am I supposed to trust any religious organization? The public school system is just a human grocery store to YL, where they can pick and choose which children are ripest for their purpose, without pesky parents to interfere. We have been terrorized and the society and culture that we live in doesnt give a damn about it. The Young Life organizations rights seemed above the rights of our loved and wanted child. My only son was just collateral damage of their masters plan… This wasnt supposed to happen in our country. I dont see any difference here compared to whats happening around the world dominated by religious fundamentalist. Every time I hear about religious killings I think about YL and their self proclaimed right to have access to school children. Why school children? If they thought so little of the welfare of my son, I can only wonder what they must think of the family that raised him to respect all religions but to remain true to ones own soul.
It was said of my son after his death that, “He was the kind of person nobody hated”. Most disturbing to me, it was said that “He died for his school”! I am crushed.
After my sons death, the school told his fellow students, that were desperately asking “why”, that my son chose to end his life on his high school campus because it was where he felt safe! The lies we tell ourselves and each other…
I had many conversations with my son about YL. You the reader must understand that I have stayed true to his story and have much more to say-but there are few people brave enough to listen.
There is no God and I am his prophet. -MD