Jared was the most outgoing, energetic, bubbly, carefree, fidgety, generous, bright, sensitive, and loving of the bunch. He was the child that walked into a classroom knowing no one and quickly became everyone’s best friend. There was not one teacher that didn’t absolutely adore Jared. He was the kid that was selected to give the tour for the Distinguished Elementary School Award, the 5th Grade Celebration Speech, and the Middle School Commencement Speech. Teachers who didn’t even have him in their classroom loved him and found nicknames for him. He wore these adorable goggles that had him stand out in a crowd. We tried glasses, but Jared was just too active, hyper, and a bit clumsy that he broke or lost them within days of getting them each time. The goggles defined him during elementary school and he wore them with pride. Once in middle school he was finally old enough to get contacts. Oh, and what a handsome young man he was!!!
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in elementary school Jared tried his hand at all kinds of sports, like t-ball, baseball, soccer, flag football and basketball. Let’s just say those sports were not exactly in his wheel house, but he was admired for his great sportsmanship and everyone loved him even if he often seemed a bit distracted. Then in 5th grade he decided to give FOOTBALL a try! He fell in love with it and never was there another sport that would capture his heart and mind. He was the kid you could knock down and would jump right back up no matter how hard the hit. His first team was the Castaic Cougars. Coach Chris Lyons and his teammates were simply amazing. He spent one fabulous year with them, but in that short span of time great friendships were forged. Unfortunately, the Cougars organization went though some turbulent times and we were compelled to make a change. At the time, it was very difficult on my son and although we tried to find a way to remain with the Cougars, we were not successful. During this time, I had dedicated the song “Keep Holding On” by Avril Lavigne to Jared. It quickly became our anthem. (it is now etched on my shoulder forever). This experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were taken in by the Canyon Country Outlaws. They put my son on the best team they had in his division, with Coach Brian Adams. Sure, he was a 12 play player and couldn’t keep up with the amazing talent on this team, but he worked just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else, to make sure he was up for the task. Again, he was loved by all his teammates and his coaches. He just always touched the hearts of everyone who knew him. He stayed with the Outlaws for three years watching, learning, and taking it all in…preparing himself for the next level.
Since we had traveled out of the area to play with the Outlaws, Jared ended up attending a different high school than his teammates. In the Fall of 2011, under the direction of Head Coach Jan Miller and Frosh Coach JT Torres, he became a Wildcat football player for West Ranch High School. Those three years with the Outlaws certainly paid off. During the next four years of high school Jared was a first string defensive player!!! Most importantly, he was doing what he loved. His senior year he was awarded the Defensive Player MVP Award by Dan Bigelow a.k.a. Coach 75.
The Wildcats, players and coaches, were an exceptionally close-knit team and once again Jared stood out like no one else could. In fact, one of his famous lines will most definitely go down in Wildcat history, “I played great today,” said in only a way that Jared could. He just had a way about him. As serious and committed as he was about the sport, he was equally as humorous off the field. He is known for loving to play practical jokes, but it never stopped him from leaving his heart on the field every Friday night! He had the courage to go against the biggest guy in the district. He might get knocked down, but always popped back up for the next play. Jared always stood out in the crowd. He was loved by all and always everyone’s best friend. People knew if they needed a friend, they could trust Jared to be there.
Jared chose to attend Arizona State University (ASU) in pursuit of being a social worker like me. He filled my heart with such pride. He followed his older brother who was already attending ASU. It was a perfect fit as ASU was a huge football school in the PAC 12….Fear the FORK!!! His freshman year went well. He made new friends, continued working at Starbucks and got good grades. Everything seemed “normal”. There were no clear signs of how everything would soon completely change.
In the early days of July 2016, Jared had his first Bipolar Disorder episode exhibiting delusions, mania, depression, anxiety and irritability. It led to his first and only psychiatric hospitalization. He was put on a 72 hour hold. He was immediately taken aback by the experience and vowed to work really hard to get better so that he would never have to be in a place like that again. He committed himself to therapy and to taking medication. He tried different medications until finally Lamotrigine seemed to help stabilize him. He learned during his treatment that his recreational use of Marijuana was a trigger for his Bipolar Disorder. Jared’s psychiatrist did believe that he had a predisposition for this mental illness, but for Jared Marijuana was a trigger that he could never use again. Jared seemed to understand and took his recovery very seriously although the road to recovery was not always easy. Due to his severe social anxiety there were days I would stay on the phone with him as he walked from his dorm room to class or from class to class just talking him through the anxiety and getting him comfortable enough to set foot in the classroom. Having a child who was absolutely the most outgoing, well liked, and social individual actually suffer from social anxiety was incredibly painful to watch. I would like to say all of his friends stuck by him, but many did not understand or know how to be around someone with mental illness and chose to stay away which ultimately led to more pain for Jared. I mention this only to encourage others to look past the social stigma of mental illness and open your heart and mind as it can make all the difference in someone’s life.
Jared finished his fall semester of his sophomore year at ASU feeling great and achieving a 4.0 grade point average (GPA). We were so proud of him and hoped that maybe the mental breakdown was behind him. He appeared well upon returning home for the holiday break. He stayed home mostly, but would venture out with a few good friends who were supportive and who he knew didn’t judge him. When he went back to school he seemed like the “old Jared”. He was feeling great. For all any one knew, he was your average everyday 19 year old. He was doing so well in fact that he made the assumption that some recreational use of Marijuana couldn’t possibly have been a trigger for his illness and so after being clean since July 2016, he began using again.
On February 23, 2017 he had his second Bipolar Episode. This one involved a delusion which encouraged him to drive from California to Florida. He was missing for three days before I found him in an ER in San Antonio, Texas. He had checked himself in. I happened to be in Dallas, TX and with the help of a special friend we drove down and picked Jared up. Then, over a period of four days, I drove Jared back to Los Angeles. I now cherish the time we spent together as it was just the two of us for four long days. Jared was always very open with me and shared his thoughts and feelings. He was sad and scared realizing that he really did have Bipolar Disorder.
When we arrived home, he recommitted to his treatment. He understood clearly that he could never ever use Marijuana again as it would be detrimental to his mental health and ultimately his overall well-being. It could mean the difference between life and death for Jared. He wanted to get his life back on track and even committed to getting another 4.0 GPA. We were skeptical to send him back to ASU. His psychiatrist agreed only if Jared would be willing to take a long-acting injectable medication in order to ensure that the medication was in his system. Jared happily complied. Jared appeared to stabilize very quickly after receiving his new medication and we were able to share some significant family time together. ASU was also an enormous support to our family and assisted us every step of the way to ensure a smooth transition back to college life for Jared as well as our other children attending the university.
Jared left California to return to ASU on March 12, 2017. This would be the last time I would see my son. I talked to him all throughout the week. He was open and honest and felt he was really doing well. In fact, he was working on a scholarship essay for the Child Welfare Education Program which, had he received, would have brought him one step closer to his dream of following in my footsteps…helping to save abused children. He finished the essay on March 17, 2017. After reading the essay there can be no doubt that Jared was future-oriented and truly an amazing young man. If you are interested in reading his essay I have attached the link here…
On Saturday, March 18, 2017, he attended a preseason Diamond Back baseball game with his college roommate. Jared left during the game never to return. He was found later that night having jumped off an eight story parking structure. Although we will never understand exactly what happened that day and what led to his third and final episode, we have strongly considered that loud and crowded sporting/music events may have been contributing triggers. In July, he attended a concert, in February a basketball game and in March a baseball game.
Jared was so cherished around our community as evidenced by the outpouring of love and support for our family since his death. Over 600 people attended his service. His high school football Coach, Jan Miller will forever hold a special place in our family’s heart having given the most loving, kind and at times funny eulogy that captured the very essence of our son, Jared.
The phone call on March 18, 2017, forever changed me and the trajectory of my life. Creating this foundation in Jared’s name is just the beginning. Although no one can bring Jared back, his Foundation will work to fulfill his desired purpose in life – to help others realize that they are never alone and that there is hope and a path for a brighter future. This will be his legacy. As Jared said himself, “I love helping people. I love the person that I am, and I love the person that I will continue to work on being. I am confident that person will help others, and ultimately, save lives.” Jared can and will continue to save lives, his light shines on.