Justin’s Story: in the words of his father, Jeffrey Veatch
(Justin Veatch: January 5, 1991 – September 8, 2008)
Justin’s childhood was normal in almost every area and exceptional in a few. In middle school he loved and excelled at soccer, then basketball and baseball. He was an avid skateboard rider who attended Woodward, an extreme sports camp in Pennsylvania for several summers. This is where he honed his skills at performing “tricks.” Justin’s routine moves on the board were ones most others were unable to achieve.
But what made us especially proud as parents was his exceptional music talent. Having piano lessons at age four, Justin graduated from keyboard to grand piano and then other instruments like the trumpet, a variety of guitars, drums and other percussion instruments. He also had demonstrated a flair for songwriting and developed compelling vocals to weave into his musical compositions.
At 13 Justin created his project band, The Ivoryton Piano Factory where he began to showcase his work. As his music became more complex he began working in a professional studio and quickly demonstrated his knack for transforming song concepts into finished works. In the basement studio we set up for him Justin used a sophisticated computer program to transform analog and virtual sounds into songs he performed entirely by himself. By the time he was a high school freshman he made up his mind that music would be his career. And who could argue? He was completely in command of his art even among professionals in a studio setting.
Having an exceptionally artistic teenager created challenges for us. We soon discovered he and several of his friends were smoking marijuana. We objected, won a few battles but lost the war against pot. Was this normal behavior? Yes and no was the answer depending on which professional counselor we spoke with.
As Justin entered his junior year in high school he became increasingly impatient with what he described as his “mundane daily life,” and while he remained popular with his friends, there was a disconnection with some of them. New, mysterious “friends” began to emerge. And despite our continued encouragement, his work ethic diminished to a mere trickle. He was unhappy, often explosive and violent, and nearly always stressed about something he refused to discuss.
After a visit to a psychiatrist Justin was given a drug test that showed wildly high levels of a variety of dangerous substances. At that moment we knew drastic action was necessary. It pained us on a Saturday morning in May 2008 to encounter Justin with the news that two men we had hired from an encounter agency would be taking him on a 3 ½ hour drive to Caron Treatment Centers in Pennsylvania where he would spend at least a month.
Caron had a wonderful and thorough program that included our weekly visits and an intense four day family weekend. By the time we brought Justin home from Caron, we were confident he had acquired an education about how drugs could affect his life and we also had an understanding that such treatments were often unsuccessful and would have to be repeated for perhaps even longer stays.
But Justin convinced us that he had not belonged at Caron in the first place, was never addicted, and would continue to do the things his friends were doing including smoking pot. Justin said there were people in the program who were into heavy drugs like heroin and they had been in trouble with the law, and that he did not have their problems and had only tried heroin once. He promised us he would never do heroin again. He also told us he was angry at us because we violated his trust by sending him away.
By hearing this we told him what we all wanted to hear at that time — that we would never send him away again. We wanted to believe it ourselves and we wanted back his trust. We were so desperate to have our son back and make everything better.
Looking back, we now ask ourselves was that a “fatal” mistake on our part? Should we have been harder on him, done things differently? The depth of guilt, pain and sadness we have is beyond words.
After he died his friends gave us a different take on what Justin said of his experience at Caron. He told them it was “a great experience that helped him grow, and he met some very fine people who gave him significant insight.” I do not know what the truth was.
After rehab, we tried to put him on a short leash believing that if we had to, we could send him back to treatment if it became necessary. We tried to carefully monitor his activities. As he worked with a tutor to finish his junior year assignments he scored very respectfully on the SAT’s and got glowing grades in most subjects despite missing a month of classes.
We let him take a short trip to a music festival with friends. Then he spent a week with me, his father, in Arizona, a trip regretfully his mother and sister could not make. During this visit Justin was a happy family participant, had no access to drugs and seemed to develop a late blooming friendship with his distant cousin, Jeff.
We returned home two days before Justin was to begin his senior year. He had his yearbook picture taken, went back to classes and seemed pleased with his teacher and class assignments.
Monday September 8, was to be the start of his first full week back to classes. At 6:20 AM, after his alarm droned on for five minutes, he was found motionless in his bedroom by his mother whose hysterical call to paramedics ended in a parent’s worst nightmare.
Our handsome, intelligent and artistic son…the one who would someday fill a stadium with fans…was the victim of acute drug intoxication, the term used by the medical examiner as his cause of death.
One of the ways we are able to work through our pain is to focus on Justin’s exceptional gifts as a musician, singer and songwriter. We founded The Justin Veatch Fund to honor our son and to raise money for other future musicians in the form of an annual music scholarship for college bound high school seniors.
Jeffrey Veatch, June 2009
More information: http://www.thejustinveatchfund.org