Justin’s Story

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


23 Responses to “Justin’s Story”

  1. Noah Says:

    Owen’s myspace > The Ivoryton Piano Factory > Read more up on him. Showed this blog to a friend tonight and we read your entry for the first time together. Truly a touching story. I love his music and often frequent the myspace page. Truly saddened by your loss. May God Bless your family.


  2. Mike Says:

    I heard about your son on WFUV this morning. My heart goes out to you and all of the Veatch family on your loss. May God bless you all.

  3. robyn wells Says:

    My son Bryan died of a drug overdose in December. He was bright, beautiful and politically active. Justin’s story mirrors our story. Bryan too was a senior. We had spent the fall looking at colleges. He had starting taking guitar lessons. His instructor was amazed at how quickly he picked it up. Bryan loved music. We were very naive. We thought we had done all the right things. Schools, church knowing his friends and their parents. He said that we had over protected him. We were very protective of both our children. I thought that was what parents were suppose to do.

    All I can say is I’m sorry

  4. robyn wells Says:

    We have also established a scholarship in Bryan’s name. It was given this June to one of his good friends. It is based on finacial need. I admire what you are doing. Right now doing this small scholarship is the best we can do. Just trying to breathe is an effort. We loved/love Bryan with all our hearts. We were unable to go to the award ceromony. Maybe next year. He was so very, very bright. Bryan recieved a 5 on is history AP exam. Bryan created quite a challenge to his history an government teachers. We have lost two shinning stars. As one parent to another I truly understand.


    • Jeffrey Veatch Says:

      This should never happen to anyone. Not to Bryan, not to Justin, not to us. We all tried to be the best parents we could be. My wife, Marina, feels sadness, guilt and anger. Yet I know we were good parents and have no reason to feel guilt. My anger has long passed. My sadness will never leave. But I am lifted by Justin’s immortal spirit and my endless quest to celebrate his legacy. Building a scholarship fund gives us a sense of purpose and makes something good from our tragedies. We must carry the memory of our sons and do something to make them proud. I feel in doing this the trauma of our loss will ease and the power of our actions will bring us through every day with a new sense of purpose. There will be better times but the reality of our loss will never go away.

      • robyn wells Says:

        I would like to send a contribution to Justin’s fund. It is to be in memeory and honor of Bryan. Bryan was a ardent champion of the struggling underground artist. He visited Charlottesville Va. frequently to support his favorite band. Bryan would have been impressed with what Justin accomplished.

        As a parent I would welcome a correpondence with you or your wife. I’m, we are stuggling. When you guys were on Good Morning America I recogonized the sadness in your wife’s face because I see it in the mirror everyday. I understand her quilt, anger and heartache.Your quest to carry on Justin’s musical gift with your scholarship is admirable.


  5. Mike Says:

    I was introduced to your son’s story through Mike Kinsella’s myspace page. I am in awe of the talent and passion Justin possessed for music. I just wanted to say that after listening to his music and reading this page I have been given permanent goosebumps, and I send my regards to your extended family and friends

  6. Brian Joyce Says:

    Having lost members of my own family to tragic circumstances, my heart goes out to you and your extended family. My deepest sympathy.

    I believe in your positive mission and I feel it is a great legacy to Justin’s talent as a singer and songwriter. To affect change in other artists through this foundation is a gift that cannot be understated. Music changes lives.

  7. Jordan Embrey Says:

    A true genius.

    Justin’s music speaks to me in such a unique way. I could listen to his perfectly constructed songs forever. The story of Justin’s death makes his music that much more important to me. I’m 21 years old, and I started using heroin when I was 17 and quickly became addicted. It took away so much of my life, and I was only able just recently to get sober. I can’t stop thinking of what songs the world would have been blessed with thru Justin had he not been taken so early. Addiction is one of the hardest things in the world to stop, and its even harder when youre young and feel invincible. I just hope Justin’s fund and music will produce other musicians with even half as much talent as Justin.

    Take care.

    • Hello Jordan,
      We are so happy you have survived your addiction. You now have your whole life ahead of you. We are pleased you will be among those helping to keep Justin’s music and his legacy alive. Thanks for your support and good luck in all you do.

  8. Dear Mr. & Mrs. Veatch,

    I just came across Justin’s story on ABC news. I saw last night that ABC is running a current story on heroin so I queried their website and found your video.

    I know your story all too well as my stepson Michael’s story is so hauntingly similar to Justin’s – it is sad. I am very sorry for your loss.

    I am happy to see what you are doing to get the message out and to keep his memory alive. On my website on the homepage there is a link called Charities & Sponsors and I have a link to the “The Brent Shapiro Foundation For Drug Awareness” under the link you can read Michael’s story. He died at 18 in 1997. He would have turned 30 in 2009.

    God Bless you and keep up the good work.

    Molly Johnson

  9. Justin rodriguez Says:

    I wad one of Justins good friends and I want you to know that Justin was a good kid and everyting that was a good influance was influanced on your son and he just happened to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. I loved Justin and I want you to know that he wasent one of thoes drugies and he wasent a bad kid. He had a good strong heart and had a good head on his shoulders and you as parents did good and did what you could. I love Justin like he was my son and I am verry sorry for your loss

  10. Dorothy Terino Says:

    Dear Jeffrey,
    I am a senior citizen graduate student in fund raising. While doing research on foundations for a grant making course, I happened upon your site. Today is September 10th. I noticed that Justin passed away September 8th. My heart wants to cry with you over the loss of your son. My eyes are crying. Such a loss! My worst fear is to lose one of my children.(I have 2)
    There is a wonderful book by Rabbi Kushner, entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He, too, lost a son at a young age. You may want to read it. I understand the feeling of guilt you must be feeling, but I truly believe you did the very best you could.
    When I was a teen, I was anorexic/bulimic, but in the 1960s there were not words to describe the symptoms. I was very clever in my tactics to hide my actions from my parents. Teens are clever. Your son, a genius, was even more clever. Boys’ brains do not complete maturation until about 25 years old. My son is 27, and it is only now that I believe that he understands cause and effect and consequences of behavior.
    You did a wonderful thing to create this foundation in honor of Justin. Students who may never have had the opportunity to flourish will now be given a chance.
    We never know what the universe plans for us. At least your son died in his sleep and did not suffer. That is little consolation, but it is something for which to be grateful.
    My friend and I often discuss gratitude and forgiveness – two powerful agents of healing.
    I send you my deepest love and caring….
    Dottie Terino

    • jeffrey veatch Says:

      I am sorry to be so late in replying but your message is both moving and inspiring. We are indeed hurting. But we are also fighting to share Justin’s legacy. His work to inspire young people to complete themselves but not follow the perils that drug abuse brings is an ongoing association with his legacy.

  11. nd Says:

    I found your son’s music recently and love it immediately, i saved the myspace page to my browser and would hear it frequently. But it was just a few days ago that i have discovered what happen to him. I have no children and i do not know anyone with a similar story but i couldn’t stop thinking of your son and what happen.
    He was really talented.
    Your son’s music has traveled across the ocean to Portugal and i feel fortuned to have discovered it.
    I will buy the cd and i do hope your foundation has the best of support.
    I know there is nothing i can change but i couldn’t avoid writing something and to give you my condolences.

    • jeffrey veatch Says:

      Your message warms us and we thank you. Justin lives on in his music and his lessons to fellow teens. We are on a mission to honor Justin’s legacy by helping like minded, creative youth, who are very fragile, to achieve their potential and not employ drugs or alcohol in an attempt to reach their goals.

    • Jarryd Says:

      Your words bring me comfort. Knowing that Justin’s influence not only still lives but continues to spread, far beyond what I’d ever imagined, makes me proud and reminds me of him in the way I thought of him when we hung out. Thank you.

  12. Ed Says:

    Dear Mr. Veatch;

    I read the JN article when I got in to my office this morning and, after following a few links, discovered your son’s music. Like everyone else has stated, I was left with goosebumps as I looked at his pictures, and listened to the music. I have been playing the music over and over all day; someone on another post had mentioned this reaction but, as soon as I heard Justin’s music, it’s as if every emotional button in my body is being pushed. The music is haunting, powerful, and obviously comes directly from the heart. WOW. I cannot possibly gauge the depth of your family’s pain; I was saddened and brought to tears, and I didn’t even know your boy. I cannot imagine the pain that those who knew and loved him must feel. I commend you, sir, for carrying on Justin’s legacy, as well as the focus you’re putting on Drug Awareness. I’m one of the lucky ones who eventually got clean but, I was severely addicted to numerous substances for more than 20 years, with short bursts of sobriety. Finally, I was able to stay sober and clean. I sincerely hope that people of all ages hear your message and Justin’s story: you will be saving their life, or those 20 years of hell.

    I stand in awe of both you, and your son.

    With Deep Respect,


    • Jeffrey Veatch Says:

      I am deeply touched by your comments. I am also so happy that you made it through those rough times. Your message is one of hope and reinforces my motivation to share “A Message from Justin” with whoever wants to listen.

  13. Meghan Says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. You came to my school and I heard you talk about what happened to Justin. I’m so sorry. When I came home I bought every one of his songs because I think he was an amazing singer and song writer. God gave him a gift. I love Justin! He was very talented. Thank you for telling me about your family if you hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to know his songs and I wouldn’t have been able to love them like I do now.

  14. erin Says:

    I recently saw your show @ fieldstone and was very touched and I can’t stop listening to Justin’s music. T
    hank you for sharing your story and sorry for your loss.

  15. Joanne Says:

    We too lost our son to an overdose at 18. I thank everyone for helping other parents and teenagers to be educated on the dangers of these drugs, but I also believe we must work hard to go to our leaders and end the sale of drugs to our vulnerable children.

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