Young Life Pushed My Son to Suicide: An Update

22 Sep

About one year ago, Mechanic Dude stopped by and began to share his story.  A story that ends in tragedy…suicide.  You can read MD’s account of it here. But  beyond the tragedy of his son’s death, was the frustration he felt towards Young Life and the role he feels it played in his son’s decision to take his own life.  The reactions here on the Christian Agnostic and Young Life Watch have been mixed. Some Young Life folks have expressed sympathy, others have expressed a mix of sympathy towards MD but do not understand how he can blame Young Life.  But beyond that, a few have come in guns blazing and accused MD of making up the whole story, in an orchestrated effort to “take down” Young Life. The comment that pushed me to actually confirm MD’s story was this comment:

I have been around Young Life for more than a decade now and this story just absolutely DOES NOT line up with this organization. I have met people on every level of the organization, from the president and national board of trustees all the way down to the local area staff and volunteers, and none of this falls in line with Young Life. Here are my issues… Why is it that NOWHERE on the internet can you find a story about a teen committing suicide on a school property in or even near Reno, NV in 2007? Something like this would have had TONS of press. These days you should be able to substantiate that sort of account online. Yet i haven’t been able to do so at all. Why is it that when i called the Reno police dept., they have no record of this happening on any school property in the city or county? But even if that is me being calloused or insensitive, here is the other issue- THERE IS NO SUCH YOUNG LIFE CAMP IN LAKE TAHOE. Young Life doesn’t own any camp property in Lake Tahoe, or Nevada for that matter. There is not even another non-YL camp called “The Lake Tahoe Camp” in Nevada that maybe Young Life may had used. The author of this story either made this place up, or seriously got some facts incorrect. It sounds like, to me, someone is on a vendetta to attack the Young Life organization and is willing to fabricate a story and manipulate the emotions of others to succeed in their vendetta. And it sounds like the moderator of this website, along with many readers, have fallen for his every word. christianagnostic- for years now i have read your blog and comments on this site. While i disagree with your stance and position, I have generally found you (while in my opinion biased and one-sided) thoughtful and careful on what you both write yourself and allow on this site. Clearly you have always had an agenda, but have gone about that respectfully. I have appreciated your thought and care when publishing. But if you seriously are going to continue to allow this on your site, I believe you have lost your credibility, as the facts in these allegations are completely not true. I’d give you a pass on not researching things yourself because your emotions likely got wrapped up in this story (understandably). But now you know- Young Life doesn’t even own a camp there, so this just ridiculous, and the rest of the story should be taken with a grain of salt. I have been to Young Life camps for literally dozens of weeks of summer, and camp properties around the country over the last 10 years. I have seen many kids become Christians, and MANY MORE choose to not be Christians. NEVER in my life have i seen any kid reprimanded or treated poorly for not choosing to be a christian. These staff people would have been FIRED IMMEDIATELY, as it goes directly against Young life’s policies. Are you kidding me? This is absolutely absurd. This story just proves to me how easy it is to get on the internet and just write something, and ANYONE will believe it, regardless of how true it really is. I have seen people’s responses saying they will not have their kids involved in Young life because of THIS story. If they don’t want them involved because they don’t like Young Life’s methods, that is one thing, and i can respect that. But this is libel. Anybody (someone hurt by YL in the past, someone anti-religion, etc) could get on this site and completely fabricate a story and everyone will believe it. CA- you preach against young life’s deceitful tactics. if you want your site to be one of integrity and credibility, you should really research stories before you republish them yourself. But if it is your mission to beat up and damage an organization by any means necessary, including lies and deceit, then i guess by all means carry on.

To be honest, I was a little shocked at the vehement insistence that this story was a “fabrication”  based on a “vendetta”.  But none the less,  MD responded that he would be more than willing to confirm his story with me in private, so I could say with confidence that this is no fiction and that this is a real Father who is grieving a real son. I have to say, that I felt wrong about making MD prove his story to me.  I’ve never made other folks who state “I’ve been a YL area Director,  I am a current Young Life leader, etc….”  have to prove these claims.  Why make MD do it?  But after a long break from the blog, I was able to converse with MD off the blog and he provided just enough information for me to confirm for myself, that his story is true.

Here’s what I learned after about 10 minutes on the internet: MD’s son was a minor (17) when he committed suicide on the campus of his High School.  Some of the postings I found on-line were fellow classmates of his son and they describe essentially the same details that MD describes about his son.  He was bright, well-liked, and the sort of person that no one could believe he would ever do such a thing. For all those who believe that MD’st story is a fiction, you are wrong. It is not a fiction, it really happened and I’d appreciate it if you’d show a little respect and sympathy for a man who has lost a child in the most horrible way you can imagine. I think most of us will understand if your experience of Young Life is different than his….but he is entitled to say what he feels about Young Life,  just as you are free to disagree with what is said.  But it’s time to move past the petty arguments of whether this event actually occurred .

A Response 

Without trying to speak for MD, let me try and clear up some of the questions that were raised in the comment above:

  Why is it that NOWHERE on the internet can you find a story about a teen committing suicide on a school property in or even near Reno, NV in 2007? Something like this would have had TONS of press. These days you should be able to substantiate that sort of account online. Yet i haven’t been able to do so at all.

Well you can, but you’d probably have to know who you were looking for, and since MD does not wish to splash his family’s name all over the internet, then it may be hard for you to find any info online.  Also, suicides do not get a ton of press…I mean, yes-if you were already famous-then it will get lots of press.  But in my own recent experience, I know families who have lost son’s to suicide-guess what-no press, no articles, no nothing.  They were minors, so if the police were involved, the child’s name would not be released to the public or the press.  Your assumption that this sort of information would be all over the internet is incorrect.

Why is it that when i called the Reno police dept., they have no record of this happening on any school property in the city or county?

I really don’t know for sure, but it is my understanding that you can not request a police report over the phone.  And again, you’d have to know which incident or investigation you were looking for, in most cases.  You can click here to see what it usually takes to receive a copy of a police report.

THERE IS NO SUCH YOUNG LIFE CAMP IN LAKE TAHOE

Actually, there is a YL camp in Soda Springs, CA.  When I lived in Norther CA, we would have referred to this whole area as the Lake Tahoe area.  Soda Springs, Truckee, Emigrants Gap, Donner’s Pass, are all within a short drive of the actual west side of the Lake and would qualify as part of the Lake Tahoe area.  Even Reno’s airport is named the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.    Besides all that, Young Life does sometime rent facilities it doesn’t own.  In my own experience, YL would rent a facility in Harvey Cedars NJ and we also held some YL weekends at hotels in the Baltimore Inner Harbor area.

christianagnostic- for years now i have read your blog and comments on this site. While i disagree with your stance and position, I have generally found you (while in my opinion biased and one-sided) thoughtful and careful on what you both write yourself and allow on this site. Clearly you have always had an agenda, but have gone about that respectfully. I have appreciated your thought and care when publishing. But if you seriously are going to continue to allow this on your site, I believe you have lost your credibility, as the facts in these allegations are completely not true. I’d give you a pass on not researching things yourself because your emotions likely got wrapped up in this story (understandably). But now you know- Young Life doesn’t even own a camp there, so this just ridiculous, and the rest of the story should be taken with a grain of salt.

Well this comment feels like a back handed compliment.  I appreciate this person taking the time to read my blog for years and the compliment that you find me thoughtful and careful.  As for biased,  I am not sure what to say.  My experiences and opinions are my own, but I also allow anyone who differs with me to do so.  If I were completely biased, I wouldn’t allow you or anyone else who disagreed with me to comment.   You may want to ask yourself, how much of your own emotions and bias come into your allegation that MD’s story is not true.

I have been to Young Life camps for literally dozens of weeks of summer, and camp properties around the country over the last 10 years. I have seen many kids become Christians, and MANY MORE choose to not be Christians. NEVER in my life have i seen any kid reprimanded or treated poorly for not choosing to be a christian. These staff people would have been FIRED IMMEDIATELY, as it goes directly against Young life’s policies. Are you kidding me? This is absolutely absurd.

I am glad to hear that this is your experience.  In most of my own time in Young Life,  I saw pretty much the same thing….but not always.  I did witness some pretty hostile reprimanding at a Young Life camp on more than one occasion.  I’ve even seen some pretty unkind arguments between leaders and area directors at some others.  Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

After all,  I’ve never witnessed YL leaders sexting teens, but it has happened.  I’ve never known leaders that were having sex with one of their YL kids, but it has happened at Timberwolf and Castaway.

Suffice to say, experiences of Young Life can be very different from person to person. I just plain tire at the accusations that I am out to get Young Life, or that MD’s story is the reason some kid doesn’t get to go to camp.  I am out to share my story and to allow others to share their stories as well.  If a parent reads this site and then decides that their kid isn’t going to camp or Young Life-then you haven’t earned the right to be heard.

Lastly, if you read something here that you disagree with-by all means-feel free to post your feelings about it.  I may or may not have to time to respond, and others may or may not agree with you.

But please do me a favor…play nice.

Especially with those who are sharing stories of abuse and suicide.  It’s just a common courtesy to show some respect for those who are hurting and grieving.  It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, or even believe them…but please remember that there’s enough pain and tragedy in this life.   Can we not add to it by beating up on those who are already beaten down?

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15 Responses to “Young Life Pushed My Son to Suicide: An Update”

  1. ... Zoe ~ September 22, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    Thank you for this update CA.

  2. Dee September 22, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    Thank you for having the integrity to check out the situation and confirm the details and then respond on your blog. This happens to us all the time on our blog and we do our best to follow up as well.

    One caveat: even when we have detailed documentation, there are those who will not believe it because they cannot believe it. Their faith is tied up in an organization or a particular celebrity leader and to admit there are problems would cause them to question their whole paradigm. I like questioning my paradigm-many people do not.

    Well done!

    • ratamacue0 September 22, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

      ++

    • christianagnostic September 22, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

      Dee-

      Well….I have no idea how you guys (I mean gals) keep up with your blog. You always have a whirlwind of comments and somehow keep up…kuddos for being one of my favorite blogs

      Your caveat is valid. I know there will be some who are just unwilling to be unconvinced, no matter what. I’m ok with that…I’ve never thought of this blog as a journalistic venture and I don’t claim it to be.

      Thanks for stopping by….

      • christianagnostic September 22, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

        For those who don’t know, Dee is one of the moderators and writers at thewartburgwatch.com

  3. argumentsagainstreligion November 2, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    You handled yourself like professionally – I’m sure many of us would have simply blasted the guy and flipped out. Great job on this.

  4. praythinklove November 10, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    Oh goodness, there are many mistakes in the original story. To be sure, non-christians are encouraged to come to Young Life and there is no pressure. It is a very fun atmosphere of relationship. Fact check, the Lake Tahoe Young Life owned camp is called Mountain Lodge and it is only used for very small groups. It is a small house, with a few bedrooms and can not accommodate more than 20 people. It has one common area and a few bedrooms off of the common area, and then a lower level basement. The boys/men often stay together in the basement and the girls/women stay upstairs in the rooms. I have been to staff meetings there, and have heard of small winter camps there. THere are no facilities on site for anything more than meals and sleeping and sitting on the couches, so it usually only used for staff gatherings. But, it can be used in the winter to house kids as they go out everyday to ski and snowboard. There are no ‘secret rooms’ and there are no “five secret men”. These are very fictionalized and sounds more like Scientology or a true cult. Again, truth needs to be told and deceptions erased. There are no “private rooms” at the Young life Lake Tahoe camp. It is a house, just a house, near the ski slopes. And, Bibles are not given out at YOung LIfe. It is just not done. If a person becomes a Christian, they are introduced to a local church. Young Life only has non-christians in it, it is not an organization filled wtih Bible toting Christians. The times of gathering a filled with popular music played on guitars, silly skits to laugh (not about Christianity), and silly games to make people have a good time. At the end of gatherings, there is a short talk about Jesus and who he was in the Bible, but no one uses Bibles, they leader just gets up and talks. There is not pressure afterwards, just more fun. Usually, camp is at a bigger location, like the Wooodleaf one in California (near Reno, but not near Lake Tahoe, about 4 hours drive and where a summer camper wouild have gone with a big group). They have a lake blob, a swimming pool, a ropes course, horse back riding, 4 wheelers, etc. Kids stay in a cabin with other kids their age and two leaders college age or older. There are not “private” rooms or “secret spots” on campus, as it is a cluster of cabins, and a main lodge for food, a main lodge for nighly “club” and a ton of acres of beautiful outdoors. I have lived at several camps in the US, and walked the grounds. They are packed with happy people, and there is no pressure and no secret spaces. Again, fact check, the original story is blatantly erroneous.

    • christianagnostic November 10, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

      Um…don’t know if you read MD’s response. He does no think this camp is the one his son visited. I mentioned it, because people were claiming that YL didn’t even have a camp in the Tahoe area.

      Your claim that no one uses Bibles is news to me, when I was in YL our leaders always used s strange looking NT version that looked like a cookbook from the 50’s. Pretty sure it was the Phillips Translation.

      • mechanicdude November 19, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

        CA-This same person left the same post on my blog but under a different name. I dont think I said anything about secret places and people, but I am curious about this mountain lodge retreat. Does anybody know who owns the property surrounding it? Or where they would house overflow campers if they got a larger than normal group?-MD

      • christianagnostic November 23, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

        I’ve actually been to this property near the Sugar Bowl Ski resort area. It is small and doesn’t house a whole lot of folks. Really is more of a retreat lodge than a full fledged YL camp. I imagine it’s used for ski weekends, leadership retreats, etc…maybe someone form YL can confirm.

    • This Guy May 7, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

      I am thankful for this blog, mainly because I can read accounts and experiences people have had with YL and see why some would come to the conclusions they have, and learn from others mistakes in how they communicate with parents/guardians.
      Praythinklove: I am on YL staff and I am deeply saddened by this fathers story. While the experience told above doesn’t sound like any camp experience I have seen, I am not foolish enough to think that with different areas having different characteristics and with such a large staff and volunteer base, its not unheard of that sometimes people slip through and bad things CAN happen. Same with school districts, church denominations and police departments.
      I am a little concerned though when you say bibles are never given to kids and leaders don’t use bibles when talking about Jesus. I have been to camps on 5 different occasions and bibles were given to each kid that was a “new believer” if they wanted it. It is also somewhat of a requirement in our area that when we give talks, that we must read from the bible the story we are teaching on.
      I am more concerned that your area does not use bibles then I am about your fact checked info on YL properties. If Jesus is Lord of your life and the bible is the infallible word of God, why wouldn’t you use is in your club talks?

  5. mechanicdude November 24, 2015 at 1:45 am #

    CA- I quick look online tells me that the property is for sale for about 800,000 dollars, and that there is a adjoining parcel as well and 2 listing numbers by an international real estate broker. -MD

  6. mechanicdude November 24, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    CA- I wanted to add that the real estate description says that the property can sleep up to 50 people. I believe a more in depth search would reveal even more properties owned by Young life. Probably should have grammar checked my previous post. Oh well. -MD

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