My husband and I are actively involved in several ministries in our church, and we were absorbed in planning for Christmas events including planning meals, making all kinds of lists and cleaning and decorating our house.
In the midst of these thoughts the phone rang. When I answered, an unfamiliar male voice said, “Is this Jared’s mother?” I answered yes, trying to remember if I had ever heard the voice before. He continued, “This is Mary’s father, have you seen her or Jared? They seem to be missing or at least we haven’t been able to reach them.”
I held on to the end of my kitchen counter as I told him I had not. In fact, we had not seen our middle-20-year-old son in several months. I heard the concern in this father’s voice as he told me not to worry. He said he was sure Mary would call soon. She had gone out of town with him before and may have forgotten to call. My eyes closed as my head leaned against a cabinet. I was already praying, “Oh God, where are they?” as I tried to assure Mary’s father. I told him we would call some of Jared’s friends and let them know as soon as we heard from our son.
The knot in the pit of my stomach made it hard to stand. I hung up the phone and sank into a kitchen chair. I knew a little about those trips out of town and suspected some were drug-buying trips. A thought slithered quickly across my mind. “They could be dead.” I shivered. Something was wrong, something was terribly wrong.
Our son, Jared, had grown into a handsome young man with a slim muscular frame. His fair hair streaked in summer with highlights making his eyes look a baby blue. At an early age he was diagnosed with an Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsiveness. Although he tested at high levels, after the 7th grade he did not attend school full time.
While we exhausted every means of help available, nothing seemed to make any significant difference in the problems he was experiencing. School was like torture to him. Though our house rules were simple and clear, they were a major challenge for our son. By his teen years we were seeing disturbing changes in his choice of friends and behavior. He often pushed the limits and got into trouble. He saw us as trying to control him. In what would have been his high school years he spent time in a juvenile detention facility where he earned a G.E.D. We loved our son, but nothing seemed to get his life back on track.
In the spring of 1998 Jared had moved out of our home to live with Mary. They had met at a local nightclub. We had only seen her two or three times. She was tall, thin, a striking young girl with dark hair and eyes and lovely features. She told us she was a “dancer” but had plans to go to college. She was 18 years old.
After a few months, they had an argument and she asked him to leave. Drunk (or drugged), he walked several miles in the pouring rain to our doorstep wearing only jeans. No shirt. No shoes. There he was at 3:00 A.M., shivering, crying, and promising to change. The once beautiful blue eyes where a dull gray; he also looked thinner.
He slept almost all the next day. Mary called to tell him she wanted his things out of the apartment. When my husband went to pick them up, he found that several things of ours were there. Things we thought had been taken in a robbery the month before. When we confronted our son he said he’d needed money and had intended to sell our things. It was like a slap in the face for us.
We pleaded with our son to give up the lifestyle he was living. The effects were painfully obvious. Every confrontation seemed to end with his denial and anger, and our frustration. This time was no different. I told our son that we could no longer help him. He could not stay with us. He needed to check himself in to a hospital and get help.
Within minutes some of his friends arrived. His dad followed him out the door asking him to remember Jeremiah 29:11. “God has a plan for you son, to do you good, not harm, to give you hope and a future.” Jared answered as he got into the car, “I’ve got plans of my own.” That was the last time our son was in our home.
In September of ’98, Mary called. I was surprised when she told me who she was. We had never talked at any length, but this conversation lasted almost an hour. She told me she was considering getting back together with our son and I discouraged it. I really wished I could say yes, but I said, “No, you do not need to be with our son, not until he makes some real changes in his life.”
I told her if he was still drinking and using drugs she should not go back into that situation, nothing good could come out of it. I tried to stress to her that he could never have a right relationship with anyone until he had a relationship with God. That she needed Christ in her life, too. I wanted her to know that he loved her and would fulfill her life far above anyone else. As the conversation ended she said, “I don’t think I’m ready for that, but I’ll think about what you’ve said.” I hoped she did.
I called some of Jared’s old friends, the ones we could find, to ask them to have him call us if they saw him. I went by a local business where he had often worked a part-time job to see if any of the young people there had seen him. It was obvious from the vague replies, some of them knew about the strained relationship we had with our son. I left our phone number and told them it was important he call.
The following day the police called to let us know they had found our son. He had been moving around living with different friends. They questioned him and said they were pretty sure he did not know where Mary was. In the days that followed Mary’s parents put up fliers with her picture as a missing person. Our heart’s ached for them, and we prayed for her to be found. Our son never called and we did not know where to reach him.
On the night of December 15th, I sat folding clothes on the sofa, waiting for the news to come on. Our youngest son came in to tell me goodnight. A news flash came on about a missing person’s case, as we both walked closer to the screen. There was Jared with his arms pulled behind his back in handcuffs; two men were taking him out of a police car. I strained to recognize him. He looked older than his twenty years with hollow cheeks and dark circles under his eyes. His face reminded me of the Holocaust survivors, so bone thin with a look of hopeless fear. The police had found Mary’s body in a wooded area at the edge of the city. She had been shot in the head. Jared was being arrested for her murder.
My son and I collapsed into each others arms screaming, “Oh God, No, No!” He fell to the floor beating his fist into his chest. I sank to the floor beside him. It was so hard to breathe. This couldn’t be real. I prayed, “God please not this.” The pain was suffocating.
After awhile I left our youngest son crying himself to sleep on his bed. I called our older son, hoping he had not seen the news. He was out. I then called my husband. He was flying in that night from out of town. I don’t remember how I told him. He sounded so far away. He told me he was trying his best to get home. The flight he’d had was cancelled. The sadness in his voice told me he would be home as soon as it was humanly possible.
When I hung up the phone I went out into the garage. I did not want my youngest son to hear me crying again. I didn’t know if I would be able to stop. It was cold. It was December. I felt numb, not from the cold, my mind was numb. The kind of numbness that makes you feel as if time is standing still. It felt like being suspended in a tunnel of darkness.
As I sat on a weight bench in our garage I remember thinking, God I should be going insane now. Then I thought how horrible it would be in a lonely airport away from family and home dealing with this pain. I prayed for my husband not to lose his mind. I prayed for Mary’s family, I could not imagine what they were going through at this moment.
At some point I became aware of not being cold, and not being alone. I sensed the presence of God all around me like a blanket. He was most literally holding me up, for every bit of strength I might have had was gone.
Over the next days, weeks and months we prayed for our son and visited him, and we saw God at work in his life. He began reading his Bible daily. During those months he had plenty of time to think. Jared would tell you drugs and alcohol had stripped his mind of rational thinking.
I found a poem Jared wrote that may give some insight into his struggle. He entitled it, “Tunnel Awaiting My Soul.”
“The thoughts I think all to myself totter from anguish to torture.
The tunnel is dark and wet but I don’t feel it,
For the pounding mental pain and visions unseen haunt me.
Finally at last with a whisper I ask,
Where does this tunnel go, will it lead to my demise?
Though my soul is poor and weak it longs to seek the freedom
Of truth it once knew.
Does it lead to where I am free?
Will this tunnel go on till time is gone,
Or will it split and divide where I may sit and decide which way to go?
For the choice I have is heaven or hell and one is awaiting my soul.”
Jared spent over a year in the county jail awaiting trial. Visits were behind three-inch-thick safety glass and we talked through a wire screen at the bottom of the glass. We were not allowed physical contact. How I longed to hug and hold my son. And I knew Mary’s mother must be longing to hold her daughter.
The morning of January 18, 2000, was the first day of our son’s trial, and I awoke very early. With coffee in hand I made my way in the dark to the sofa where I left my Bible the night before. I turned on the table lamp and my eyes fell on the scripture reading. It was 2 Corinthians 2: 14 which begins, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ.” It was difficult to understand at the time, but I knew God loved us and we could trust Him.
Before the trial our family was told we might not be allowed inside the courtroom. If the other family filled the court we and our friends would have to wait outside. But as we stood outside the courtroom, Mary’s mother made her way down the aisle filled with people. “I know we’re not supposed to talk to your family,” she said to me with compassion, “but we are not going to keep you out of the courtroom.”
The next day, January 19th, we heard testimony and a confession that our son had given to police during the arrest. He admitted he and Mary had argued about their relationship and his drug buying trips. She threatened to tell police and he shot her. He told them he had started using alcohol and drugs at age 12. He admitted to dealing drugs, using marijuana, cocaine, and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Jared, 21, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. At the time of her death, authorities found methamphetamines in Mary’s body. She was only 18 years old.
Jared has been incarcerated for over a decade now. Many unimaginable things happen behind the walls of prison. It can be a sad place, a depressing place, a fearful place. But it can also be a place where you see God. A place where people can change.
There is never a holiday that goes by that we do not grieve the loss of our son being with us. There is never a holiday that I do not think of how Mary’s family must grieve for her not being with them.
After Jared’s arrest our oldest son became depressed and distracted at work. He was soon fired from his job for taking too much time off. He began a downward spiral with drugs himself. Our youngest son left home, within four months after the trial and three weeks before his high school graduation. We did not know where he was for almost three years.
God’s word has continued to help me get through. It has also helped our sons. Our oldest is in recovery now and his life is moving forward with God’s help and the help of NA and AA. Our youngest son returned home a couple of years ago. He is married to a lovely young woman whom I dearly love and we have two wonderful grandchildren. We all attend the same church. What a blessing.
We visit Jared almost every other week-end. God has protected him and brought him through many hard things. He has made many good changes in his beliefs and has grown in his walk with God. I am reminded of a quote at the end of the devotional that first day of the trial. It was from Life of Praise.
“Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.”
To the world it may not look like much of a future for our son, but the one who holds our son, holds the future.
Editor’s note: We have not identified the name of the author of this article, the mother, nor the real name of Jared, her son, or Mary, the victim, to protect the privacy of family members and others.