An Arizona woman is speaking out about an unfathomable tragedy she witnessed 15 years ago.
Patti Colbath of Phoenix, Arizona, told the Arizona Republic the heartbreaking details of the day in October 2001 on which her 12-year-old son, Max, committed suicide right in front of her.
Earlier that day, Max, an eighth grader, was having lunch at Desert Shadows Middle School in Phoenix when he made a profane remark about the vice principal, who was in the cafeteria at the time.
Although the vice principal did not actually hear what Max said, several other students in the cafeteria warned Max that he would get into trouble. At that point, the boy left the school campus and did not return.
When Max failed to show up to his first class after lunch, the vice principal called Patti and explained what had happened. Patti then called her husband, Scott, and the two agreed to both head home immediately.
When Patti arrived home, she could not find Max anywhere in the house.
When she rounded the corner into the backyard, however, she spotted him standing about 20 feet away from her and holding a .357 magnum handgun.
"Max, what's this?" Patti asked as she reached out and touched his wrist.
The boy reportedly answered, "No," and backed away from her. He then pressed the gun to his head, at which point Patti yelled, "I love you!" However, Max still pulled the trigger.
Although Patti called 911 immediately, her son was pronounced dead at the scene. By the time Scott arrived home, Max's lifeless body was lying in the backyard under a blanket.
Patti told the Arizona Republic that her son had been a gifted student. A chess champion, he had skipped the fifth grade and was taking algebra and computer programming classes at Arizona State University.
According to his mother, he had never been in trouble at school before.
Patti said Max had managed to get hold of the gun because Scott, an avid gun user, had neglected to lock up two of his handguns in the garage safe where he normally keeps them.
Patti asked Scott to throw out all of his guns after Max's suicide, which he did. The only gun they decided to keep was the one Max used to shoot himself. Patti now keeps this weapon unloaded in her dresser drawer as a reminder of her son.
The grieving mother has speculated many times as to the reason why her bright, seemingly happy son made such a tragic choice.
"I don't ponder on it the way I used to," Patti said, according to another Arizona Republic article from 2011. "But he must have been devastated by the thought that he might have let us down. You wish that he'd talked about it. He'd seemed so happy. He was testing for the baccalaureate program that Saturday. He had his first boy-girl party. As far as I could see, everything was going along great."
She wants to warn other parents that her son's tragedy could happen to anyone. "You think your kid isn’t that kid," she said. "It can be any kid. You never know."
"Believe me, you don’t want to live with this," she added.
Patti said that she and Scott are still struggling to get on with their lives many years later.
"You don't recover," she said. "But you have to live. You have to get up. To get dressed. To put your shoes on."