A mother’s story

New book reveals a graduate's struggle with depression and his resulting suicide

Carolyn Zahnow still struggles when remembering the worst day of her life — the day she found her teenage son dead by his own hand.

She relives these memories in her recently published book, “Beautiful Disasters,” in an effort to connect with other parents who might be struggling with similar situations.

But even years later, it’s difficult for her to look back on her novel.

“It’s very hard to go through,” Zahnow said. “I’ve written it a couple of times, and it’s a hard ordeal to go through.”

Zahnow believes Cameron’s experience with depression began when his father died in 2001, Stephenson’s freshman year. In her book, Zahnow includes a paper written by Stephenson about his father’s passing.

“That night I lost my father, and my best friend,” Stephenson wrote. “I can’t ever get that back. Nothing will ever be the same. And for that, I will always remember my freshman year.”

The book is separated into four parts — the four years Stephenson attended high school. The chapters include subjects like drug abuse and self harm.

Cameron was addicted to crystal meth and “Triple C” (Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold medicine). He became distant from his family and refused to open up to therapists.

“Cameron held his emotions inside, bottled up so tight that no one could dig them out,” Zahnow wrote in her book.

Stephenson’s former Latin teacher, Melisande Santos, remembers him as an active, engaged student. However, she noticed a shift in his demeanor as he began to engage in drug activity and become more depressed.

“He got to where he was skipping class,” Santos said. “He liked me, so sometimes I could get him to come. But there was definitely a change.”

The drug abuse, depression and grief eventually led Stephenson to commit suicide on Aug. 11, 2005. His family, friends, teachers and the community were devastated.

“Listening to his mother talk about finding him, that just broke my heart,” Santos said.

Suicides have continued throughout the district in recent years. To prevent further suicides, LISD integrated a Suicide Prevention program that help students identify stress, depression and warning signs.

“I don’t ever want to go to another funeral of another student again,” Santos said. “If this suicide prevention thing helps one kid in the entire district, it’s worth it.”