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April 6th, 2013
05:20 PM ET

Son of Pastor Rick Warren commits suicide, family says

By the CNN Wire staff

(CNN) -After a lifelong battle with mental illness, the youngest son of Pastor Rick Warren has committed suicide, his family said.

Matthew Warren, 27, died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on Friday, said Deputy Daniel Aikin, with the Orange County Coroner's Office.

The family shared news of his death in an e-mail to church staff.

Rick Warren and his wife founded Saddleback Valley Community Church, a megachurch in Southern California.

"No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now," the pastor wrote in the note, a copy of which was sent to CNN.

"You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He'd then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.

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"But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America's best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided."

According to Aikin, Matthew Warren's body was found at his home in Mission Viejo, California, late Friday afternoon. He put the estimated time of death at around 10 a.m. that day.

The coroner's office is investigating the death. An autopsy will be conducted early next week, Aikin told CNN on Saturday.

According to a spokesman for Rick Warren, Matthew Warren worked in the Saddleback Resources Warehouse, which distributes books and DVDs.

As a pioneer of the megachurch movement, Rick Warren looked to translate traditional evangelical messages to a wider audience.

The pastor gave the invocation at President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration and penned "The Purpose-Driven Life," a Christian self-help guide that became a mainstream best-seller.

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"I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said 'Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?' but he kept going for another decade," Rick Warren wrote in the e-mail.

In a separate statement, his church asked for prayers and that "God's comfort and peace" be with the Warren family.

A spokesman for Warren provided a copy of a letter Warren sent to members of his staff:

Subject: Needing your prayers

To my dear staff,

Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.

No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.

You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.

But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.

Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said “ Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” but he kept going for another decade.

Thank you for your love and prayers. We love you back.

Pastor Rick


CNN's Eric Marrapodi and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

soundoff (1,012 Responses)
  1. justoneman

    Our hearts go out to the Warren family. So very hard to lose a child. Hopefully they won't read most of these comments....
    People really do not have a heart.... SAD...

    April 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • grafixer

      You are so right. Many do not think of the suffering of the family – or what this young man may have been suffering through that caused him to take his own life.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  2. RottenT

    I'm an atheist and no fan of Rick Warren's, but, based on the information I have, it seems that Warren is a good parent who didn't simply try to pray away his son's illness. Sometimes depression is so severe that, like with cancer or other other devastating illnesses, no amount of therapy, prayer, or even love can beat it. Rick Warren and his family deserve our sympathies. Criticizing his theology and his role in our culture can wait.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Mark

      It should not matter that you are an atheist. I am an gnostic – it makes no difference; he lost a son, that is the ONLY thing that matters.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • pwillwerth

      agreed

      April 6, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  3. GL

    Sorry for your loss.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  4. Michael B

    I just love the cowardly atheist trolling here – spewing bile and hatred that they'd otherwise never have the courage to exhibit in public. You're pretty tough with a keyboard, aren't you? If you're here to lend credibility to everything that certain religious people think about us and inflame them even more, then you're doing a bang-up job.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • grafixer

      Seek counseling for your anger. Atheism is not your enemy. You are.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  5. Nicole Falgout

    As a Christian I will say this I have been depressed, I have even been suicidal. I felt like a failure because I have Epilepsy. I felt like I couldn't be the mother my sons needed. With that said it was pressures I placed upon myself, no one else. If anything it was "my faith" that caused me to seek out help, and pray. Yes I prayed, but I also saw a counselor, and changed my meds to help me out. What I can't understand is why are people saying all these hateful things? What did this young man do to any of you? You may not agree with his families beliefs, my believes, or others beliefs, however he never did anything to any of us to deserve the disrespect that he and his family are receiving here. You don't like what his Dad preaches don't read it, or change the channel. As someone posted earlier in defense of their anger Freedom of speech 🙂 And I hope you all have a blessed day and don't worry I'm not trying to convert anyone!

    April 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  6. Tranlation

    In the Christian world, mental illness is a word used for those who proclaim they are gay. For many years dad and his church told the boy he was off, different, not acceptable to them unless it could somehow be a mental illness causing this terrible gayness. But praise Jesus, that because it is a mental illness he will now go to heaven for liking boys.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • Owl Creek Observer

      So all suicides are gay? That's what you seem to be saying. Shame on you.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • Tranlation

      No Owl, I am saying that Mr Warren refused to accept his son as being gay, and convinced the son it was mental illness.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  7. Mike

    Who the hell is Rick Warren and how is this national news?

    April 6, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • elucidated1

      Rick Warren has been on multipile tv shows and is the pastor of a good sized church. ..he's played the "political card" more than once. Did you notice that there was no mention of how his son died?

      April 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  8. Bocepheous

    Stalin was an atheist. So were all the great communist pukes.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • Tranlation

      Warren Jeffs is a christian, JIm Jones was a christian, Hitler was a christian, George W Bush is a christian, and so on and so forth.. your point is mute.. since there is more evidence of Christians acting like pukes then atheist.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • mary

      Did you try to learn those terms today? Apparently so.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Northern Light

      Theists hold up Communism and Nazism, along with the regime of the Cambodian tyrant Pol Pot, as evidence of murderous "atheist" tyrannies that have caused the deaths of tens of millions. While it may be true that Communism portrayed itself as "godless," it did not wage war in the name of atheism, nor were its founders and leaders raised as atheists. They were, in fact, preponderantly Jewish and Christian. Communist Manifesto writer Karl Marx was born a Jew, the grandson of two rabbis, and was converted to Christianity at age 6. Leon Trotsky, whose real name was Lev Bronstein, was born and raised a Jew but later declared himself "an internationalist."

      April 6, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  9. Kelly51

    Why would CNN delete my response to "Inspiration" yet leave the insult's "it" posted to this family, Christianity and the death of someone's child? Is there some kind of hidden agenda going on?

    April 6, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • skip

      Kelly I found your post look on page 1

      April 6, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  10. Bocepheous

    Trolls- go back to your holes where you have no real life.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
  11. Pat

    To religious people, and indeed all decent people reading this, I am a fairly militant atheist, and I wholly denounce the hateful bile being spewed at Warren in these comments. Mental illness is a tragic state that eats people alive, and my heart breaks for the couple who have to bury their baby after what appear to be endless efforts to help him control his demons. Even if his son was actually gay, and his fear of rejection by his own family played a significant role in his despair, history shows us that many if not most conservatives will abandon their intolerance for the sake of family, proving that they are guilty more of a lack of perspective than compassion. I will argue against Warren's beliefs, and those of his ilk, for the rest of my life, but today I grieve with him and his wife. It's so sad.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Alex

      Agree completely. I'm in the same boat and will honestly be the first to critique mega churches/pastors etc.. just due to my personal experience in that environment and seeing the deception and dishonesty that lurks there, but in no way should anyone be saying the things that are being said about this family in their time of grief.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  12. Sharon

    My sympathies to the Warren family and Matthew's friends. As the parent of a bi-polar woman, I live each day with the fear that today will be the day. My child cannot believe that she is truly beautiful, intelligent and loving. She only believes the demons that rule her life. I live in a state that recently mandated that health insurance policies cover autism (our lieutenant governor has an autistic child) but neglected to cover all mental issues. I often disagree with Warren's viewpoint but I can only imagine their pain.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  13. JS

    Hi to all my atheist friends on here posting in disrespect to a life lost. Regardless of why the life was lost, this is a sad story. Atheists proudly believe we are only here due to chance and environment and when we die there is nothing afterwards. Especially there are no consequences for actions taken in this life such as posting nasty callous remarks in disrespect to a sad death. Though they can't prove definitively that there is no God, it doesn't keep them from saying so. It'd be better if you just admitted you aren't 100% sure if there is a God or not, but then you'd have to call yourself an agnostic. The atheist has a very difficult intellectual position to defend by stating 100% there is no personal God in existence. To me it's intellectual rebellion since the more reasonable stance is to say you aren't sure if there is one or not, but that you don't think this is one. I could at least respect that stance intellectually. Have a nice day all and do try not to be completely inconsiderate even if the rest of us are un-enlightened to your infinite knowledge that there is no personal God in existence. Be patient with us and not so mean!

    April 6, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Zachary

      I'm atheist. I mourne this mans terrible loss.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • DM

      The term "atheism: describes the lack of a belief in god.. it has nothing to do with the individual's certainty in their lack of belief.

      Many atheists are agnostic atheists (don't believe in God, but don't know for sure if they're right)

      One can also be an agnostic christian, agnostic jew, agnostic muslim, etc, as well as a gnostic atheist, jew, christian, etc (you are convinced that you are right)

      In my mind, anyone who is not agnostic is pretty close-minded. How can you be 100% certain of anything?

      April 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • JS

      Zachary – as do I.

      DM – There is a clear distinction between the terms atheist and agnostic. The atheist asserts there is no God and they know this to be true. The agnostic asserts they do not know if there is a God and they do not believe in God. I don't see how you can combine atheist and agnostic together since they are both exclusive truth claims, however, I do see how you may combine agnostic with other religions since it's a statement of not knowing for sure and that is the only reasonable intellectual ground to stand on in this world (since none of us have infinite knowledge of all things and all places in all time and outside of time). However, I believe those of other religions would more likely refer to the not knowing as 'faith' instead of using the term agnostic.

      April 6, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  14. grafixer

    Sad that so often, those in a pressured environment to believe and live by what an extreme religious parental influence insists upon end up feeling that they cannot do so... and end their lives. This pressure causes distress – and is sometimes called "mental disorder" – instead of noting it as "my child doesn't believe or want to live the way I want him to". I just hope that he did indeed have a disorder of somekind, and that he wasn't "diagnosed" as mentally ill because he didn't follow the line that his parents insisted upon. We all have the right to live the life that we are born to – even when it is not following our parents' road. Extremist religions are not always the best thing for children that have a more open view of the world. Sometimes, our children are smarter – and more worldly – than parents are.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Someone in Massachusetts

      Many human beings suffer from depression. Your post seems to insinuate that Rick and Kay Warren (Matthew's parents) used their religious beliefs to make life difficult for their son. If you read the letter he wrote to his staff/congregation, you will see that he openly admits his son struggled with depression and was seen by many professionals through the years. I imagine this included psychiatrists (medical doctors), psychologists, social workers, pastors, and anyone else who may have seemed a path to healing.

      No doubt this will change this family from the inside out. I imagine that they will become humbler and quieter (not saying that they are not either of those things–I don't know them), and that they will be better able to love because they have been so deeply broken.

      May their friends and family hold them and each other up in the painful days and months and, yes, years ahead.

      Suicide is a relief to those who end their lives, but their absence from this earth leaves an ache that never goes away.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  15. Syphor

    Does Rick Warren believe suicide lands you in hell? Not being a jerk, just wondering if thats one of his beliefs, that would make it more difficult if so.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Common sense

      Not if you're one of them. If it had been Cher's son, it would be a different story.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Robin

      No, he does not believe that God punishes the mentally ill.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Todd Montgomery

      No, not a belief held by most evangelical Christians. Usually attributed to Catholic beliefs.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  16. jim mras

    Can't wait for next weeks uplifting Jesus quotations, Oh this will be good. I am all ears !

    April 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  17. Jeramy

    It seems people are more concerned about expressing their opinions about Pastor Warren then they are about expressing their condolences. There's a time and place for both. Now is the time for condolences ONLY. I'm seeing comments that bash Rick Warren and then say, "I'm sorry for your loss." Those people should be ashamed of themselves.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  18. kentraco

    Online comments sections provide a platform for some of the least sensitive, most unkind people – the ones you'd never associate with in real life.

    It almost makes you long for the days when idiots stayed in their own villages..

    April 6, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • Hello

      its called free speech.. don't like it ? go to Saudi Arabia or Iran.. or now Egypt of NK...

      April 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Nicole Falgout

      I just have to say I love what you wrote!

      April 6, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Alex

      Agreed. It makes me sick that people are that demented to hide behind a screen and shoot such venom.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Whatever

      "It's called free speech!" No, it's called being an @sshole. Why is it that the people who cry about freedom of speech never have anything worthwhile to say?

      April 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  19. Ted

    While I do not care for organized religion, mega churches and TV evangelists,...my heart grieves for a human being and a father who has lost a son. I wish you courage and faith in the midst of this tragedy.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • grafixer

      Sad that so often, those in a pressured environment to believe and live by what an extreme religious parental influence insists upon end up feeling that they cannot do so... and end their lives. This pressure causes distress – and is sometimes called "mental disorder". I just hope that he did indeed have a disorder of somekind, and that he wasn't "diagnosed" as mentally ill because he didn't follow the line that his parents insisted upon. We all have the right to live the life that we are born to – even when it is not following our parents' road.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      @granfixer.....Warren has openly discussed his son's mental illness for a number of years and as I can tell you from also having a 27 year old mentally ill son, these type of incidents do not happen or are in no way influenced by any sort of religious pressure. Our son has been on the best meds money can buy and a productive citizen; yet, has often talked about the pain and just wishing he could be free and not be around anymore

      April 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      Ted,
      Well written and thoughtful post.....thank you. Regardless of one's thoughts on organized religion, the posts I've read here demonstrate the ignorance the majority of Americans have on the subject of mental illness and it's devastating impact on families. Our 27 year old son was diagnosed with mental illness at age 13 and has been on medication since. He's highly functional with an IQ higher than most people you would meet on the street; yet, every day is a struggle for survival for him and the family. It'd be easy for me to be angry at some of the comments read here, but again, I just chalk up to ignorance

      April 6, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  20. Alexander L

    To the family of Matthew Warren: My deepest sympathies and condolences for you terrible loss. I pray that you are given the strength to hold your family close and eventually heal from this tragedy.

    To address some of the comments on depression: Depression is a disease and each person suffers differently, but all of us share an unspoken bond. We have to accept what depression is and look out for one another for its signs and symptoms. It isn't a case of temporary sadness or a bad mood, it is real and it kills.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • JB

      Thank you for your respectful and kind comment, Alex. I appreciate it.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.