PRESCOTT - From childhood, Andy Zorn was a boy with big dreams.
Patriotic and financially savvy, Zorn opted to join the Army after high school graduation, two days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. His three years in the 82nd Airborne Division included deployment to Baghdad.
Upon his discharge, Zorn was ready to take advantage of the Army's reimbursement of college expenses and earn a business degree so he could join his mother in her own financial advising firm in Phoenix. His bank account was solid: at 21 he had saved about $40,000. He bought his first car, a $9,000 black Chevy Monte Carlo in cash.
He downplayed the mental toll of his overseas tour, and seemed to be adjusting to civilian life. Working part-time as an auto mechanic and studying for his degree, Zorn seemed happy. He was partying with friends, experimenting with alcohol and marijuana that he had first tried as a teenager.
No one suspected anything out of the ordinary; indeed, he counseled friends struggling with addictions.
Yet, Zorn's life trajectory was off kilter. He suffered from bouts of depression, started struggling in school and work, and his supposed recreational marijuana use became a secret shame. He was an addict.
On March 1, 2014, Zorn hanged himself; his suicide note blamed marijuana.
"Marijuana killed my soul + ruined my brain,' said Zorn's final message.
Zorn's mother, Sally Schindel, shared her son's story to a small audience of about 10 parents, educators and mental health professionals at Miller Valley Middle School on Wednesday, Feb. 18. The program was sponsored through MATForce, a parent empowerment organization, and the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic.
Schindel travels all over the state talking to big and small groups of teens and adults. She is an advocate against legalization of marijuana for fear it will lead to more addiction and more death. She is wary about how medical marijuana laws are enforced.
Her son's suicide death, one Schindel attributes to a combination of depression, post-traumatic stress and marijuana addiction, is a raw pain in her life.
Still she refuses to hide the reality.
Zorn's obituary is proof.
"Andy's life was cut short when he could not get a grip on mental illness that was robbing him of joy,' the obit reads. "Depression and multiple other issues caused him to think he had never been happy and could never become happy again. His death by suicide ... was to spare his family and friends a future of him getting worse.
"Andy's life had great meaning that we are trying to comprehend. Perhaps one part was to help us all understand that stigmas and silence about suicide and mental illness are not helpful but very harmful and kept Andy from seeking the help that might have saved him ... Suicide and mental illness are NOT disgraceful.'
Schindel wants her son's legacy to be an awakening that marijuana is not harmless, and that mental illness and suicide cannot be taboo topics. Lives depend on it, she said.
"Andy and I are here today to make a better world,' she declared.