(Photo: Saddleback Church)
SANTA ANA, Calif. – An official autopsy report released today by the Orange County Coroner's Office concluded that Matthew Warren, the 27-year-old son of Pastor Rick Warren, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last Friday.
"The autopsy today was completed today on Matthew Warren, 27, of Mission Viejo. The cause of death is a self-inflicting gunshot wound," O.C. Sheriff's Department Office spokeswoman Gail Krause told The Christian Post over the phone, reading from the official statement.
Krause said she did not expect any other announcement coming from the sheriff's department.
Rick Warren notified his church about the tragedy early Saturday morning by email. He shared that no words could express the anguished grief that he and his family, including wife, Kay, are feeling.
"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," began the staff email from him.
Warren described Matthew as "an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man," as those who grew up with him would also say.
"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," he continued. "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."
Matthew Warren's death has sparked a national discussion, especially among Christian leaders, about mental illness and how believers should handle the topic and treat those affected by the illness.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the tragic incident calls for a commitment by Christians to help create space for and minister to those with mental illnesses.
"This tragedy facilitates an opportunity if not an obligation for the Christian community to address mental illness," said Rodriguez on the day Warren made the announcement about his son.
Mental illness exists in and outside of the church community, said Rodriguez. "Christians struggle with depression and even suicidal thoughts. It does not make you less of a Christian. Just like heart disease or cancer does not dilute our Christianity, neither does mental illness."
However, Rodriguez added, "we must stand committed to 'creating space' and providing ministry to those that struggle with depression, and other mental illnesses." He suggested the church of Jesus Christ should partner with medical professionals to bring attention to "this silent illness with grace, compassion and love."
Over the weekend, Associate Senior Pastor Tom Holladay, who is Warren's brother-in-law, gave a sermon on coping with tragedy. He also discussed how the church will move forward.
"We are going to weep with those who weep and attack evil," Holladay said during his sermon. "We are family and we are going to walk through this together."