'I do not even know my own child' | Parents tell story of son's depression, suicide in hopes of saving lives
Author: Mitzi Morris, Sarah French
Published: 11:10 PM EDT May 21, 2019
Updated: 11:26 PM EDT May 21, 2019
HEALTH 4 Articles

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Nathan Kocmond disappeared in the fall of 2017, his parents were desperate to know what happened to their son.

“We were determined to do anything we could to find him, and we were convinced,” Dr. Jon Kocmond began, “That we’d find him,” Sarah Kocmond finished.

At first, they thought the 16-year-old had run away, just like he did just six months before.

“He was only gone for three hours; we found him immediately,” Kocmond’s dad said. He answered his phone. He was tearful.”

But this time, there was no note, no clue as to where he might have gone.

“We really had no idea what his intentions were,” said his mom. “I guess he was really determined to make his own decision.”

EXPLORE

'I do not even know my own child' | Parents tell story of son's depression, suicide in hopes of saving lives

HEALTH
Chapter 1

“He was impulsive but not nearly a threat to himself.”

After Kocmond ran away the first time, he saw two psychologists and a psychiatrist.

“What did they tell you?” asked NBC Charlotte’s Sarah French.

“They told us he was an existential thinker and that he had deep thoughts and strong thoughts, but that was normal for a teenager,” said his dad, who is a pediatrician. “He was impulsive but not nearly a threat to himself. They reassured us that over and over, and three of them told us the same things in that regard.”

“I was never told, ‘We’ve diagnosed him with depression,’” Kocmond’s mom added.

This seemed like good news to the parents.

“It allowed us to be a little bit less attentive to him,” his dad said. “At the same time, it reassured us that he was normal, it devastated him that this is what he was going to have to live with.”

Because he was having such a hard time at school, the Kocmonds allowed their son to switch from Providence High to Providence Day.

“Sorta booster his mental health,” his mom said. “As a parent, saying I will do anything to make you happy.”

Things seemed to get better at first; Kocmond joined the football team.

“He was much happier,” his dad said. “I think the thing that he liked more than anything was a team atmosphere and being around other kids.”

He was also a Boy Scout.

“As soon as he got to the meetings, he lit up and he thrived,” said his dad. “He was the senior patrol leader.”

However, Kocmond’s football season came to an early end. He suffered a concussion and started getting headaches.

“We quickly took him to a concussion specialist who actually showed that it was affecting cognition as well as his mood,” said his dad said.

With that, a decision was made.

“Certainly, we were not going to have him play football again. Underneath, he didn't reveal to us the turmoil that he was going through. Or the acceptance or despair,” said Kocmond’s dad. “The extent of that was unfathomable.”

“It seemed like he had dug himself into an emotional hole that he did not recover from,” his mom said.

“What seems so obvious now was not at the time,” said his dad.

However, they pressed on, asking their son if he was having suicidal thoughts.

“He was adamant. I mean, to a point of like, how dare you even accuse me of thinking something like that?” his mom said.

Chapter 2

“He’s playing a game.”

The last time the Kocmonds saw their son was Columbus Day, Monday, October 8, 2017.

“(His sister) Eloise was still here (at home), and he told her, ‘If Mom asks, I went to meet my friends before the scout meeting,’” his mom said.

Kocmond’s mom got home around 5 p.m. A few hours later, when the teen didn’t come home, she started to worry.

“Once we talked to a few people and reached out to those (scout) moms, they said he wasn’t at the meeting,” she said.

When Kocmond ran away before, he wasn’t driving yet. Now he had a license.

“My gut told me he got in a car, and he’s playing a game. He’s going to see how far and how fast he can get away and for how long,” she said.

As the Kocmonds began searching for their son, the community rallied around the family. His mom turned to social media for help.

“I posted things publicly to get hundreds and hundreds of comments back from friends, distant, distant friends, acquaintances, to total strangers, trying to offer prayers and words of hope during that time we were looking for him,” she said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and the FBI got involved. Panther Greg Olsen tweeted about the search, and a GoFundMe was started to help find the teen.

“It’s unbelievable the support that we got from very, very close friends and complete strangers,” his mom reflected. “Because it was a missing persons report, there was so much hope.”

Back at home, the couple tried to keep things as normal as possible for Kocmond’s sister.

“There really wasn’t any news. There were some leads along the way but nothing really was legitimate,” his mom said. “You also didn’t know how long that period of looking was going to last.”

Kocmond’s older brother, Taber, was at college and didn’t handle the news of his brother’s disappearance well. The freshman sought comfort from his friends.

“He had made his way to the fraternity house and the 50 other pledges were surrounding him and comforting him through that,” his mom said.

Kocmond’s parents also turned to the media and tried to reach their son through an interview with NBC Charlotte.

"We want you to reach out to us,” his dad previously said. “We pray that you have a change of heart and come home to us. We want to hug you. We want to see you. We want to talk to you again."

His mom said they searched all his devices for any clue as to where he might be. The couple even hired a private investigator and offered a $5,000 reward for information, which was then increased to $10,000.

"You honestly have no idea what this feels like, the unknowing of where your child is. It's very, very hard," his mom said at the time.

Looking back, Kocmond’s mom said she wouldn’t have been so public about her son’s disappearance -- if she knew then what she knows now.

“If there was some note that was left behind that you could read between the lines and understand this might not just be a missing person, I don’t think I ever would have gone to the extremes,” she said.

“I think, in some misguided way, he was really just trying to escape and hoping that nobody would notice or that he would just be gone and not found,” his dad said.

Chapter 3

“We’re still at a loss.”

Kocmond was found.

The following Friday in Montgomery County, his body was discovered in the Uwharrie National Forest where he was supposed to have gone with his Boy Scout troop at a previous meeting.

He’d hung himself.

“We’re still at a loss as to exactly what culminated in his demise,” his dad said.

“That’s something you wouldn’t expect as a mother. To hit that moment where you’re like, wow, I do not even know my own child,” his mom said.

Kocmond was wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt, with the image of a fallen angel, when he drove more than 60 miles away from home and committed suicide.

“I don't know why he chose that shirt, or why God chose it for him, but it directed us to the song ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” his dad said.

Detectives came to the couple’s home to deliver the news. From there, word spread fast.

“Eloise was at the football game,” Kocmond’s dad said. “By the end of the game, the players knew as well.”

“The news captured it before we told friends because someone heard it on dispatch,” his mom added. “So when we were telling our friends, our friends knew.”

Kocmond’s mom described her initial grief as a surreal, out-of-body experience. His dad used words like emptiness, numbness, and shock. But they each remembered the days after their son’s death being spiritual.

“I was floating around on this cloud of faith,” she said.

“I would describe it as a God-given bubble that we had of protection and handholding through that moment,” he said. “Even now, I think the grief has really just trickled through piece by piece in such small doses because that’s really all we can handle.”

Losing Kocmond was also devastating for the football team. His mom spoke to his teammates before their first game after learning of the teen's death.

“Some of them were just weeping for his loss, and they hadn’t even known him for that long,” she said.

“I remember what you said,” his dad mentioned. “God was with him, and God will be with you, and you said you watch, you'll go out and score 42 points against this team.”

That's exactly what they did -- against an undefeated opponent. Providence Day won 42-25. Kocmond's jersey number was 42.

“I think they all did feel certainly Nathan's presence, but also God's presence in that moment,” said his dad.

Chapter 4

“There’s a bit of peace in knowing that there’s an end to his story.”

“Do you continue to see signs?” asked French.

“There will be moments that you cannot explain that you know that Nathan is with us,” his mom said.

One of those moments happened when they came across a lone hiker on a family trip to Zion National Park.

“There was only one that had a portable speaker with him, and at the moment we crossed paths with him, it's playing ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” said Kocmond’s mom.

Another time, on a trip to Italy, they were on an excursion to learn how to make gelato, and a live version of the Led Zeppelin song was playing on TV.

As the family holds onto signs, there are still no real answers. Kocmond’s mom said she stays mindful not to get wrapped up in why -- or what they could have done.

“There was no goodbye from Nathan,” his mom said. “There’s a bit of peace in knowing that there’s an end to his story. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with a missing person and have that be your child for any longer than we had to. That’s unfathomable to me.”

“The evil that took Nathan the only way that we've been able to get through it is through the love of others, through the love of our family and ultimately through the love of God,” said his dad.

Kocmond’s parents want to use the money raised from a GoFundMe campaign to eventually start a foundation in their son’s name.

“We still think of Nathan every day. We still struggle with his loss. We pray; we cling to that hope. Some days are better than others,” said his dad.

Kocmond’s mom said talking to parents who have been through the same ordeal helps.

“There’s some sad solace in that. You’re not the only one,” she said.

And so they continue to lean on others and rely on their faith to try to fill the void.

“I don’t think the reality has really even hit us now, a year and a half later. I don’t think we fully recognize what we lost on this earth,” he added.

If you or someone you know is in distress, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

MORE STORIES ON WCNC.COM

Pro-choice, pro-life groups clash at rally in Charlotte

Handwritten wills found at Aretha Franklin's home could shake up estate

Students will go to school on Memorial Day in Lancaster County