A Georgia father believes more could have been done to save his son after his body was discovered three weeks after he went missing.
Douglasville Police discovered Yaron Kathuri’s remains in a 50-feet-well on Saturday, Oct. 22, in an area near where he had been reported missing since Sept. 28. He was dressed in the same clothes he was last seen wearing.
Yaron’s father, Andrew Kathuri, said his son had been denied care at a mental health facility hours before he went missing.
“He had gone seeking help, and he was turned away. I think that that was the nail in the coffin,” Kathuri told Atlanta Black Star. “That his life didn’t matter and that he decided to take his own life.”
Yaron’s cause of death has not been identified. The 17-year-old told doctors that he was feeling suicidal, sent goodbye texts to his friends, and made an emotional call to his family the morning he disappeared.
Still, the police department did not assign a detective to the case until after his family discovered his abandoned car at his favorite mall. His father, devastated by the loss of his elder son, is desperate for answers.
“I just want to know what really happened and whom he may have talked to because I believe he may have talked to somebody about what he wanted to do,” Kathuri said.
Yaron was a quiet and affectionate teenager who often helped with chores and handy work around the family’s Atlanta suburban home, his father said. He enjoyed playing with his 11-year-old brother and went swimming every chance he could. Yaron excelled in his classes and was a skilled trumpet player in his school band and church.
According to his father, the teenager’s “greatest joy” was obtaining his license and driving 200 miles in the dark through construction areas on a family trip to North Carolina in July.
“That’s something he always bragged to his friends. ‘I drove across the state line at night on the highway.’ That’s Yaron,” Kathuri said.
Yaron told his parents a month before he disappeared that his mind was constantly racing. He had problems sleeping and focusing. He started sleeping through his high school calculus class, “which was odd because this boy loves school,” Kathuri said.
His parents made an appointment with a psychologist, but his insurance did not cover it. Instead, they scheduled a well-visit with his pediatrician on Sept. 26. Yaron told the doctor that he felt like harming himself.
“I don’t want to live past the age of 21. I feel like I just want to die,” Kathuri recalled his son telling the pediatrician.
The doctor gave Yaron a referral to the Ridgeview Institute in Smyrna, Georgia, but after waiting 12 hours at the facility the next day, staff told Yaron and his mother that he could not be seen because it was full. They made arrangements for outpatient treatment in the future.
“So, he came home. He felt so disappointed. He felt let down,” Yaron’s father said.
That was the last day Yaron’s family saw him alive. He left his house the next morning for school but never showed up for his classes. Instead, he sent a mass text to his close friends. He told his friends he couldn’t “do life anymore,” and he loves them, his father told Atlanta Black Star.
Yaron’s mother was at work, and his father was commuting to his job about an hour from their Douglasville home. The boy called his mother, and she added his father to the call. He was sobbing.
“‘Dad, I’m sorry. Mom, I am sorry,'” Kathuri recalled his son saying. “And I was like, ‘where are you? Just go home.'”
“He was like, ‘Dad, I’m so sorry. He was just crying, and his line went dead after. That was the last time he spoke to us,” Kathuri continued.
One of Yaron’s friends reported the messages to his school. Administrators, school counselors and police officers went to the family’s house. On the drive back to the house, Kathuri tried to think of possible places his son could’ve gone.
Before Kathuri was added to the conference call, Yaron told his mother he was near Douglasville Lake but said that he could not drown in the ankle-deep water.
Yaron’s parents told the police everything they knew about his possible whereabouts and his mental-health crisis, but they would not issue a missing person alert because he was considered a runaway.
After pressure from his parents, the Douglasville Police relabeled Yaron as missing. WSB-TV reports that the missing person’s report was issued that Friday, two days after he disappeared.
Kathuri said the department was even slower to assign a detective to the case. It was only after Yaron’s cousin spotted his vehicle in the parking lot of the Arbor Place Mall on Oct. 1.
Yaron would frequent the mall, which was in front of Douglasville Lake, his father said. Detectives also tracked his son’s cellphone in the area after the car was found.
“They assigned a detective two days after the day that the car was found and that’s when they came to their house. They went to his room. That’s when they sent out— they canvass the area where the car was found. It was two days out,” Kathuri told Atlanta Black Star.
Kathuri arrived at the mall before the authorities got there. He said nothing in the car was out of place. He and his family held onto hope for three weeks that Yaron would come home.
Douglasville police said they discovered the teenager’s remains between Arbor Station and Douglas Boulevard, the same street as Arbor Place mall. The Atlanta Black Star reached out to the Douglasville Police Department for comment on this story.
Kathuri said he is now somewhere “between acceptance and disbelief” about his son’s death.
“It’s a roller coaster,” he said.
Staff members at the Ridgeview Institute told the family that they had been slammed with patients since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Youth and young adults account for 14 percent of suicide deaths in America, and it is the third-leading cause of death among young people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. Studies show that depression and anxiety doubled among youth within the first year of the pandemic.
Black children are more likely to die from suicide than their peers, studies also show. A paper published last September by the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found suicide rates worsened among Black children from 2003 to 2017, with bigger increases among youth between 15 and 17 years old.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended earlier this month that children 12 and older be screened for depression, but some experts believe prescreening for mental health conditions could lead to the overmedication of children.
For Yaron’s family, trying to come to terms with his death has been the biggest challenge.
“You want to tell me he’s gone? For real? His room will be empty. That there is no possibility of him coming,” Kathuri recalled asking to himself when he received news of his son’s death.
They have been receiving support from their community and people in their native country, Kenya. They’ve started an online fundraiser to help with the boy’s funeral.
“He has never done this, never ran away,” the father continued. “He loved his room. He loved being in the house. And so we are trying to come to grips with it is the most difficult thing.”
If you or anyone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, contact 800-SUICIDE for immediate help.