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On the night of July 23rd two air force officers came to our house (all the way from Pennsylvania, the closest base) and informed us that our son had died, that he had been found by the police very early that morning, and it had been ruled suicide. That seemed incredible to us as we had seen Michael only a couple of weeks before and he was fine, happy, even making plans for the future. As the facts came in, and we later visited the site where it happened (as we decided to have him buried there in Arizona at the Cave Creek National Cemetery where his grandfather was buried) it became even more incredible. Here was a young man well liked by everyone, not a loner or depressed, but someone who was constantly helping others, and socially active. He was refereed to as a "great guy", "gentle giant" and a "son that every mother would love to have". I was very grateful to find out how well my son had lived, and how he had continued to fervently serve the Lord on his own. Everyone on the base was shocked and couldn't understand it, and there had been absolutely no signs at all that he was having any difficulties. The Friday before it happened he had just passed a big exam. The Sergeant Major that worked with the Chaplain ate lunch with him and they talked about his options for advancement. She said that there were no signs of anything troubling him, and she usually notices these things. That weekend he and some of the other Christians on base went to the lake and had fun, and even at work on Monday there were no signs of anything troubling him. When they investigated his room everything was in order, nothing out of place, as usual, except for two brand new books sitting on his desk as if waiting to be read (they had no signs of being opened, ie. cracks on the spine, and were both on the subject of psychological reasons why seemingly good people do cruel things to others, one was "The Lucifer Effect" and I think may have been something he was studying in response to recent shootings in the news to try and understand why and perhaps even how to prevent it.) He wasn't the kind of person who would ever be expected to commit suicide. If it wasn't for the evidence of what happened that night foul play would normally have been expected. However, at 8:00 p.m. the Walmart security cameras show Michael buying a rifle and ammunition. He waited until it was quite late because the worker that checks the irrigation system in the field where Michael died didn't see his car at 10:00 p.m. (as we drove to the site we went down a dirt road past an animal boarding place and water park; I mentioned that Michael would likely have gone to the water park sometime, being that he liked things like that; and I also noticed the "No Trespassing" sign on the farm gate along with a sign that said, "No Hunting" and "No Shooting", and I realized that Michael would have waited until he was certain that no one would see him sneaking onto private property, as that alone was something he would feel guilty for.) Michael left a hand written note (it was definitely his writing) that really made little sense for his beliefs, and seemed almost like a quote with only one personal line, the goodbye.
My son Michael 8/6/86 - 7/23/12
My son Michael 8/6/86 - 7/23/12
-Everybody has a selfish motive.
-The survival of the fittest, manipulate, destroy, steal what is others in order to thrive.
-The weak are given two situations to choose from, suffer further weakness and die a slow death or give in to their selfish motives and murder themselves. The latter is stranger than the former.
Good bye world,
... and he signed his full name. It was also obvious from the marks on his hands and where the gun and body lay that he shot himself. There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol, or any other human being involved. The whole thing is still under investigation by the government and will be for a few years, but I don't think they will ever come up with the answer to the question "Why?" What could possibly have gotten into Michael's head between work that morning and shooting himself sometime after midnight?
Tom's VisionThe whole thing was so incredible, beyond human understanding, but God knows what we do not. The night of the 24th, after the officers informed us of Michael's death my husband couldn't sleep at all. He spent the night crying out in prayer, and God showed him some significant things. I'm not sure about the order or anything, but these are the things he saw...
Tom saw Michael climbing up a ladder to an open door out of which light was streaming, but Michael had no head. (When we saw Michael's body where the head was there were only bandages. He had shot himself in the face with a high powered rifle.) Tom called out, "Michael, is that you? Turn around so I can see you." Michael turned, the light shone through him, and Tom saw his smiling face. I'm not sure, but I think it was at this time Tom said that Michael said, "If I had known how it was, I wouldn't have left so soon."
Then the scene was in heaven, possibly in the future. Michael came running up to Tom, like from a football game, wearing old football gear from the 20's, again very happy with a glorified body, and said, "What took you so long?" (Confirmed; there are sports in heaven!)
Again I'm not sure what order these come in but Tom was asking God to show him what happened. He saw the place where Michael killed himself and the surrounding mountains, landmarks that Tom was familiar with. (When we went to the site Tom looked around at the mountains and confirmed that it was the same place as in his vision.) Then Tom saw a malevolent force, sweeping through the valley. It had a shape like that of a Native American mask with empty eyes. I can't add any more to the description because I didn't see it, but the overwhelming idea was that Michael was a victim of these evil forces. I don't know what inner weaknesses they preyed upon (likely his interest in secular psychology and what he was taught in school about survival of the fittest played a part) or what lies they told him to get him to a point of despair where he bought a gun and took his own life while his future was so bright, but it is evident that he was not ready to face a spiritual foe like this one and forgot all about the spiritual weapons he had to combat it. He was as much a fallen warrior as if he had been shot by an enemy in a combat zone. The only difference is that being shot by a human enemy is far easier to see and comprehend than what happened to Michael at the hands of an invisible, intangible foe.
The speech I gave at the Memorial ServiceWhen Michael was introduced to people, and they were told that he was in the Air Force, they would always thank him for his service to our country. He may not have thought that what he did in the Air Force was important enough to warrant their praise, but I'm sure it was important in its own way. However, Michael wasn't only a soldier in the United State's military. He was a soldier in war that has lasted from the beginning, one that has caused more pain and suffering than can be imagined, and has claimed the lives of countless millions. It is not a war fought with guns and stealth planes or with well drawn battle lines, but in the silent places of the heart and mind. Michael was a warrior for the Lord. Most people go through life unaware that we live in a battle zone until they are overtaken by it, but others are actively engaged in combating the darkness arrayed against us all.
When Michael was only three years old, following his church planting missionary parents on the Navajo Reservation, he began his service by accepting Jesus as his Savior. Right away he tried to explain to others, with his limited childish language skills, that they needed to believe in Jesus to be saved. I remember just after he was born, his father said that here was a son who would help him with his work. Being a new mother I had to laugh and say that it would be a long time before that little baby would be any kind of a helper, but he proved to be a great help. He would go door to door with his Father from a young age telling people about Christ, visiting people, and even leading other kids at church while he was just a kid himself. Even when away from us, at college and even here, he tried to help others to the best of his ability, not only to know and serve the Lord, but in any way he could. His brothers and sisters remember him as always trying to teach them and encourage them to do the best that they could. He was always strong and kind, and tried his best to serve God. On the week of the 4th of July he was once more on a familiar battlefield with familiar "comrades in arms", his family, helping strengthen those who were battle weary and making inroads into the enemy's territory. The enemy struck back, and struck back hard.
No soldier should ever go alone into battle. It makes it too easy for the enemy to overcome them. Michael was alone when he fought this battle, and he was defeated. Thankfully we serve a God who snatches victory out of the jaws of defeat. Michael may no longer be with us, but his life is not over. What fears he faced or pain that he had is over, and though he might well have said, "If I had known it was like this, I wouldn't have left so early," God is not finished with this warrior. He is now enjoying heaven and being a big brother to his four siblings that the world has never had a chance to see, Gabriel, Jason, Adriel, and Aquila, but one day when Christ comes down from heaven riding on a white horse, as Revelation describes, followed by all of his people, Michael will be able to achieve his dream of binding up the wounds of the suffering and healing the broken in a world that will need healers more than ever before in the history of man. Meanwhile, the work he has begun here will not go unfinished. I am confident that God will send others to fulfil the work that He had given Michael.
Post ScriptI really appreciate all that the Air Force has done to help our family, flying us out to Arizona and providing for us, arranging the funeral for us, with full military honors - it was such a fitting one for Michael - for also telling, and showing, us everything that we needed to know in connection with the incident, and their continued concern for us. I only hope that we have been able to help them a little in return during this terrible time by giving some insight into what happened.
Michael is buried in Cave Creek National Cemetery. If you ever are in Phoenix, Arizona and want to pay your respects his grave is to the right of the main entrance (take the first right, drive to the bend in the road and stop, then walk straight towards the side fence) in the second row from the side fence. His grave marker has a cross and says "Warrior of the Lord Jesus Christ". He's buried between a Vietnam veteran and a WWII veteran, in good company I think.
Michael's music (that he created at home) is available at: http://jroatch.bandcamp.com/album/otherworlds
My father died in the hospital Christmas morning at age 82. I miss him very much. Compared to my son's death his was rather normal, expected and yet not expected. He had been in poor health for decades yet he survived time after time, outliving his friends and relatives, so his death was the last thing we expected this time, even if it was inevitable. I will be visiting my mom and siblings in a couple of weeks for the scattering of his ashes, and to help my mom and brother sort through all of his things. I know that he is in heaven and feeling better than ever, no linger bound by his poor health, but I still feel the loss in the pit of my stomach. I won't be able to see him or talk to him for a very long time.