All the Rage

A year after Taylor Hooton’s suicide, Plano West Senior High is still in denial about steroid abuse

He had two belts. He tied the first one around the handle of his bedroom door, then tied the second to the first and swung the slack over the door's frame. There was just enough slack to form a noose.

Taylor Hooton slipped his face through it.

It was around this time, 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, July 15, 2003, that Gwen Hooton, Taylor's mother, heard a loud thud come from his room. The thud may have been the door, with Taylor on it, crashing into the wall. Or the noise could have happened moments before, when Taylor slammed his fist into a wall. The impact shook a framed picture off its nails and onto the floor.

Taylor Hooton's older brother, Donald, knew Taylor was on steroids. When his parents commented on how big 17-year-old Taylor was getting, Donald told them the truth. Here, he sits in Taylor's empty room.
Mark Graham
Taylor Hooton's older brother, Donald, knew Taylor was on steroids. When his parents commented on how big 17-year-old Taylor was getting, Donald told them the truth. Here, he sits in Taylor's empty room.
Dr. Babette Farkas treated Taylor for depression. After Taylor's death, the psychiatrist fielded calls from current and former steroid users who live all over the affluent northern suburbs.
Mark Graham
Dr. Babette Farkas treated Taylor for depression. After Taylor's death, the psychiatrist fielded calls from current and former steroid users who live all over the affluent northern suburbs.

In either case, Gwen, downstairs in the kitchen, heard nothing else and figured Taylor had dropped something unpacking.

The Hootons had returned the previous night from a two-week vacation in Europe. London was lovely. As was the south of England, where the family stayed for a week in a cabin miles from satellite TV and high-speed Internet connections. It forced the Hootons, Don and Gwen; Mackenzie, 23; Donald, 22; and Taylor, 17, to entertain themselves. One year later, Gwen remembers the family laughing a lot during its last vacation together.

But after the Hootons had landed stateside and driven back to their home in Plano, Taylor admitted to stealing a laptop and two digital cameras while in England. Why Taylor would steal a computer when his father was the director of international marketing for Hewlett-Packard is anyone's guess, but here are two.

One: Taylor planned to sell the laptop and cameras and buy subwoofers for the monster truck he drove to school. Other kids at Plano West Senior High had nasty stereo systems, and Taylor, as image-conscious as anyone, wanted what other kids had. Or, two: Taylor would sell the laptop and accessories to buy more steroids.

Oh, sure, Taylor had been on them. He wanted to get bigger for baseball; he wanted simply to get bigger--so for maybe six months, Taylor took a pill a day and shot himself up twice a week and added nearly 30 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-2 frame. But he was acting strange on the juice. Fine one minute, hysterical the next, throwing phones through walls or cutting his knuckles with a serrated knife. Gwen and Don took him to a psychiatrist who later informed them of their son's steroid use. Then Taylor told them himself. By June 2003, Taylor had declared himself clean, and his parents and psychiatrist and everyone else believed him. Yet the strange behavior continued. And the stolen laptop was only the latest example.

The Hootons grounded Taylor for stealing. He tried that night, the 14th, and the next morning to negotiate the punishment with his parents, but to no avail. So Taylor went up to his room. Moments later, Gwen heard the thud.

An hour passed. Mackenzie called, saying she was getting lunch from Chipotle. She asked Gwen what she wanted. Gwen told her.

"Well, what does Taylor want?" Mackenzie said.

"Hold on. I'll ask him," Gwen said from the kitchen.

"Taylor!"

She heard no response.

"Hold on a minute," Gwen said, taking the phone with her up the stairs.

Taylor's bedroom door was to the left of the top step. Once Gwen reached it, she shouted, "Mackenzie, call 911 and get here quick!"

His hands were blue. Though she doesn't remember how, Gwen loosened the belt and Taylor fell, with a lifeless clump, to the floor. She started CPR, but Taylor emitted only a soft gurgling noise. Don arrived with the paramedics, and he collapsed before reaching the top stair.

Medics rushed Taylor to Presbyterian Hospital of Plano, but minutes after his arrival, he was pronounced dead.

Detectives from the Plano Police Department found a note on Taylor's bed. "I love you guys. I'm sorry about everything." They also found a picture. It showed Taylor next to his girlfriend, Emily Parker, as well as his buddy, Mark Gomez, and his girlfriend. Taylor had cut his head out of the photo.

And in a chest drawer near the bed, police found, wrapped in an American flag, four gelatin capsules and two vials of steroids with labels in Spanish.


Don Hooton flicks on the computer. It's 3:30 on a Monday morning. Don Hooton flicks on the computer. It's 11 p.m. on a Saturday. Or 10 a.m. on a Sunday. Or 1 a.m. on a Thursday. Or any damn time on any damn day. In the days and weeks after his son's death, Don Hooton flicks on his computer and learns everything he can about steroids and then even more about their effects. And then he flicks it off and wonders how--how in the hell?--he could have missed the signs. Which leads him, somewhat sadistically, back to the computer to learn more.

What he discovers shocks him. Five to 10 percent of people who quit steroids experience withdrawal symptoms. They get depressed. Some attempt suicide. And if depression runs in one's family, as it does the Hootons'--both Gwen and Mackenzie have battled it--the former user is more likely to take his life.

Don has no idea depression is a side effect of steroid use. He keeps scrolling. Comes across a 1994 study by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio that first found a link between depression and steroid withdrawal among 170-odd Cleveland bodybuilders who got off the juice. The author of the study, Dr. Donald Malone, would later say his findings, for whatever reason, hadn't received much attention from the medical community. Dr. Harrison Pope of the Harvard Medical School would say the general populace doesn't know about this link because steroid research, for years, was dominated by physiologists, biologists and sports scientists. Only within the past few years have psychologists and psychiatrists joined in.

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