By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Afterward, Taylor showed no remorse. "God, I wish I would have been on steroids," he told Emily moments later. "Because it would have been way worse."
Taylor went to the party that night. Emily, upset, went home.
JULY 15, 2004. The one-year anniversary of Taylor Hooton's death. There's urgency in Mark Gomez's eyes, because he wants to come clean, yet nervousness, too, because he's fearful of how he'll be perceived. By the Hootons. By his parents. He plunges ahead anyway.
Mark took steroids with Taylor Hooton.
No one knows this. His parents don't. The Hootons don't. A lot of Taylor's friends don't. Emily Parker certainly doesn't.
And there's something else no one knows: Mark didn't do steroids with Taylor during the school year; they used during the summer of 2003, when everyone, Taylor's parents, his girlfriend, friends, psychiatrist, thought Taylor was clean. "A lot of people don't know that," Mark says.
He's a good-looking kid, dark and thin, with the tips of his hair highlighted blond. His family moved to Plano from Seattle the summer before his eighth-grade year. Taylor was the first friend he made. They remained close through high school at Plano West. Mark is in the snapshot police found at the suicide scene. Mark is smiling, next to his girlfriend and Taylor and Emily.
After the funeral, the Hootons asked repeatedly if Mark had done steroids. He always said no. "I thought it would hurt them more if they knew I was doing it, too, because I was so close to them," he says. "I don't know. It was just so stupid."
He got on steroids for the same reasons Taylor did: A lot of people were doing them. As many as 75 boys at Plano West, Mark says. Perhaps 60 percent played football and 20 percent played baseball. And these guys were getting bigger. They might get angry at times, but no one was getting sick; no one was dying. Mark wasn't thinking about the long term. "I didn't think about anything," he says. "Just about getting to the weight room that day."
He was on steroids for three weeks. Taylor and Mark got the stuff in the parking lot of a Borders in Plano from Taylor's dealer in perhaps mid-June 2003. Mark's hazy about some details, but not this one: the dealer's name. He's 19 and lives in Frisco. Don Hooton found some pills after Taylor's death with the dealer's name on them. He gave them to Plano police, who haven't taken any action against the young man and would not comment on whether an investigation is under way. The young man spoke briefly with the Observerand denied being the dealer.
When Taylor and Mark picked up their stuff, they gave the dealer $450 each. The dealer gave them, in paper sacks, Deca-Durabolin, which they shot twice a week, and Anadrol, which they swallowed once a day. The steroids were to last six weeks. Taylor told Mark that "stacking," taking two steroids at once, would give him better results quicker.
And it did. Mark's bench press shot up 40 pounds. But he also punched holes in the walls of his house for no reason. He had to make excuses when his parents got home.
Mark doesn't know if Taylor used while he was in England in early July. Taylor called Mark from the airport after landing in the States and said, "I'll call you when I get home." Mark had at least three weeks' worth of steroids left. But Taylor didn't phone that night. And Mark never heard from him again. He never used steroids again, either.
Felt too guilty about it.
One day, about a week after the funeral, the guilt became too much, and Mark walked out of his house. In the glove compartment of his father's car was a gun. "There was a lot of crap running through my head," he says. If he took his life, he didn't want to do it around other people, and his family was inside. He stood in his driveway for a moment. But then he walked back to the front door.
It's difficult to say if Mark was depressed because he had got off steroids or because he felt partly responsible for Taylor's death. But a year later, he's sure of one thing about steroids at Plano West: "People just don't take it seriously. They don't know what it can do to you. It's still a problem."
And because people are getting it at school, or know how to get it from other kids at school, Mark says random testing should be done there. "After something like this happens, I don't think anything is too expensive. Have it done. Because it's still happening."
(NYU's Dr. Gary Wadler knows of no high school in America that conducts random steroid tests. Not only are such tests expensive, Wadler says, but schools must also think of the costs incurred should parents decide to sue the school district over the consequences of a positive test result.)
He's now told his story. In Mark's eyes there is still that fearfulness, but he seems grateful, perhaps relieved.
Why is he coming clean?