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.
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.
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.
Don keeps scrolling, keeps learning. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 500,000 eighth- and 10th-graders across America are juicing...In 1991, one year after Congress banned steroid use without a prescription, 2.5 percent of 12th-graders had used steroids. In 2002, 4 percent of 12th-graders had...The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy says as many as 11 percent of high-schoolers across America are using steroids...With each passing year, NIDA has found that fewer kids think steroids pose a long-term risk...And 46 percent of the 12th-graders NIDA polled say steroids are "very easy" to get.
Plano West Senior High, an affluent school in a state with easy access to Mexico and its supply of cheap pharmaceutical drugs, is certainly no exception. Students, some of them former steroid users, tell the Dallas Observer that Plano West had a big problem with steroids before Taylor's death. And it has one still. Students differ on how severe the problem is. One says 80 percent of male athletes and non-athletes are on steroids; another says it's only a handful of athletes and bodybuilders. Still another says one-third of the football team's on it. A fourth person says there are athletes on it--maybe 35--but even more non-athletes. On and on the estimates go, from kids who've either used the drugs themselves, watched kids take them or heard from kids who said they were using. But all of the students agree the school has done little to address the problem.
Dr. Doug Otto, superintendent of the Plano Independent School District, has said there isn't a widespread problem, but he's tried to assuage students' fears nonetheless. At Plano West, steroid use is discussed in health class, but more to the point, in October last year, the school held an assembly on steroids. That night, doctors from Southern Methodist University talked about the drug's side effects. And Mike Long, who took steroids in the '70s, overcame terminal cancer in the '90s and today coaches football at Fossil Ridge in the Keller Independent School District, spoke about what steroids had done to his body. The administration viewed the assembly as a comprehensive response to Taylor Hooton's death, showing the people of Plano it was not going to shy away from this perceived problem.
But that's exactly what many students say the school has done. The assembly, Don Hooton says, wouldn't have happened had he not organized it. And one former user who spoke to the Observer says after the assembly, a poster was put in the boy's locker room advising kids to stay off steroids. That was the only continuing education he received. Steroid use is still rampant at Plano West, he says.
Students say throughout the year, the attitude among teachers and administrators across Plano ISD was one of denial. Taylor Hooton was already depressed. That's why he committed suicide. Our athletes dedicate themselves to the weight room. That's why they're big. Students say the school in particular and the district in general are interested in maintaining their image: PISD remains a great place to educate your kid. The district doesn't want to deal with what some view as an alarming reality.
Case in point: In December, Otto released a statement saying steroid use across the district was not a problem. Only "two percent of [the student body] in grades 7-12" said they'd used. The numbers came from the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M, which polls students anonymously in each district across the state.
The poll was outdated, for one. The data collected came from 2001. And there was no follow-up question during polling like "What sort of steroids have you taken?" that would have verified a kid's use. (If a student doesn't know the type of steroids he's taken, Dr. Harrison Pope of Harvard says, it's a good indication he's lying about taking them or confused about what steroids are.) Last, the poll did not address Plano West in great detail, where students think the problem is the worst in the district.
"That 2 percent number is a joke," says Billy Ajello, 18, who was Taylor Hooton's best friend. Billy started at catcher his junior and senior year for West's varsity baseball team and graduated in May. "A lot of kids who do steroids won't tell a single [adult]," he says. Yet, surrounded by their peers, the secret often slips out. "I know of so many people who have taken steroids and take them still," he says. Before Taylor's death, students at Plano West talked openly to other students and even bragged about their steroid use, he says. Some brag even now.
Emily Parker, 17, agrees. She was Taylor's girlfriend, and she sometimes rode with him when he bought steroids in the parking lot of fitness centers. She and Taylor hung out with people who took the juice and talked about taking it. She knew of guys on the football team doing it, guys on the baseball team, the basketball team. Regular, non-athlete guys, too. She knew of guys who were too scared to inject themselves, guys who'd have Taylor do the injecting. She once went with Taylor to a house in Plano where vials and syringes were on the kitchen counter, empty. "Creepy," she says. Steroids are still a "huge" problem. For example, some students this year told Emily that, because of Taylor's death, they've quit using. She's glad they've quit, but "not enough, not nearly enough" have come forward. "Like 10," she says. "Out of the hundreds of guys who took steroids."
Emily continues, "I just don't understand...how all these kids are saying, 'Look. We're around it. We know it's a problem. We're friends with these people. We go to school with them. You don't know.' And then they're just not even acknowledging it. They're totally dismissing it. They don't want to have anything to do with it at all."
The Dallas Observer tried repeatedly to interview Plano West athletics director and head football coach Mike Hughes, baseball coach Kendall Clark, principal Phil Saviano and Superintendent Otto. None of them responded to phone calls, e-mails or a written request for an interview.
But what can be done? Testing is said to be too expensive for high schools; it costs as much as $125 per student, and to be effective, a school needs to test two or three times a year. Professional athletes certainly aren't setting any sort of example.
Don Hooton says perhaps the best way to reverse the trend of steroid use at Plano West and across the nation's high schools is to talk about it. Talk about the drug's availability. Talk about its effects. Talk about why kids are doing it anyway. Even talk about Taylor, again and again, if that's what it takes.
I'm thinking about taking steroids," Taylor Hooton said. It was November 2002, and he and Billy Ajello were sitting in the back of chemistry class at Plano West.
Billy looked over to see if Taylor was serious. He was.
"What? Why?" Billy said. "Why would you want to do that?"
Taylor could tell Billy wasn't pleased, so he backed off. "I don't know," he said.
But he did know.
Taylor and Emily Parker--a cute girl, all high cheekbones and kind smiles--started dating in the summer of 2002 and quickly became each other's confidant. He told her things he told no one else. Taylor, she says, was always concerned about his looks. He'd spend hours on his hair, gelling it, fussing it, spiking it, highlighting it. When he went out, he had to be well-dressed. And one time, his friends caught him using concealer to cover his zits.
His body was his biggest disappointment. At 6-foot-2, he was taller than everyone in his family--no one else topped 6 feet--but he didn't have the stockier build of his father or the flat-out muscular physique of his brother. Taylor was skinny. Or perhaps the better word is lithe, because he did look athletic. And athleticism ran in the family. Donald pitched at Louisiana-Lafayette and the University of Texas at Arlington. In 1972, Burt Hooton, Taylor's cousin, threw a no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs.
From the start, Emily says, "The steroids were an issue...He was thinking how to get the money. It was for sure that he wanted to get on them."
He never worried about the consequences. And because of the lack of secrecy among West's student body, Taylor knew scores of people on steroids. They never showed any side effects. They just got bigger.
"At Plano West, before the death happened, I remember it was almost like people looked up to you for using steroids," says Emily, who was a year younger than Taylor. "It was cool. It wasn't something you were ashamed of or kept to yourself or were secret about. It was what people wanted to do...They were almost a way of life. I was used to hearing about so many guys who did it."
When Taylor told her he wanted to use, she says, "It didn't even faze me."
In November 2002, a West baseball coach--the Hootons don't know who--told Taylor he needed to get bigger if he wanted to pitch varsity that summer. That was all the push he needed to buy steroids, though Emily maintains Taylor got on them "for his looks," because at Plano West, you drive the right car, wear the right clothes and have the right build. Or you don't fit in. "And every guy was big," Emily says.
Somehow, Taylor knew his mother's ATM code. In February, he took $400 out of her savings account. One day, he and Emily were in his pickup, and he stopped by a local YMCA. In the parking lot was a guy--white, 6-foot-4 with a pretty good build--holding a paper sack. Emily didn't know him, but Taylor said he was the older brother of a friend.
"Just wait here," Taylor told her.
Taylor walked up, gave the guy some bills and walked away with the sack. "It was in broad daylight," Emily says.
In March, Taylor took another $400 out of his mother's account. One day, Taylor and Emily stopped at a 24 Hour Fitness. The same guy was in the parking lot. The deal went down the same way. Only this time, back in the truck, Taylor showed her the vials and pills in the sack. It wasn't something she wanted to see again.
Perhaps a week later, in late March, Billy Ajello was at the Y getting in a workout. Taylor was there, too. Since that day in chemistry, Taylor hadn't mentioned steroids to Billy. But Billy knew. Here was Taylor, with an 85-pound dumbbell behind his head, doing tricep extensions. Ten, 12 reps. Two or three sets. Not even tired. And yet, six weeks earlier, Taylor had struggled with the 60-pound dumbbell.
JUNE 25, 2004. Three weeks before the one-year anniversary of Taylor Hooton's death.
Patrick Burke starts talking about steroids immediately after his lunch companion sits down. He parts his folded hands. His face comes alive.
"It's the elephant in the corner," says Burke, a friend of Taylor Hooton's who ran cross-country at Plano West and will graduate this summer. He says he's personally seen guys use steroids "a few dozen times" at West. "They would do it in the showers [at school] mostly. Some kids wouldn't have the nerves, I guess, to do it themselves, so they'd have others do it...They'd just carry it in with their stuff [for gym class]. They had those shower bags; they're, like, mesh. Just throw your stuff in there. Take a shower. When nobody was looking, when no coaches were around, just quick"--he sticks an imaginary needle in his butt.
"It's an everyday thing," Burke says. "I'd say 80 percent of the athletes either have used or are using--I mean, in the sports that you would need them. Wrestling, some track, a lot of football, baseball."
This is a widely contested estimate, even among kids who are former users. Still, no student who spoke with the Observer disagreed with Burke's overall assessment: Steroids are a problem at Plano West.
And that's what Burke's upset about. In March, district Superintendent Otto read a statement about steroid abuse within PISD at a seminar held at Plano East Senior High School. It was the third and last steroid seminar the Hootons had organized, having already held one at Plano West and another at Plano Senior High.
"We feel steroid usage is minimal," Otto said that night, "because of the work of our teachers and coaches. We want to emphasize that there is not extensive usage of this substance by young people who attend Plano ISD schools."
Burke, sitting in the audience that day, thought, "That's absurd." He says this past year at Plano West he saw signs of steroid abuse "every day."
So he wrote a letter to Otto. "In my personal experience," he wrote, "steroids as well as other illegal drugs have been readily available and at our students' fingertips since I have attended high school in Plano. To deny that such a situation exists is a cowardly and irresponsible approach to dealing with this deadly problem."
As for the teachers and coaches educating Plano's youths, Burke continued, "As a...student, I can only recall one section on steroid awareness that was buried within one chapter of one textbook in Plano's one required health class...I would call this education effort mediocre, at best." Burke wrote that the coaches and administrators are either "blind" to the steroid problem or they have their "heads in the sand."
"He wrote back," Burke says with a smirk. "It was basically a pat on the head thanking me for my opinion."
Otto did commend Burke for "taking a stand on this difficult issue." But he also wrote, "I'm sorry that you disagree with the position taken in my statement."
Today, you can see that the school's effort disgusts Burke. Otto told him he should come forward with any information he has, but Burke has seen guys use and later deny it. Testing is the only way to root out the problem, he says.
Nancy Long, a PISD spokeswoman, would not comment on whether Plano West or any other PISD school plans to do any random testing. But Don Hooton has asked the school before. Officials told him it would cost too much.
Yet in 2003 the district opened a 9,800-seat, $18.7 million football stadium for all three Plano high schools to use--as well as three indoor practice facilities for the teams, one at each school, replete with 50 yards of artificial turf and a weight room off to the side, for $6.9 million more.
Dr. Gary Wadler, professor of medicine at New York University and an expert on steroid abuse, says steroid testing is a "critical element" in fighting the problem. "And to ignore that is to ignore reality." In the case of PISD, he says, "The budget allocations really are a reflection of a philosophy."
Long says that's not fair. The football stadium and practice facilities were part of a $398 million bond package voters passed in 2001, she says.
Still, Burke says, if the school doesn't have the money for steroid testing, raise it. Increase the price of student activity fees. Heck, raise the money for testing through booster clubs, similar to the booster club the Plano West football team has. Maybe the steroid club could work year-round, as the football club does.
"Taylor Hooton's death," Burke wrote in his closing paragraph, "brought national...attention to our community. The eyes of the nation are upon us. Failure is no longer an option."
Sure, Emily Parker noticed Taylor getting bigger--it was hard not to--but because she spent every day with him, his increasing muscularity wasn't nearly as pronounced as his ego. As winter became spring, Taylor's clothes no longer hung off him--they clung to him. Still, he borrowed shirts from friends with smaller builds or bought smaller-sized clothing, the better to show off what he'd created. He still walked the school halls with insouciance, but now there was a hint of menace in his stride, in case anyone wanted to challenge him. No one ever did.
By April, he'd gained 25 pounds of muscle and was the man-child he'd dreamed of being. But these were not happy times for Emily and Taylor. His mood swings are what Emily remembers most. Violent, object-chucking, hand-bloodying mood swings that left Taylor, around Emily, in a perpetual state of apology. "We would fight all the time," she says. About what, she doesn't remember. The fight always upstaged whatever caused it.
And his reactions. God, how she hated his reactions. He once took a painting off the wall in his dad's home office, threw a phone through the wall and then put the painting back in place. Taylor punched the bathroom wall until his hand bled; he punched doors, punched fences, punched his truck. In chemistry class, Taylor once handed in a paper late. The teacher told him he'd get a zero for his tardiness. He turned and said, "I'm about to rage," walked toward the steel door, punched it as hard as he could and walked out. Sitting nearby, Billy Ajello thought, "This is not the Taylor I know."
But Billy never told Don and Gwen Hooton. Nor did Emily. Patrick Burke knew, but he didn't tell the Hootons either. "There was just this secrecy among themselves," says Lynn Taylor, Burke's mother. "It was almost like a code of honor."
In mid-April, Donald Hooton got a call from Taylor, his brother. Donald lived in Philadelphia at the time and was two semesters shy of a degree in business administration from Gwynedd-Mercy College. A few days earlier, his parents had phoned, saying how big Taylor was getting. Donald knew his brother was on steroids but had promised Taylor he wouldn't tell. That day, though, when Taylor called and complained of being angry all the time, Donald knew he shouldn't keep the secret any longer. He called home.
Don and Gwen had noticed how irate Taylor had become, but they'd raised two teenagers already and damn if they hadn't acted irate, too. When Donald called, however, it changed things. On a Sunday night in April, after dinner, Gwen and Don confronted Taylor. He denied using steroids. Yet, as he sat there answering their questions, Gwen noticed Taylor absentmindedly cutting the skin off his clenched knuckles with a serrated knife.
She asked him what he was doing.
He quit doing it but never really gave an answer.
Later that night, Don and Gwen decided to reach a friend of Mackenzie's who knew of the dangers of steroids but had never used them and now played for the New York Giants. Maybe this friend, the Hootons figured, would scare Taylor off steroids--if, in fact, he was using. They asked Taylor if he would speak to the guy. His face got red. "Well, you know what?" he said. "I might as well get a knife right now and get it over with."
He had never talked this way before, but Gwen had taken medication for depression, and Mackenzie, in high school, had attempted suicide after her best friend was killed in a car accident. Gwen called her psychiatrist, Dr. Babette Farkas. Farkas was too busy to see Taylor but recommended someone else.
Taylor sat through three sessions. "Mom, he thinks I'm just a typical depressed teenager." Taylor was sure he wasn't.
In May, though, he met regularly with Dr. Farkas to appease his mother. Dr. Farkas put Taylor on anti-depressants. Soon after, he admitted to Gwen and Don he had used steroids but was now off them. He told Emily the same thing. And he didn't act as rash around Dr. Farkas. Still, Gwen and Don, uncertain, put him through a drug test. Taylor's results came back clean. (Though after his death, the Hootons discovered Taylor was tested for street drugs, not steroids.)
By this point, he was melodramatic around Emily, saying how he couldn't function without her. At times he was depressed. Other times, angry. And never was he angrier than one Friday night in early June.
Kids from around Plano often gathered in the parking lot of a local Wendy's and talked about the evening's plans before heading out. That night, there was going to be a party; somebody's parents were out of town. As Taylor and Emily talked with everyone--there were maybe 30 people at the Wendy's--Emily's ex-boyfriend, Dan Culver, who went to high school in Carrollton, drove up in his Jeep. Emily said hello and gave Dan a hug. Taylor got upset. He yelled at Dan. When Dan didn't react, Taylor pulled him out of his Jeep, put him in a headlock, punched him until he was on his back and then punched some more. After a few more shots, Taylor stood up, Dan a bloody mess beneath him and everyone encircling the two and cheering Taylor on.
Emily saw Taylor from behind, and she was scared. The veins in his neck pulsed with anger. "C'mon," he yelled at Dan. "I'll give you more." But Dan was barely moving by then, and his shirt was drenched in blood. His friends took him to the hospital. The incident was never reported to the police. (Dan Culver couldn't be reached for comment.)
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 Observer and 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?
"I don't know," he says, thinking it over. "It just happened. "
After the bloody fight with Dan Culver, after Taylor had, once more, apologized to Emily, the crying started. "It was never really yelling at that point," Emily says. "He'd just cry and cry. We'd be on the phone for hours, and he'd just be crying. "
Taylor thought he was a disappointment to her, to his parents, to himself. He was on the baseball team, pitching mostly for the JV squad. But this isn't what upset him. No one knows exactly what upset him. The crying, like the fighting, always upstaged what caused it.
He wasn't pleased with his body, that much was known. He'd lost his boyish face, and he still carried roughly 20 pounds of muscle he'd gained--he looked, at that point, much older than his 17 years--but Taylor in mid-June thought he was losing his precious mass. He wanted back on the juice.
"No, Taylor. I don't want to go through that again," Emily said.
"If I start raging"--that's what he called it around Emily--"I'll get off them right away."
But Emily hated that Taylor. That Taylor wasn't at all like the kind, funny one she'd met nearly a year ago.
"No," she said.
Taylor let the subject drop.
He was careful about it, once he started using with Mark Gomez. Taylor took Azo, a detox readily available through the black market, which, in a urine sample, supposedly masks evidence of steroid use. (Which is possibly why his autopsy report didn't show any steroids in his urine, though steroids were present in his bloodstream. It can take weeks for steroids to leave the bloodstream, experts say.) Taylor also took Clomid, an estrogen pill designed for women with fertility problems. Taylor thought Clomid would limit his mood swings, balancing out the testosterone he was injecting and swallowing every week.
But by late June, Taylor's anger had long been replaced by numbing depression. Dr. Farkas still met with him regularly, still had him on anti-depressants. All Emily noticed was how much he cried. He'd cry and tell her she was the love of his life, she was the only reason he went on, he'd love her for eternity. It was strange. Emily knew he was sad, but she thought it was simply a phase teenagers went through. Besides, didn't these words show a romantic side, too?
Around his parents, Taylor was stoic. They never knew the range of his emotions. Neither did Mark or any other friend of Taylor's.
July 16, 2004. One day after the one-year anniversary of Taylor Hooton's death.
Dr. Babette Farkas says the problem of steroid use is not limited to Plano. From her office in Dallas, the psychiatrist talks about the 40 or so calls she's received in the year since Taylor Hooton's death, all of them from former users or their concerned parents or coaches, wondering about steroid withdrawal and depression. People call from Frisco, Addison, Carrollton--all over the northern suburbs. Dr. Farkas is in therapy now with a principal from Carrollton who took steroids in high school, a 26-year-old from Plano who's depressed since he quit using and an 18-year old from Plano West named Chris Wash.
Wash started using steroids when he was 15. He got bigger, angrier and was eventually kicked off West's basketball team. "I was probably one of the biggest hard-asses in school," he says. Didn't matter. He kept using. He loved how much energy he had in the weight room, how big he was getting. He never thought about consequences. Of course, he'd rage, but so would a lot of guys using at Plano West. The rages, he says, were an expected part of this subculture.
What scared him was Taylor's suicide. Wash kept his vow to quit after Taylor's death--only to experience a similar depression. Compounding the problem were insecurities that resurfaced. Steroids squelch any self-doubt about one's physique. Once off the juice and in the grip of depression, the former user loses his build, then his self-confidence, which makes the despair that much worse.
It's a despair that can't be explained unless you've been there, but suffice it to say Wash thought about suicide many times and once stopped his car on the Plano Parkway overpass, Dr. Farkas says. He looked at the Dallas North Tollway beneath him. But he didn't jump.
Last fall Wash fell behind in his classes. He didn't graduate with his friends this spring. And he won't graduate until winter. He'd like to get involved with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which Don and Donald have organized. He wants other kids to know the dangers of steroids; he feels nearly an obligation to tell them, yet every time he does, Dr. Farkas says, "he's reliving his depression." Which can spiral him deeper.
Yet he's the one who's alive after taking steroids and becoming suicidal. "Very few kids that go through this depression and get suicidal get through it," Dr. Farkas says.
HE WENT over to Emily's on July 14, the night the Hootons returned from their vacation. Emily and Taylor sat on the porch near her back yard. He wanted to stay outside despite the humidity, despite the heavy sweater he wore that he'd bought in England. He told her he'd be grounded for a while because of the laptop. He cried for a time, then brought out the gifts: a teddy bear, a key chain, T-shirts. He gave her a poem he'd written, which mentioned "eternity." (In the year since, Emily, like Don Hooton, has wondered how she missed all the signs.)
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That night, Taylor was mostly quiet when he wasn't crying. Emily told him before he left for home that it'd be all right--he had, after all, been grounded before. Taylor walked away without saying much.
The next morning, Taylor headed downstairs and sat next to his mother on the couch. He begged not to be grounded. But Gwen was firm. Stealing a laptop was serious. Taylor squeezed her hand and walked upstairs.
Perhaps it's not surprising that Taylor Hooton, who'd spent hours before his reflection, loving and loathing what he saw, took a full-length mirror and placed it opposite his bedroom door, then positioned his belts and watched himself die.