Jonathan died a fully preventable death on February 1, 2011, after doing an extended water fast at Tanglewood in Panama. He was just 33 years old.
Jonathan was an incredibly hard worker who always had goals in life that he was attaining. He bought his first condo when he was 18, with a down payment of money he’d saved while working during high school. He got a couple of roommates to pay rent, and worked full time while putting himself through college. He knew where he wanted to be in life. What he didn’t know was that working so hard while living on junk food would take a toll on his health.
When he began having health problems, he turned his skills to researching what was going on. He educated himself on how to live and eat in a very healthy way, so as to be able to continue living the life he wanted. He found that eating fats particularly affected him, and so eliminated pretty much all fats. He was 27 when I met him, eating a vegan, gluten free, very low-fat diet. He had just bought his second condo, and was renting out the first one. He was enjoying life, working full time, and climbing 14,000 foot mountains in the summertime. Occasionally his digestive issues would flare up slightly, but it wasn’t really a big deal.
We married in 2006, and bought our dream house up in the mountains, at 8,400′ elevation. We traveled extensively in the USA, and we were starting to make some international trips as well. Visiting someplace in each of the 50 states, as well as all National Parks, were some of our goals, and we were well on our way. Jonathan continued to do lots of strenuous hiking, more than I could do. He bought his first DSLR camera in 2009, and was enjoying his nature photography so much that we speculated as to whether he could eventually quit his job and make a living at it. We were active in our community, and were starting to attend adoption education classes so as to start a family.
There have been allegations made that what happened to him was somehow his fault, that he had been depressed for years or had some sort of mental issues. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. We’d both had difficult upbringings, and we could not believe our good fortune that our hard work had led to living the life of our dreams together.
In July of 2010, for no apparent reason that either of us could discern, his digestive issues flared up again, worse than they’d been since I’d known him. He’d been learning about the amazing benefits of doing extended water fasting, and wondered if perhaps doing one might give his digestive system time to rest and heal, and he would finally be done with this issue forever. If so, there would be nothing we couldn’t accomplish together!
I told him that I would, of course, support him if this was what he wanted to do. But I wanted him to go somewhere where he would be supervised by people with experience in extended water fasts, who would know how to handle things and would know what to do if anything went wrong. He decided on Tanglewood in Panama. It sounded safe, we saw nothing online that would raise any concerns, and he would get to enjoy some beautiful tropical scenery during the midst of our Colorado winter.
By the time December rolled around, he was doing just fine, health wise, again. He told me that if he were making the decision now, he probably wouldn’t go. Life was busy, we were under contract for purchasing another rental property, and he wasn’t feeling as if he needed it like he had 4 or 5 months earlier. But all the arrangements were made and paid for, and he did think it would still be really good for him in the long run, so he decided to go through with it.
On December 18, he arrived in Panama and began a 32 day water fast at Tanglewood, under Loren Lockman’s supervision. He did well during the fast, resting a lot but also doing a bit of his favorite things, exploring and taking photos. He began “refeeding” on January 19th. He felt amazingly wonderful. He described things that sounded like a “high” to me, and I cautioned him that it was probably temporary. On the evening of January 25th, he crashed. He had vivid hallucinations that night, believing that he was physically ascending, being physically taken to heaven (which our religion does not teach at all), before being rejected by God and descending again. It was intense, it was beautiful, it was awful, it was terrifying. The ascending and descending cycles happened several times. He tried to make sense of it. He called his roommate over to hold him down on his bed, to keep him from ascending and descending. The roommate later said that he did come over to hold his hand, but it just looked like he was in a trance. Jonathan then said that when he woke up, he was outside in the grass. Somehow, though, he made it through the rest of that night.
Reconstructing Jonathan’s last day
It is unbelievable to me that, with all of the obvious symptoms, Jonathan was simply abandoned at the end of the day. It is also unbelievable to me that none of these things triggered the slightest alarm so as to at least warrant an email or a phone call to me, much less some serious medical care or hospitalization.
At breakfast, according to Loren, Jonathan stood up and began taking off all of his clothes and walking out. Jonathan was such a modest individual that he would never so much as dance in public – one of his requests for our wedding was that there would be no dancing. (We had an outdoor picnic style reception instead.) He would never have taken off his clothes in public, had he been in his right mind.
One faster who was there reported that he was “acting really weird”, and “pacing around the property with his laptop in his hand opened” for up to 40 minutes. Jonathan was clinging to lucidity, doing his best to make sense of what was happening to him. It is possible that during this pacing session, he was composing the email that he sent to me that day. He described in detail his intense experiences (hallucinations) of the previous night, and he told me that he was going to die and that he loved me. He sent the email at about 10am that day. I did not see it for a few hours, but wrote back around 2pm, assuring him of my love and saying, among other things, that he should talk to Loren about the trance and convulsions in the context of a physical reaction to the re-feeding.
In the meantime, Jonathan had left the grounds, hiking around. He missed the midday meals, and came back scratched and bloodied. He said he’d fallen. (When his belongings were returned to me, the laptop was missing. It’s possible it was lost during this midday accident.) There was a 911 call placed from Jonathan’s cell phone at 1:20pm, but it doesn’t appear to have connected.
Jonathan did, in fact, tell Loren about his visions, and how God was going to kill him. Somehow, even this didn’t alarm Loren, and Loren wrote to me later that he “tried to convince him that God would never hurt or kill his own child” and that Jonathan did not seem “entirely in touch with reality”. He also said that he “strongly encouraged him to get himself home to you and seek some professional counseling”. Loren appears to have become convinced, at this point, that Jonathan must have had some sort of history of mental issues, and that this information had been withheld from Loren. He was completely blaming Jonathan, and still trying to reason with him, rather than recognizing that this was a psychosis state brought on within the past 24 hours by the fast and refeeding.
Jonathan was likely terrified, but determined to leave Tanglewood, as he didn’t want his death to happen there. He was still, as he always was, thinking of others before himself, and didn’t want to cause trouble for Tanglewood. He left again, with his backpack, and Loren intercepted him and convinced him to come back and eat dinner, spend the night there, and told him that he could “leave in the morning if he insisted on going (hoping that he would wake up and feel differently about leaving in the am)”. Loren still thought this was just some whim that could be slept off, rather than a serious medical crisis! Jonathan agreed to come back, but refused to eat anything.
At this point, Loren still had not notified me of any unusual behavior. I had just had the one bizarre email from Jonathan, which I had replied to, but had not heard anything back. My uneasiness about not yet receiving a reply was growing, and around 9pm I finally sent a text to Jonathan’s cell phone (something we’d agreed not to do, due to the cost of using the phone internationally), saying simply, “I’m worried about you.” No reply.
After his (uneaten) dinner, Jonathan apparently tried to leave at least two more times. Loren says he finally grabbed a blanket and laid down outside of his room. At about 10:30pm, Jonathan tried to leave again, insisting he needed to leave the center and would sleep at the bus stop. Loren told him that would not be safe, and so Jonathan asked about a hotel nearby. So after a full 24 hours of bizarre, psychosis-type behavior, including telling Loren of his hallucinations, Loren felt it was completely appropriate to treat Jonathan as a normal, rational human being, and he agreed to drive Jonathan to the hotel and drop him off there by himself.
I began receiving text messages from Jonathan at about 11pm. Finally a reply! But some of them were garbled, and in the others he was telling me how he was the worst person in the world and had committed many sins against the holy spirit. I texted back how he most certainly was not the worst person in the world, and that I loved him, but he again went silent. Had I known he was alone, I would undoubtedly have called him and tried (probably unsuccessfully) to talk him down or get some help for him. But as far as I knew, he was still safely at Tanglewood, still safely being supervised, and I did not wish to disturb his roommate at 1am. I then wrote an email to the Tanglewood office, letting them know what was happening (thinking that they must not be aware, or they would have contacted me), and telling them that Jonathan was crashing and begging them to help him!
Loren responded to my email at 7:18am the following morning, and told me much of the events of the previous day, including that he had taken Jonathan to a hotel. I was alarmed that Jonathan had been left alone in such a psychosis state, but Loren assured me that he would take some food to the hotel in a while and “see how he’s doing”, and that he would “encourage him to come back and relax until Saturday morning” (when Jonathan was scheduled to fly home).
At 8:10am, Loren called me on the phone, telling me that Jonathan was missing. His hotel room door was open, all of his belongings were on the bed, and the bed had not been slept in. I immediately texted Jonathan, “Where are you?” There was no reply.
At 8:58am, on January 28, Loren texted me that Jonathan had been found. He had hurt himself, but Loren had called an ambulance and thought he would be okay. Jonathan was at the bottom of an outdoor concrete staircase, with severe head trauma. When his belongings were returned to me, my last two text messages to him (12:40am and 8:10am) had never been read. For over eight hours, Jonathan was alone and unaccounted for. He had likely been lying at the bottom of the staircase for much of that time.
Jonathan was completely failed by Tanglewood and by Loren Lockman, who ignored, normalized, and rationalized his psychosis symptoms for over 24 hours before leaving him, alone and unsupervised, at a nearby hotel.
I quickly arranged to leave, and caught a flight to Panama that evening. Jonathan was taken by ambulance to Panama City, to the best trauma center in the country. They had to stop along the way to stabilize him (apparently his heart stopped for some minutes), and the normally 2 hour drive from Bejuco took around 4 hours. I arrived the next morning, and spent as much time as I could at the hospital with him, but he never woke from his coma. He died at 8:40am on February 1, 2011. As per his wishes, his ashes were scattered on the top of Longs Peak, his favorite 14,000 ft mountain, that summer.