ďBrandonís mother, and my wife of 15 years,
unable cope with loss of her youngest son, [then] took her own life.Ē
Bandon W. Ferris 1/04/85 Ė 7/22/01
My 16 year old step-son, Brandon Ferris, committed suicide, on July 22,
2001, approximately 3 weeks after he began taking the SSRI
antidepressant known as Zoloft.
As husband to his mother Barbara, I helped raise Brandon from the time
he was less than 2 years old. He was a bright and socially outgoing
child who got along well with his brother, and step-siblings.
At age 12 he took an interest in martial arts, and we enrolled him in
Seongs Tai Kwon Do Academy in Fredericksburg, VA. He found himself well
suited to this discipline and worked his way trough the program to
achieve his Black Belt. He made many friends there and became an
instructor to other children and adults at the age of 15.
As a teenager Brandonís other activities included sports games with his
friends in the neighborhood. He also was active in our churchís youth
group where he was involved in drama and many outside volunteer
community projects. Additionally, Brandon held down a part-time job at a
local coffee shop.
Maybe at this point you are thinking that I have painted a picture of
the perfect child. Brandon also had a mischievous side that was more
entertaining than bad. For instance he was very creative at finding ways
to get out of chores that he didnít think were fun. ďFunĒ was a key word
Because of Brandonís busy schedule, and the fact that we believed his
aptitude was beyond the public school system, Barbara and I decided to
home-school him. This situation tended to work out well, and as a
byproduct, provided more quality communication time between Brandon,
Barbara, and myself. Barbara also worked part-time at the Tai Kwon Do
School, so she was active in Brandonís daily activities generally
several hours per day.
In June of 2001 Brandon expressed to his mother that he had been feeling
despondent over some issues surrounding his life, i.e. a close friend
who was having personal problems, and a would-be girl-friend. It was
also evident that Brandon was not his ordinarily energetic self. It was
decided that 1) he should take some time off from his varied
responsibilities, and 2) he should see a counselor.
The Licensed counselor expressed concern over Brandonís general
well-being and suggested that he see the family doctor. The doctor, who
could find no evidence of physical malfunctions, gave Brandon a
prescription for the drug Zoloft.
We allowed Brandon to go with his best friendís family to the beach for
several days. The friendís parents were also close friends of ours and
were fully up to date on Brandonís situation. They made sure Brandon
took his medicine and monitored his behavior. Reports were that ďall had
a great timeĒ. However, it was noted that Brandonís demeanor on a couple
of occasions was uncharacteristically less than his usual polite self.
Back at home he seemed fine and appeared to be enjoying his time off
Sunday July 22nd we awoke a little latter than planned to get to church.
Barbara didnít have time to get ready so Brandon and I went together.
Brandon hung out with his buddies during the service, which was
customary, and in the car going home we discussed current events.
Because Barbaraís birthday was the coming Friday, and Brandon liked to
cook, he volunteered to make the cake. He told me he had been invited to
go on a boating trip on Wednesday, and asked my permission. I was
agreeable as long as it was alright with his mother. Back at home he
went down the street with friends and I didnít see him again until later
that afternoon, when he asked if he could go out to eat dinner with his
older brother Randy. I said yes, and asked him if he planned to attend
his usual youth-group meeting at 7:00. He said yes and that he would
have Randy drop him off after dinner. Latter, Randy picked him up from
church and he was home at approximately 9:15. He seemed fine and went
across the street to a friendís house. He came back at about 9:45 and on
his way up stairs he stopped to ask his mother about the boating trip.
She told him we would discuss it after the movie we were watching. At
about 10:00 I called up to him to take out the trash. He did, and went
back to his room. At approximately 10:30 he asked his brother, in the
next room, if he could use the computer to check his email. Randy told
him that he would be finished with the computer in about 15 minutes. At
11:00 I called upstairs again because Brandon had missed a box that
needed to go out with the trash. He did not answer. Randy then went to
his room and found him hung by the neck from a belt in his closet. We
called 911 and performed CPR to no avail. He was pronounced dead at the
Having looked back the dayís events, and spoken to most of those whom
Brandon had contact with in detail; I could not detect any indication of
forethought to suicide. However, later conversations revealed possible
clues, as does the following excerpt of a sympathy card from the parents
of two of Brandonís Tai Kwon Do students.
ÖThe weekend night of Saturday July 21st Paul and I went to the movies.
Brandon and a friend were there. Brandon got up and sat down next to us.
He looked at Paul and said ďHi, how are you?Ē It took a second and then
Paul recognized him. Brandon smiled. He said ďIím here with a friend,
and I told him I was going to play a trick on you.Ē We asked Brandon how
he had been doing. He said ďIíve had a bit of depression; Iím on
medicine, Zoloft. Its better I guess, the medicine messes with your
head. They told me not to do anything that requires too much thought,
So, Iím taking a little time off from Tai Kwon Do. Iíll be back soon. It
takes time to adjust to the medicine. Iím getting there.Ē His manner was
upbeat, teasing a little, tired, but he seemed to recognize that some
things required time to work throughÖ
The obvious question is, ďWhat happened in Brandonís mind between 10:30
PM and 10:45 PM on the evening of July 22nd, 2001?Ē
I wish I could say that, that was the end of an unspeakable tragedy.
However, approximately 5 months later, Barbara, Brandonís mother, and my
wife of 15 years, unable cope with loss of her youngest son, took her
Since then I have collaborated with Brandonís biological father, Dan
Ferris, who has worked tirelessly to obtain information that would point
to the cause of Brandonís death. We believe, after having done much
research, that the drug Zoloft, produced by Pfizer Pharmaceutical
Company, had a causal effect in Brandonís final actions.
Jeff Avery Ė Step-father
2204 Thornbury Dr. Richmond, VA 23233
Dan Ferris Ė Biological father
P.O. Box 29177 Richmond, VA 23242