Whitney Y. – December 5, 2023

To understand why my son was killed, telling the back story is necessary. Sam Yeager, my first born child and only son, died in such a violent, public way, I want to share my point of view. Sadly, his final moments are recorded on YouTube from the press release for all the world to see.

As his mom, I had a front row seat to his struggles and the helplessness I felt most of his life. Sam’s demise was 23 years in the making. As a kid with Sensory Integration Dysfunction, he had impulse control issues and developed a reputation as a rough kid. After 2 years of intensive occupational therapy, however, Sam was finally able to be successful in mainstream public school by 1st grade. I remember being elated when he formed a friendship with a boy in his 2nd grade class who also happened to be the only other boy in his grade in our small neighborhood. But no matter how many times we invited this child over to play, the answer was always “no.” One day, I asked Sam, “Do you know why _______ can never come over to play?” He replied, yes. “_______’s mom says I’m a bad kid.” My heart sank. That moment will be etched in my mind for the rest of my life.

In high school, he was suspended for 2 days for throwing a snowball at a buddy in his friend group over a disagreement about where to go for lunch. I believe the incident would have been over shortly after it happened, but later that day when his friend went home, his mother saw a red mark on her son’s forehead and told him report it to the dean at school the next day. She threatened the school that she would press charges if they didn’t act accordingly. The dean actually shared this information with us as an explanation for the mandatory two days Sam had to miss classes and sports. His friend group was subsequently called in to testify about what they witnessed, thus forcing this group of 15-year old boys to take sides. Their group was fractured after this interrogation and was never the same. The long term effects were damaging especially to Sam. The punishment continued for him the following year when Sam applied to colleges as he had to write an extra essay explaining why he threw the snowball.

For the most part, he avoided marijuana in high school, or at least enough to be a successful athlete, and he earned several academic scholarships. I begged him to wait to smoke pot until his brain was fully formed (age 23-ish), but as with most fraternities the allure was strong. Drugs were plentiful, and he developed a habit.

The 1st time he tried to quit “cold turkey” was August of 2020. The withdrawal resulted in him becoming incoherent and delusional. On the advise of medical professionals, we committed him to a drug rehab/psych ward which Sam described as the worst 9 days of his life. They medicated him around the clock with Haldol, Prozac, and Ativan. After he was released, it took 6 weeks to ween him off those prescribed drugs with severe side effects.

From a young age, as all boys do, he searched for what it meant to be a man. Sadly, he believed guns to be a symbol of masculinity. Maybe this started while playing the video game “Halo” in our basement, or maybe it came from observing men who he respected in our community who also owned guns. We never owned guns or felt a need to be armed, so when he bought his first gun on his 18th birthday we were shocked and crestfallen. When he went in for his hospitalization to the psych ward/rehab center, we put his guns in a friend’s gun safe. This was a big mistake. We should have invested in our own gun safe and kept his guns in our own home where we would make the decision to give them back or not. To place that responsibility on our friends was too great a burden. In December of 2020, he went to our friend’s house and asked for his guns back.

Had we known the AR he purchased would ultimately result in a shoot out with police, of course we would have removed it from his possession. But we had no idea he was in such a fragile mental state. He never asked us for help or let us know he was going to try to quit smoking pot again on his own. He likely feared being committed to a hospital again which he described as a “living hell.”

After he died and we were able to read the text messages in his phone, we learned that the 2nd time he quit smoking pot cold turkey was March 31st. So by April 3rd on the day he died, his brain was in full withdrawal. Unfortunately, his new friend brought a joint that they smoked on a hike, and it triggered a psychotic episode. He had his rifle in the car because they planned to go to a nearby shooting range if they had time after the hike. As soon as he smoked that joint with his friend, he became convinced they were lost in the woods and that someone was after them. They returned to the car and an argument ensued. His friend left him on the side of road and called 911 saying they smoked a joint and that Sam was hallucinating and had a gun. Police showed up to find Sam on the side of the road with his gun in its case. Officers were yelling and screaming with their guns pointing at him telling him to leave his gun on the ground. He kept insisting he had the right to carry a gun, and after a 12 minute standoff, Sam made the unfortunate decision to open fire towards the police. Police shot and killed him at that moment.

Don’t get me wrong…I hold Sam 100% accountable for his actions. He caused his death to happen. But he experienced a series of failures (only a few early ones are described here) and he self medicated with THC which ultimately caused an emerging schizoaffective disorder.

We believe Sam smoked pot to drown out the voices in his head. He owned two guns because he was fearful and paranoid of being attacked. I wish we could go back and ask him who do you believe will attack you? He admitted he had no social media because he felt the government – or someone – was tracking him. We were in denial of the seriousness of Sam’s mental illness. We did not recognize the trouble that Sam was in. Up until the end, the signs were subtle. Of course we paid attention to Sam and listened to him, but I would advise parents if you have concerns about your own children, be VIGILANT! Engage them in conversation and ask questions. Especially with highly empathetic and sensitive children.

Thank you for taking time to learn about my beloved boy. We miss him everyday.
With deep appreciation,

One Reply to “Whitney Y. – December 5, 2023”

  1. This is so heartbreaking I I’m so sorry for your loss and your your sons lifelong struggles
    I believe I read this story in 2021 and it was one of the first tragic events I had read about that was attributed to pot at the time my son had just had a full psychotic break after smoking a new strain of pot that he had proudly bought T the dispensary in the next state as he was legal age. He even expressed concern that this dispensary may spray their pot to make it stronger I said omg don’t smoke it It’s like he knew but he did anyways
    My heart aches for you thank you for sharing your story with this community may one peace be with you

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