Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.


Monday, March 30, 2009

A Bond That Cannot Be Broken



I've been meaning to share my thoughts and feelings about Josh with you all, but it's been so hard for me to think about and try to put into words. So many things remind me of him and he stars in my most cherished memories. I feel almost like a part of me is missing; like I don't really make sense in this world without him. I never felt out of place when Josh was around. I stuck to him like glue. I've never been more comfortable or felt more like myself than when I was with him. I spent a lot of time this past week scanning the pictures that we have of Josh into my computer, so that I will have them even when I am away from home. As I went through picture after picture, I couldn't help noticing how many were of just me and him. He really was my best friend. And even though we slowly grew apart in high school, I never had a stronger bond with anyone else. The bond that I shared with my brother cannot be broken by his death. It will live on as I remember the times that we shared in his short stay here and it will be made new when we meet each other again in heaven.

There are many songs that I've been listening to that help me through my grief, but the one that stands out the most is "There You'll Be" by Faith Hill. These lyrics ring particularly true in describing my feelings about my little brother:

"When I think back on these times
and the dreams we left behind,
I'll be glad 'cause I was blessed to get
to have you in my life.
When I look back on these days,
I look and see your face.
You were right there for me.

In my dreams I'll always see you soar above the sky.
In my heart there will always be a place for you
for all my life.
I'll keep a part of you with me.
And everywhere I am, there you'll be.
And everywhere I am, there you'll be."


video
"Heaven (Candlelight Mix)" by DJ Sammy & Yanou featuring Do



I love you, Josh. Forever and Always.



-Gillian

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Working Through My Grief - Day 11

More pictures from the burial service



Gillian putting a wind chime on a tree near Josh's grave



It is hard to believe that one week ago, we buried our son. Although today ended up being a fairly warm and sunny day, it began cloudy, grey and raining. A week ago, we made the trip to the cemetery and it was bright and sunny. God must've known that my heart could not have handled a day like today.

I have posted more pictures of the burial service, as many of my family members who were not able to come have been reading this blog. I also posted two picture that were taken yesterday, when Gillian and my dear friend, Roxanne went to visit Josh. Rox bought this beautiful wind chime - especially for him.

I've had many random thought this week that I thought I would share. One night, there was a steady rain. As I opened the door to let the dogs out, I thought about where Josh's body was resting. We had decided to pay a bit more for a vault rather than a grave liner as it is supposed to be airtight and waterproof. As I looked at the steady rain that night, I just hoped that it was waterproof, just like was promised.

I have also thought about the items that we placed with him. He has his favorite slippers on, his infamous sunglasses, a baby quilt that I had made for him that he never wanted washed, a yellow lacrosse ball, and a football that his uncle has just bought for this very purpose. It is interesting that the kids had items of their own that they felt should be with him. At the viewing, I heard that one of his teammates had brought a football and had all the players sign in. It is this football that ultimately ended up with him. Josh loved sunflower seeds and so someone else had brought a small packet to give to him. He liked wearing hemp-type band around his neck or wrist, so I am told that this was put in the casket. And lastly, a small picture of Giselle, who is Josh's best friend's baby girl.

This week has also been one of necessary errands. I went to the funeral home on Friday to pick up the death certificates. One of many decisions that needed to be made the day after his death was how many certificates we needed. We were told that each one is an additional $12 so one should be sure to order enough but not too much. We ordered three - I think this will be enough. I had never seen one of these before; it was heartbreaking to read some of the facts.
  • Education: 10th
  • Marital Status: Never married (and never will be)
  • Last Occupation: Student
  • Kind of Business or Industry: High School
I was by myself and had a good cry.

A couple of nights ago, I finally sat down and opened up all of the cards that we have received from so many. I had tissues nearby as they were so full of love, support and encouragement. Some cards had typed or handwritten letters enclosed within them, and we learned that many of our friends have suffered loss as well. Some can relate to what were are going through, others have feared that this would happen to them, and others have had a sibling take their own life.

While all the cards had very comforting words, there were some that really hit home to me. One card was a bright night sky with many twinkling stars. The words were as followed:
"Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones shines down to let us know they are with us."
Another card was particularly poignant:
"When we love with all we have, we grieve with all we are."
My feeling about this blog - it has been my lifesaver; a way for me to share what we have gone through in hopes that it would help other kids and parents. The stats have been astounding as there have been 8,747 hits so far. If you have read the comments, you know that people from all over the US and world have found it.

I have been reading the blog several times a day and if I am being totally honest, the comments have encouraged and saddened me. On the one hand, it appears that it is really helping parents see the need to connect with their children, have the difficult discussions, be more vigilant or have the courage to fight their school systems on behalf of the well-being of their kids. So all of this is very good. On the other hand it is too late for me and Josh. But how could I wish that this happened to another mother so that I could benefit from what they have learned? The saying, "hindsight is 20/20" has never been more true and in my case, more painful.

And yet I want to hear how this is helping as it enables me to see that my prayer (Lord, please don't let Josh's death be in vain) is being answered. So please do not hold back in posting your comments or sending your thoughts via email. In my grief and pain and never-ending sorrow, it helps and comforts me to know that maybe, just maybe, another child's life can be saved. Another family may be spared this loss. Another mother may never have to feel the anguish and pain that I do. Keep posting and sharing your stories as this helps me and everyone who has now become part of this blog community.

I have shared on a previous post that recently, peace has been eluding me. I find myself consumed and obsessed with trying to figure out why Josh did this. As mentioned before, we have a good idea of what he was doing that night that does not help to answer this question. So now I am wondering about what he was thinking. How does a kid who is so well-liked, athletic, good-looking, has a girlfriend and supportive parents get to this point? Nothing makes sense to me and it is like a fast-growing cancer within my mind and heart.

A dear friend shared with me after the service that every person has a purpose to fulfill on this Earth and that maybe Josh had fulfilled his and it was time for him to go Home. While this comforted me at the time, I could not reconcile this with the way he died. This would make more sense to me if he died via a tragic accident or some other way that was not of his doing.

Then tonight, another dear friend called. We have received many calls from friends and family (our kids included) since they knew this would be our first night alone since Josh's death. This friend connected the dots for me - I think. She said that there are many people who seemingly should die that don't (i.e. drunk driver that walks away from a terrible accident) and many people who seemingly should not die, that do (a young man like Josh).

Each person has a purpose on this Earth and as Josh was engaged in an activity that would end his life, God chose, in His infinite wisdom and knowledge, to let it happen. He could've caused me to wake up inexplicably, or done something to jolt Josh out of the mindset he was in, but He didn't. He let it happen - because He saw the bigger picture. As evidenced by what has occurred the past few days, in death, Josh's young life has touched and changed many people - including myself.

My friend also said that the saddest thing that could happen to anyone is if when they died, it didn't matter....if no one cared....if people weren't moved or changed....if their life and death was insignificant. This definitely cannot be said about Josh, and for this I should be grateful and proud that he had such an impact at a young age.

Thanks again for all of the prayers on behalf of our family - we do feel them and are eternally grateful once again for all the love and support.

The Little Ship

This beautiful vignette was sent to us by one of Tim's friends. I had never read this before and it moved me to tears.

The Little Ship

I stood watching as the little ship sailed out to sea.

The setting sun tinted his white sails with a golden light, and as he disappeared from sight, a voice at my side whispered, "He is gone."

But the sea was a narrow one.

On the farther shore a little band of friends had gathered to watch and wait in happy expectation.

Suddenly they caught sight of the tiny sail and, at the very moment when my companion had whispered, "He is gone" a glad shout went up in joyous welcome,

"Here he comes!"

author unknown

An Invisible Bond - a poem

This beautiful poem was sent by dear friends. There wasn't a title, so I took the liberty of calling this "An Invisible Bond". The author is unknown.

You are connected to your child by an invisible bond
Not seen by the eye
It's not like a bond you share with others in our life
This bond can't be seen by any on Earth

This bond does it's work
Right from the start
It seals you together
Attached at the heart

You know that it is there
Though no one can see
The invisible bond
From your child to you

The strength of this bond
Is hard to describe
It can't be destroyed
It can't be denied

It is stronger than any bond
Man could create
It withstands the test
As you run this race

And though Josh may be gone
Though he may not be here with you
The bond is still there
But no one can see

It pulls at your heart
Though bruised and sore
But this bond is your lifeline
As never before

Thankfulness
That you are connected this way
A mother and father and child
Death can't take it away!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Post

For those who are interested, we have a new post called "Our School Board Hearing Experience". If you are interested in reading it, please either scroll down the blog or go to
http://rememberingjosh.blogspot.com/2009/03/our-school-board-hearing-experience.html

Once again, thanks so much for all of your thoughts, support and prayers. It means more than you can know.

Josh's dad and mom

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Sister's Dedication

I ran a half-marathon a little over a month ago and through my training, found I loved to run outside. Surrounded by nature and your own thoughts, you are able to be away from all distractions and truly have "alone time." I ran the past few days and have decided this will be my time to speak with Josh. Yesterday I told him I was sorry for not reaching out more--as I out of all our siblings could probably relate the most in terms of getting in trouble with my parents. I also told him I was so happy he was able to experience love and a relationship with his beautiful girlfriend. I then asked him to be my protector as I transitioned from the bubble of college to the "real world."

When I run I will converse with Josh. I will share with him what I am thinking and feeling as well as what is going on in my life. I never want to live a life without Josh as an important player.

I have decided to train to run a full marathon in dedication of Josh by the 1-year anniversary of March 18, 2009. My hope is this goal will push me to consistently run and have my time with Josh.

-Josh's sister, Lauren

In Josh's Memory

video
Thank You Alex A. for creating this video!

Working Through My Grief - One Week Later

It is 3:45 am and I can't sleep so I will write another post. I have deliberately put this towards the bottom of the blog as once again; it is pretty raw stuff. It's hard to believe that it has been one week since our son has passed away. While I know in my head that this awful event has occurred, I now feel as though I am in a dream - going through the motions. When I reflect on the past 7 days, everything is a blur and yet when I can focus on an event, like the service on Saturday, I view it as though an observer - like it has happened to someone else.

But everything around me says that this happened to me and my family: the beautiful bouquets of flowers that fill each room, the gorgeous plants, the food that fills my fridge, the pictures that I still have up of Josh, the gifts that friends have given that I have yet to open and the large box of cards that are waiting to be read. I am still overwhelmed by the love being shown us as we received two plants, two flower arrangements and one box of goodies just today.

But I don't want this to be me. In fact, I feel a bit angry at Josh for making this me. Whereas I felt at peace after the private viewing which was on Friday pm, at least enough so that I could comfort those who came to the public viewing on Saturday, I am now feeling that this matter is completely unresolved and even more mysterious than ever. Tyler has been looking at Josh's computer and has been able to create a pretty good timeline of what he was doing that night. Two things indicate that he had been thinking and perhaps planning this - for how long, we do not know. But the clues were so subtle, I would've had to put on my Sherlock Holmes hat to find them. So once again, as a mother, I think I should've thought of this and if I had found something, we could've prevented this.

I haven't really sobbed, like I had been doing pretty much non-stop, for the past couple of days. Instead, my stomach is knotted up and I feel a bit on the edge - like at some unknown time, I could really lose it. Gillian has found a short video that she took on her phone of Josh with Biggie. He is speaking on the video and I can't bring myself to watch it for fear that this will be the moment that the dam will break lose.

So I keep busy - the days go by pretty quickly. I am reading the posts on the blog several times a day; in fact, I have been working on a post that describes the whole hearing process that we went through with the County. It is an important post so I am spending my time on it and of course, it is being read and vetted by everyone, including our in-house counsel, my wonderful sister-in-law, Ona. Emily is getting emails of pictures, a slide show to music, original digital art, etc that we marvel at and discuss putting on the blog. She has forwarded personal emails to me and I have finally looked at this tonight and responded to some.

Every idea sounds good to me: so far, I have thought that Tim and I should help Tyler and Emily and keep Huck, their very cute, but high-maintenance dog. Lauren is planning to run a marathon by the anniversary date of Josh's death and while in the past, I thought that people who ran marathons were a bit loco, I am now ready to sign up and run it with her. Josh's best friend wants to get a tattoo in memory of Josh and this sounds good to me too; although it would have to be in place that can be hidden by work attire, as I have yet to see someone within my work environment with one. We have dear friends that might be looking to relocate back to this area and since we will now have a big empty house, I am thinking that they can live here with us. Tim tells me to calm down and not make any big decisions for a couple of weeks - he is probably right.

We went to dinner tonight in celebration of someone's birthday and it was suggested that I make a quilt with Josh's T-shirts - this sounds like a great idea too as I have made a few quilts in the past. However, this would mean going through his room, which I have not done yet. I mean to do this with Tyler and Bryce (Josh's best friend since birth - literally) before they leave, but when I think of this task, my stomach goes queasy again. It may have to be done by myself, with no one around as may be this is the time the dam will break. When I am speaking of the dam breaking, you must envision crying that will escalate to wailing.

Tomorrow, we are meeting my parents at the cemetery to choose a stone for Josh. We love the place where he is buried as it looks more like a park than a cemetery as they do not use tombstones to mark the grave, rather the marker is flush with the ground. Many people have bought vases that are attached to the marker so there are fresh flowers everywhere. The trees should be flowering soon and people have put wind chimes on them so when there is a breeze, you hear a bit of music. There is also a pond in this "park" - it would actually be a nice place to go running. It is divided into sections which have their own label, such as Garden of Serenity, Garden of Reflections, Garden to Time, etc. Josh is in the Garden of Prayer which is comforting.

What kind of grave marker should we get for him? This is just one of the many questions that had to be answered since his death - do we want burial or cremation, what clothing should we bury him in, what music did we want for the service, who would be the minister, what casket, do we want a grave liner or a vault, what pictures should be used in the tri-fold and DVD that the funeral home provided at the service, what plot should we choose - it is like planning an event like a wedding in two days. I can't tell you how difficult it is to do this while feeling so completely and utterly emotional. I am so appreciative of Todd, Tim's brother and Jim, our dearest friend who was with us at all of these meetings. We could not have done it without their suggestions and guidance. They know us well and could almost predict what we would want.

Now I am thinking a bit about the future. When I meet someone new and they ask "get-to-know you" questions like: "how many children do you have? What are their ages and what are they doing?" Do I say, I have four children, but one is deceased? Can I say this without crying? What about when I go back to work and people offer their condolences the first time we speak? Will I start crying then? Will this be the time that the dam breaks? My stomach starts churning, just thinking about this. Unchartered territory and I cannot predict how I will feel or act. This makes me nervous.

But I suppose what really makes my stomach go loopy is the thought of an empty home when our Lauren and Gillian go back to UVA and Tyler, Emily and Huck go home to Georgia. Tim and I will be here alone (with our two doggies), but no Josh. Just thinking about it makes me cry - I think this blog will help as it will keep me connected to people and is a way to express my feelings. It has certainly helped me already - we'll see.

I have other posts that I plan to write - one being on the goodness and generosity of all of you. I also want to write a post on what I have learned from the teens that I have met and spoken to in the past few days. These young people have changed my life and whereas in the past, I was concerned about whether or not these teens were capable of being leaders in the future, I now have absolutely no doubt. Their networking skills alone will enable them to get more done in a short amount of time that any of us adults. I envy those who work with our teens as teachers, counselors or coaches - no wonder you love your jobs. These young people are absolutely fantastic.

So while never being one to enjoy writing, I am finding the words flowing from me. I appreciate so much the thoughts and prayers and love that continue to flow to our family. May Josh rest in peace and may God give each person in my family true peace as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Memorial Service Sharing

If you would like to read the sharing from the Memorial Service, please click on a link below to view it in document format.

Minister:
Ruben's Message

Friends:
Joey's Sharing
Ed's Sharing

Family:
Uncle Steve's Sharing
Uncle Todd's Sharing
Gillian's Sharing
Lauren's Sharing
Tyler's Sharing

Thoughts from Tim & Sue




For all who came to the service...


Tim and I want to thank everyone who came to help us remember and celebrate Josh's short life on this earth. In looking around the packed church, it was clear that he touched so many people's lives. I have been writing in a journal to help me through this difficult time and I have a prayer that I would like to share with you....

My prayer is:
  • that every kid in that room witnessing firsthand the love for Josh, would understand that this love is there for them too....
  • that every person who attended would join me in looking at their own relationships within their immediate and extended family and, if there are problems and issues, to fix them now as we never know what may happen....
  • that if family ties are strong, we should do everything we can to make them stronger.....
  • that it is important to reach out and get together with other families so we can do whatever it takes to protect our kids because it is a hard world for them....
  • that Josh's death would not be in vain.....

Thank you for all the love and support. Please keep us in your prayers as we try to move forward in our lives without our beautiful boy, Josh.

Love,
Tim and Sue

Sunday, March 22, 2009

SLHS blackout and LAX game: March 20, 2009

South Lakes HS blackout and LAX game that was dedicated to Josh.

LHS Undefeated Season - Freshman 06

Josh was a part of a very special Saxon freshman team that had an undefeated season under Coach Carter. One parent was so kind to send photos of Josh that he had from that season. Tim found the T-shirt that was made for the boys which we have also displayed so that you could see how dominant this team really was.

"I'm sure Josh would be proud of these. The Freshman Saxons were undefeated that year. I don't think my son was any happier than he was playing football with Josh and the other boys in 2006."



Josh #52

Langley HS photos

Thanks so much to Elspeth, Natalie and Sarah for these great photos of Josh. Thank you girls, for coming to my home and telling me how much Josh meant to you, and for offering to give me the pictures that you had of him. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to put these on a CD for me. I will cherish them because you have given me another memory of Josh - a small glimpse of how he was in school. You girls are angels for doing this....

A Mother's Grief

At the gravesite....


His casket is in a "vault" and this is the cover...



Tim and I are saying our final good byes...



Josh's grandmother kneeling at his casket...



Rachael touching his casket and saying good bye.....



Family and a few close friends who came with us and said their good byes...



Josh's grandfather's posture says it all...



I am putting this post towards the bottom of the page on purpose, as the content is raw and full of pain. I am writing this at 2:40am on Monday morning. I can't sleep - this is the first night that Josh's body is lying in the cold, dark earth...can you blame me?

My emotions have run through the gamut and now, I am just numb. I have cried so many tears, I don't know if I even have any left. Then I see a picture of Josh and think of him and the tears flow freely again.

We woke up Sunday morning to a beautiful, sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. The cemetery was quiet as it was still fairly early. Our service at the grave site was short as we had really said our good-byes yesterday at the church.

But as a mother, how do you ever prepare yourself to deal with the tragic and unnecessary death of your baby - a seventeen year old son?

Of course, I blame myself. As his mother, I should've known what he was thinking and feeling. I should've said more or done more. It doesn't matter that he took his SATs in Loudoun last Saturday and what kid would take a four hour exam if he had given up on life? Or that his girlfriend was here the night before and everything was fine, or that he was watching TV with Tim and playing with the dogs at 10:30pm or that when I saw him at 12:30am, he was going to bed and everything seemed normal and fine.

To a mother, these "facts" don't matter. That night he found himself in a dark, deep place and did not see a way out. I had not given him enough reasons to stay with us and no matter how many people tell me that I shouldn't blame myself, I do. And I don't know if I will ever feel differently because he was my son, my flesh and blood and my baby.

I only hope and pray (and this is the thing that keeps me going) is that Josh's death will not be in vain. That other kids who have gone through this horrible tragedy with our family and may sometimes feel the way he did, will remember Josh and think: "Wow, he was really loved. Maybe I am loved that way too. Maybe if I tell someone how I am feeling, I can get some help and support." If you do not have anyone to talk to, please e-mail Emily and she will forward it to me. I want to talk to you; I will get you the help that you need.

Or if someone knows of another kid who is really struggling, that they will reach out to them and tell them how much they are needed and loved.

Or if a family is going through the same suspension/expulsion process that we have gone through, they may think of Josh and watch their own child with extra caution and no matter how difficult, to try and engage with them and find out by any means possible, what they are truly thinking and feeling. And would not lessen their vigilance for one minute. If you want to contact me, please email Emily and she will forward it to me. I need her to be a bit of a filter for me now, but I want to be available for you.

If even one other beautiful child's life is saved from the lessons learned from Josh's death, he would not have died in vain. This is my continual, fervent hope and prayer.

I will go and visit him tomorrow and tell him again, how sorry I am and how much he was really loved by all of you.

God bless and thanks again for your thoughts, prayers, love and support.

Our School Board Hearing Experience

This post is from Josh's Dad & Mom:

We have been so moved by the comments from all of you and are blown away by the number of people who are reading this blog. Our intent in this post is one of education - for those who have never gone through the suspension/expulsion process within Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). It is also to share our experience with those who have or are currently going through the process as we'd like to hear what your experience has been.

Langley HS (LHS)
On March 3, 2008, the Assistant Principal (AP) was monitoring the lunch period and noticed that Josh took food from the lunch line without paying for it. Josh was taken to another AP's office at which time a search was conducted of his backpack to see if there was any other food taken. They found an oval-shaped piece of screen and a small baggie containing substance that appeared to be marijuana. The School Resource Officer (SRO) took possession of the baggie and performed a field search and confirmed it was marijuana.

We were called and told that Josh was caught with possession of marijuana on school grounds which was a serious violation of the rules of conduct which meant an immediate ten-day suspension with a recommendation to the School Board for expulsion. (As you can imagine, we were both in complete shock). We went to the school and had a meeting with the AP, Josh and SRO. At first, Josh denied that the pot was his. He then amended his statement which I have posted below. He was allowed to get his belongings from both the school and gym locker, and then we left. I (Sue) took him immediately to an Urgent Care in Herndon for a drug test. The results of this test were negative, which means that he could not have used marijuana for the past 30-40 days as this is how long the drug stays in a person's system.

"I took a sandwich and milk from the cafeteria lunch without paying because at the time I had the idea and didn't tell myself not to. I deeply regret ever doing that; it was the wrong thing to do, and all just for a couple of bucks? When no one's looking I always still need to do the right thing. The bag of pot I bought from a guy after him and I hadn't finished smoking it about two weeks ago. The metal screen I had cut of somebody's glasses case with the intent of using it on a smoking device but I have never used it. Now more than anything I wish I hadn't bought it from that guy or smoked with him at all. I've been taking all the things in my life for granted, and now that it's all taken away: lacrosse, school, my friends, I'll do anything to get it back. It was the worst feeling walking out of my school knowing I might never come back; I wished that it wasn't happening to me, that it wasn't me taking that walk, but it was. All of these series of events are my fault and I have to take responsibility for every last bit of it. That comes with changing who I am; I have to have integrity and make the right choices, and I know I can if I'm given a second chance." Joshua Anderson
We received a letter from the Hearing Officer for the Superintendent that was dated March 11th that informed us that the hearing was to take place on March 24, 2008 at the FCPS administrative building, 21 days after the incident.

In the meantime, we were shuttling homework back and forth from LHS. They allowed quizzes and tests to come home so that he could take them under our supervision. The math teacher also recommended two students who came to our home and helped Josh keep up with the math work. (These two students came to our home after finding out about his death; I was so grateful to see them).

The hearing was attended by two Hearing Officers for the Superintendent, the AP who caught Josh, and the three of us. We were told that the hearing officers really do not like it when the family brings an attorney, so we didn't do this. The "expulsion packet" was what was in front of the officers and used as a basis for their questions. This packet consisted of the following items:

- one page student information form
- letters from the principal with the recommendation for expulsion
- photographs of the baggie with marijuana and screen as well the the contents of his backpack
- detailed incident report
- report from the other AP
- two of Josh's statements (initial and amended)
- attendance record
- grade report
- standardized test results
- Student Progress Report for Teachers Disciplinary Hearings (one for each teacher)
- Signed Student Responsibilities and Rights form (SR&R). Signed at the beginning of the school year.

We would like to share what is asked on the form that is filled out by the teachers.
- Academic strength and weaknesses
- Behavior
- Work habits
- Attitude and motivation
- Peer and adult relationships
- Disciplinary and academic interventions

We would like to the School Board to answer this question: Why aren't teachers asked this additional question: "Is this student a threat to the well-being of the school community?"

For those who have never been to a hearing, it is an experience that I wish you and your child would never have to endure. The AP did not say much except to relay the facts of the incident. We were told that the hearing officers would be asking Josh many questions and if he was slow to respond, or quiet, or non-communicative, it would not go well for him. This concerned us greatly as Josh was not a verbose young man; in fact, in front of any adult, including ourselves, he really mumbles and is quite difficult to understand.

The questioning started out in a reasonable way but as the meeting progressed and Josh was not showing forth the type of responses they wanted, it became more and more confrontational, which caused him to shut down even more. We did not feel good about Josh's chances after this meeting. In fact, Tim called one of the hearing officers the next day and said that he did not think they got the correct impression of Josh since he was so intimidated by the entire situation. The response back was basically that once Josh was caught on school property with marijuana, it was a done deal. So we take this to mean that it didn't matter what Josh said or did in the meeting; he was either going to another HS or he would be expelled.

On April 9th, over one month after the event, we received a letter saying that he would be allowed to attend South Lakes HS as a probationary student. There were several terms he was expected to adhere in this status, but I would like to post the paragraph that explained the extent of his relationship with LHS.

"Unless and until readmitted, Josh shall not be on the property or in the buildings of, or in the attendance of any activity (including, without limitation, social, athletic, or graduation-related), wherever located, involving Langley HS without the specific prior written permission of the Hearings Office. Any violation of this particular provision may lead to the imposition of further sanctions by the school administration or the filing of trespassing charges, or both. The proscriptions contained in this paragraph shall be applicable until such time as Josh reached 22 years of age or graduates from the high school, whichever shall last occur."

South Lakes HS (SLHS)

Josh began as a student at SLHS and was embraced by the administration and students. His football coach was particularly instrumental in ensuring that Josh was introduced to a number of teammates, which we appreciated so much at that time. He began a drug treatment program through the county and for various reasons, we made the move to a privately run program. He graduated from this program in November of 2008. He also successfully completed the SAFE program that was prescribed by the Juvenile Hearing Officer.

Unfortunately, almost a year to the date of the previous incident, Josh left school grounds with another student to have lunch at Taco Bell. They smoked a joint in the car on the way back, and were questioned by the AP while in the parking lot as to why they left school during regular hours. Upon exiting the car, the AP smelled marijuana and the SRO was called to assist. After searching their person, they conducted a search of the car and found a small container of pot, rolling paper and a piece.

Once again, we were called to get Josh as he was immediately suspended. His statement of this incident is below:

"I was found in the parking lot by the AP during lunch and because of the smell he decided to search the car and us and found weed and a piece. And I have been working hard at this, I can't believe I'm putting my parents through this now. They don't deserve this at all. I can't believe how selfish and stupid I've been. I really have been working on this I've been through the private counseling group and I've seen a psychiatrist regularly. I got extremely lazy and stupid. I've fully realized what has happened and what we are going to have to go through and I'm honestly going to try my hardest to fix this, help my parents, they haven't raised me to be like this in any way, I'm so scared for the future, this wasn't worth any of it at all. I've only recently been thinking I could make college football and I've gotten so excited about it and now everything's ruined and it wasn't worth it in any way. I've come to enjoy South Lakes. I was actually liking my teachers and classes and my coach. He helped welcoming me here at the beginning of football and made it more enjoyable. He's there so much for me and I can't believe I'm doing this to him as well. I had gotten it from someone who graduated from here last year I met one night and I'm not distributing marijuana or selling it, I was only sharing it with a friend. " Josh Anderson.
As last year, once Josh was suspended, he was grounded from everything; cell phone, car use, computer, I Pod, video games. He could only watch TV with us. We are parents who strongly believe that kids should have consequences for their behavior. We only allowed his girlfriend to visit each day.

We had decided to visit a lawyer that had experience with the County and the expulsion process. This meeting was on Monday, March 16th as the hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning, March 19th. We brought a copy of the expulsion packet that was sent to the Hearing Office by SLHS. The attorney asked Josh a few questions and basically told us that he would most likely be expelled from the County completely. If not, it would be the alternative school or the computer based learning program. She did not feel that he would be able to go back to SLHS or any other HS in the county. We then discussed other alternative for him; she suggested looking into private schools or a military school, which we just began doing. We also talked about the GED route, but in our minds, this would be only as a last resort. Another option we were pursuing but it probably would've been a dead end, was going to another county and enrolling him in school there. We did not have much hope for this as we heard that VA schools have the option and tend to uphold any suspension/expulsion decision from other VA School Boards. He rode back home with me and it was a quiet ride. He just put his seat back and looked out of the window. In hindsight, I should have told him, "no matter what, we will get through this." Why didn't I do this?

We never got to see what the County's decision would be as he took his life the day before the hearing.

This is our experience and we have many feelings about it. As mentioned in another post, the two people who are conducting the hearing had never met Josh before the first incident. The person in attendance from the school did not speak to Josh's character, overall behavior, or whether he was a threat to other students. Forgive me, but we thought this was the purpose of expulsion - to remove students that pose a real and genuine threat to the school community.

The fact that the hearing officer basically admitted that Josh's fate was sealed once he was found with marijuana in his possession begs this question: if this is the case, why the whole charade of the hearing? Why put parents and kids in this situation?

We have three older children that have successfully gone through FCPS; two are TJ graduates and one graduated from LHS. This situation was completely new to us and we were doing our best to navigate it by asking as many people as we could the same questions: what can we expect, how can we be best prepared for the hearing, what will it be like, etc. There was not one resource given to us by the county to help not only us, but our son with this process. It felt as if we had been placed on this fast moving train and we could not do anything to stop it. We felt completely helpless and at the mercy of, in our opinion, a very large, bureaucratic organization, with little or no compassion or concern for the well-being of our son.

Josh has violated the rules of conduct, we do not dispute this. However, he was treated as if he were a hard-core drug dealer. Why aren't there varying degrees of consequences for those that yes, make very poor decisions but would be clearly open to help, if given, by those in their school community?

Why isn't there an intermediate step before a child goes before the Hearing Officer for the Superintendent? As mentioned in a previous post, we would suggest that there should be a hearing with members of the school community: administrators, teachers, counselors, SRO's, etc. The child should have consequences: suspension, placed on probation, community service within the school, mandatory meetings with the counselor/school psychologist, meetings with the parents, etc. If the student had violated probation, then it would go to the School Board for consideration for transfer to another school or potential expulsion.

If a student exhibits a desire to attend college and is not a threat to the school community, we feel it is the County's responsibility not to expel the child, but to work with them and the parents so that they can succeed and have an opportunity for a future.

Now that he is gone, we write this in hopes that the Fairfax County School Board will look at their policies and consider what role their treatment of Josh may have had on his decision to take his own life.

Open letter to the Fairfax County School Board

What you are about to read comes from the raw depths of a mother's grief. One of the ways that Josh's mom has been processing that grief has been to let the words pour out. One of the ways that Josh's family and friends have been finding some comfort and strength has been with this blog and the community that has grown around it.


Ultimately, Josh's family wants this to be a constructive process as we all try to make sense from a senseless, incomprehensible event. There *will* be more posts, later, that will try to discuss whether these policies work, how they might be improved, and how and whether these policies contributed to Josh's death. For now, we ask that you consider the feelings of the people who are most frequently reading this blog and the comments. There will be plenty of time for debate later.


We thought about tempering the emotion in this post so it wouldn't sound so angry, and even thought about taking it down entirely. One of the reasons we didn't is because we wanted to let Josh's friends and anyone else who might be dealing with this kind of loss to know that such feelings will come, and there is no "right" or "wrong" way to feel right now. We welcome your comments, but this blog is, most importantly, a place where family and friends can come together and remember Josh and grieve for him. Part of that process involves being able to express very strong emotions in a safe space, and we ask that you please respect that need while commenting.

From Josh's aunt, Monday, March 23 4:00 pm EDT
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I blame the Fairfax County School Board's policies that dictated their treatment of Josh that led to his death.

These policies must take into consideration the fact:

- that these are immature kids in a harsh world and

- that there is a difference between dealing drugs and stupid teen use and

- that great damage is done when you yank a kid out of the community that loves them and

- that when you expel a kid and take away the opportunity to participate in an activity in which they excel and derive a lot of self-esteem and confidence from (in Josh's case, football), you are taking away a part of their heart, soul and passion which kills them on the inside and

- that it is tough enough for our kids to compete for college admission spots and when you expel a child, you effectively make that goal exponentially more difficult to obtain and in the case of Josh, more than he could bear and

- that the county should do everything they can to make sure that every kid who wants to go to college, despite their mistakes, should be able to do so and

- that those who have never smoked pot in their HS/college years should cast the first stone.

Josh wrote two sentences on the note that we found. I believe the first is directed to FCPS and I would like to know the answer.

"Why does it have to be like this?"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Memorial Service Information

The memorial service and public viewing will be on Saturday March 21st at the Vienna Presbyterian Church at Noon.

The church's address is
124 Park St NE
Vienna VA 22180
http://www.viennapres.org/

The public viewing begins at 12 pm with the memorial service beginning at 2pm.



There will be a private burial on Sunday.

Memorial Fund


In Josh's honor, the family has set up a memorial fund with the Great Falls Optimist Club. For 28 years this organization has been dedicated to meeting the needs of young people in the community. If you would like to make a donation, please visit their website at http://www.greatfallsoptimist.org/



*UPDATE: Thank you for the donations to the Josh Memorial Fund. Money collected as of 4/5/09 is $1,300. We will be using this money in a yet-to-be-decided program that focuses on providing support and education to parents and teens with issues similar to Josh.

**UPDATE: As of 4/24/09, there has been $1665.00 donated to the Josh Memorial Fund. Thank you for your continued support!

*Update: As of 6/4/09, there has been $2,700 donated to the fund.

*UPDATE: As of 7/15/09 there has been
$3,440.00 donated to the fund.