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Finding Truth in Tragedy

Finding Truth in Tragedy

Karen and Andy Taggart lost a son and gained a mission

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Brad Taggart was literally larger than life. The handsome 21-year-old stood a lanky six-foot-seven, topped by a thick head of dark, curly hair. But while his stature might have been the first thing people noticed about Brad, his passion for living was what they truly remembered.

Brad, Karen, Drew and Rob Taggart

An avid hunter, fisherman, archer, and outdoorsman, Brad was an explorer and an adventurer, as well as a gifted entrepreneur with a knack for turning unlikely projects into unexpected profits. Quiet yet confident, Brad was as at home in the classroom as in the wilderness. He was a class favorite and an honors graduate of Madison Central High School and continued his studies at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College.

The youngest son in a respected Madison, Mississippi, family, Brad was close to his parents, Andy, a prominent attorney and civic leader, and Karen, a surgical assistant, and to his older brothers, Drew and Rob. A humble Christian, devoted friend, and beloved son and brother, Brad Taggart appeared to have it all.

But on July 10, 2012, Brad, whose father would later describe him as “a maddening combination of attitude and winsome boyish joy that charmed everyone around him,” took his own life.

Brad’s shocked, grieving parents had no idea what could have driven their bright, engaging son to such a dark, desperate decision. Then, they found the note. And in Brad’s final words, Karen and Andy Taggart also found a mission to save other young people and a rallying cry against the enemy. 

In the Spring of 2012, Brad, then a student at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, told his parents he wanted to return home to Madison and enroll in summer courses at Mississippi College.

“When Brad called, he said, ‘I’m a little overwhelmed up here,’” Andy Taggart recalls. “We believe Brad wanted to go to MC because of the Christian influence he knew he would find there. He wanted respite and the sanctuary of home, and he saw MC as a part of that.”

The Taggarts’ oldest son, Drew, and his wife, Kata, were temporarily living with the Taggarts between moves. With Brad now back in his boyhood bedroom, Andy and Karen enjoyed a period of family togetherness they hadn’t experienced since their children were young.

“Despite the horror of what happened later, we look back and see so many gifts from God,” Andy says. “Brad physically wanted to be here with us, in a safe place. God chose to love on us by letting us have Brad for those last weeks. It was a precious, precious gift.”

The night of July 9, Andy was in Chicago on a business trip. Brad and his mother shared dinner and a walk in their wooded neighborhood, and then, Karen Taggart recalls, “I gave Brad a hug, and I went to bed. I had to stand on the second stair to hug him, because Brad was so tall.” 

It was the last time Karen would see her son alive. She left for work early the next morning, and upon arriving home that afternoon, found her tall, handsome, vibrant son dead. Andy was in a deposition when Karen called with the devastating news. He began the long, terrible journey home, phoning friends in Mississippi and begging them to “take care of my bride until I can get there to take care of her.”

Hours after Brad’s death, Drew Taggart found the note his brother had left in an attempt to console his family and explain his unimaginable action. Handwritten on a sheet of notebook paper, Brad’s words were raw and filled with pain, yet terribly clear and profound. He began his last message to his family with the words, “I hate that I’m putting you through this.” Brad then went on to say:

“I’ve lost my mind due to drugs. I have no emotions, I can’t be happy ever, and I’m empty inside. Drugs have robbed me of my memory and knowledge that I’ve gained. I have zero reading comprehension skills and my attention span is about 10 seconds. I spend the majority of the day staring off into space. I’ve fallen into a psychosis. My mind has taken over and I can’t control the voices in my head. ...I sleep all day, not necessarily because I’m tired, but I hate being in reality...If it were up to me I would disappear unnoticed...I have no hope.” 

Brad went on to name every drug he had taken, a mind-altering laundry list that included weed (marijuana), LSD, mushrooms, MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine, and nitrous oxide. Brad also confessed that he had been selling marijuana to support his habit. No one in the close-knit Taggart family had ever suspected Brad was involved with drugs.

“It had never crossed our minds,” Karen says simply.

“We don’t feel we missed some objective evidence that Brad was using drugs,” Andy says. “The hardest thing is that he didn’t think he could bring this problem to us. Those were the lies of the enemy, Satan, telling Brad, ‘Your dad is too hard’ or ‘Your mother will be crushed.’ Drugs weakened Brad and Satan took advantage of his weakness to tell him lies.”

While the contents of Brad’s suicide note were heart-breaking, its eloquence seemed to contradict Brad’s own words. Brad wrote that drugs had “ruined my mind, my brain, and my life,” but his note was lucid and articulate, without so much as an errant comma or misspelled word. Andy and Karen Taggart would later take comfort in knowing that Brad’s toxicology report came back clean, proof that their son had been trying for some time to turn his life around.

Shortly after Brad’s death, Karen and Andy Taggart released Brad’s suicide note to the media, hoping their son’s final words could help save another young person. 

"This note is one child talking to another,” Karen says. “Someone else’s child might not listen to us or to their own parents, but that child will listen to Brad.”

In the months since Brad’s death, the Taggarts have spoken at multiple high schools, colleges, and churches, using Brad’s words to reach hundreds of young people and concerned parents with a message about the dangers of drug use. The Taggarts have received an outpouring of gratitude from individuals and families who have been helped, and perhaps saved, by Brad’s story. 

“In the beginning, all I wanted to do was curl up in my closet in the fetal position,” Karen says. “I’m not a speaker, and this was a hard thing to talk about. I can hardly bear to say the word ‘suicide.’ But Brad’s note gives me power. I pray for God to give me the words to touch people. I read Brad’s letter, and then, the heart of a mother takes over. I have a story to tell, it’s real, and I don’t need to embellish it. And if I didn’t take the opportunity to share Brad’s story, I couldn’t live with it.”

While they are speaking out against drug use, Karen and Andy see a much bigger foe at work in Brad’s story than weed or cocaine. In the moving eulogy he delivered at his beloved son’s funeral, Andy pointed to the true cause of Brad’s death.

“[Satan] lied to our boy. He murdered our boy by his own hand. He persuaded him that this was the right and better and easier way, and it was a lie. And it was a murder... The enemy is a living, powerful, spiritual being whose mission is to steal and kill and destroy, and he wants to do it in your family, as he has now done it in mine.”

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full."

John 10:10

In the months since the funeral, Andy has never wavered in delivering that message, warning that believers must be ever vigilant against the enemy.

“Satan brings the fight to us every day, and his best tool is death. God has won that battle over death already, but Satan still uses that tool to disable those left behind. He has always been a murderer, always been a liar, is always at war, and always wants more.

“Karen’s motives in sharing Brad’s story are the motives of a mama who can’t bear to have another mama suffer. My motive is spiritual revenge. I am an angry daddy,” Andy pauses as tears fill his eyes, “And the only way to reap cosmic revenge is to keep the enemy from dragging another baby with him.”

Satan’s biggest lie, the Taggarts believe, is quoted in Brad’s suicide note.

Karen and Andy Taggart

“The hardest part of Brad’s letter for me is that he wrote, ‘I have no hope,’” Karen says. “We witness our hope in Jesus Christ. I cry because I miss Brad every day. But while Satan took our son’s life, God says he can’t take our souls. Andy and I want people to know that we are completely confident that Brad is in Heaven with Jesus. Job 42:5 says, ‘My ears had heard of you , but now my eyes have seen you.’ Brad saw Jesus face to face for the first time on July 10. And for the first time, I see Jesus as a Savior that wants us to have joy at all times and will walk with us through the toughest times. I know, because I’m there.”

“The hardest body blow Satan can deliver doesn’t leave me down on the canvas unless I choose to let it,” Andy adds. “We want to lose the acuteness of the pain of Brad’s loss, but not lose the zeal to get our licks back in. I can’t imagine this being anything less than a lifelong mission. To quote the missionary C.T. Studd, ‘Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.’”

The hope they have in Jesus Christ, the knowledge that they will see Brad again, and the certainty that God’s eternal truths disprove even the most convincing of Satan’s lies have allowed Karen and Andy Taggart to celebrate their son’s life rather than despair over its tragic and untimely end. Andy reminded those who gathered at Brad’s funeral that while the enemy may whisper doubts, the Lord always speaks the truth.

“We are here to celebrate the joy that Brad brought to all of our lives. And the conviction that even though the enemy has dealt my family and our church family and this community a deathly body blow, and dropped us to our knees, and even knocked us to the canvas, that we will not stay there. And that the next blow is the Lord’s, and that the enemy will not have victory in this...We are not down for the count because our champion is stronger than the enemy.”