The winter's early darkness had already snuffed out the Montana day when Steve Mathewson arrived at the scene. The split-level house was lit up like a carnival at midnight. The 34-year-old pastor walked between the squad cars and around the white ambulance and up the front porch.

Entering, Steve saw a slight woman in her thirties, her head in her hands, slumped over the breakfast bar. She attended the church he serves. A half-hour earlier, she had come home from work and opened her 13-year-old's bedroom door to find him lying in a puddle of drying blood. After school, Ryan (not his real name) had scrawled a note on the walls of his bedroom in lipstick: "Look on the bright side is suicide." The line was from a song by Nirvana, his favorite rock group, whose lead singer, Kurt Cobain, had apparently shot himself just two years earlier. After a phone call to a friend, the teenager pushed the play button on his tape player, and with Cobain growling in the background, triggered the .357 Magnum pressed against his head.

As Steve approached, the group huddled around the distraught mother drew back. Steve hugged her, pulled up a chair next to her, and then prayed. When he finished, she thanked him, wiped the black mascara streaking from beneath her eyelids, and said, "I guess you've got your work cut out for you, don't you?"

Soon the coroner emerged from the boy's bedroom and wanted to know which funeral home the mother preferred. She said she didn't know any funeral homes. Steve suggested Dokken-Nelson in Bozeman. "I've worked with them before," he said.

Soon the chaplain from the Gallatin County Sheriff's Department showed up with the teenager's father. "I'm so sorry," Steve said to the father. "How are you holding up?"

"I feel completely ...

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