GODDARD, Kan. (KSNW) — “He was a bright, very articulate, well-spoken young man, that just lost his way,” said Jennifer Douglas.
Jennifer Douglas and her husband, Norman Douglas, parents of three, will never forget the September 2016 phone call that changed their family’s lives forever.
“We had gone to bed, got a phone call in the middle of the night asking if we knew Caleb, and I said, ‘That’s my son.’ They said he’s been brought to St. Francis and we needed to come to the hospital,” explained Jennifer.
Caleb Douglas, 18, had been taken by ambulance from the scene of an officer-involved shooting and crash.
“A surgeon walks in with a couple of chaplains, a couple of nurses and so we knew right then it was not good,” Jennifer said. “He said he was brought in with a gunshot wound to the back of the head and his heart stopped in the ambulance and they couldn’t revive him.”
Heartbreak hit the Douglas family. Jennifer and Norman were faced with a new reality.
Timeline of Caleb’s addiction, death
Jennifer and Norman said Caleb’s troubles began in middle school. That’s when he tried marijuana for the first time.
“It started with pot, just your occasional marijuana, and then it escalated to dabs,” said Jennifer.
Dabs, collectively called cannabis concentrates, can contain very high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC, the psychotropic ingredient in marijuana, according to drugabuse.gov.
“Then it went onto different things, liquid Xanax and other things to try to either achieve the same thing or be better whichever,” said Norman Douglas.
Norman and Jennifer said they could not have painkillers or allergy medications readily available in their homes.
“It got to the point where we had to lock up, I mean we couldn’t have aspirin, Tylenol, we didn’t have anything in reach. Everything was literally in safes in our house,” Jennifer explained.
“It just kind of engulfed his personality. It just kind of took over his personality, I should say because he wasn’t happy-go-lucky anymore,” Norman said.
The concerned parents reached out to their son’s school. They called counselors and their family doctor for help. They even contacted their insurance company in search of an inpatient program for Caleb.
“We found a couple of places had we not had health insurance or been on Medicaid-based need that there would have been some programs available to him, but because we had health insurance he did not qualify which is how we started looking outside the state,” Jennifer said.
The couple eventually enrolled Caleb in Boys Town, a private school and a group home for children in crisis, in Omaha, Nebraska. Caleb quickly rose to the top of his class.
“He was one of the fastest ones to earn everything because he knew how to get what he wanted, whatever that may have been,” Norman explained.
“We had always said he was smart. He just didn’t make wise choices. He lacked that impulse control,” Jennifer said.
Caleb completed his sophomore and part of his junior year of high school at Boys Town before returning to Goddard.
“We brought him home and it was the most glorious six months ever. We took a family vacation, took our mom with us, spent the holidays together. It was just wonderful,” Jennifer said.
Then, Caleb returned to his old ways. Jennifer said Caleb never came home from a night out with a friend.
“The next morning, Norman was out looking for them. Both of the boys could barely walk. They were completely whacked out of their minds on liquid Xanax,” she said.
The parents had to make the difficult decision to tell their son he could no longer live with them if he did not follow their rules.
“He literally packed his stuff in trash bags and left,” Jennifer said.
Caleb spent the next few days couch surfing before he ended up at the juvenile detention center. He eventually got his own apartment and a job, but the good times did not last long. He got evicted from his apartment and lost his job.
“It pays more to sell drugs so that’s what it boils down to. Once he started selling drugs so he would have money to buy marijuana, dabs, and the pills he wanted, you’re making that kind of money, you’re not going to want to go back and work for minimum wage or a job for $10 an hour somewhere,” Jennifer said.
Not long after that, Caleb would lose his life. The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said Caleb pointed a gun at a deputy during a traffic stop. That deputy opened fire, but ballistic results revealed that’s not what killed him.
“The final bullet was actually from his own weapon and so that was kind of another blow,” Jennifer said.
Their message to others
Since Caleb’s passing, Jennifer and Norman have made it their mission to share what happened to their son in hopes of helping other families or children in a similar situation.
“We have had a lot of people reach out and say that they felt very alone because they don’t fit the standard of what you see on TV of the kids not being able to function, they look unhealthy, they are unclean,” explained Jennifer. “Caleb was a very, very articulate, well-spoken, clean-cut, good-looking, all-American kid. It can happen to absolutely anybody.”
Jennifer said she would like to see some sort of change in the health system and its services, particularly for youth.
“We took him to counseling. The counselors were like, ‘He is doing well, he doesn’t seem to need to be coming here anymore.’ We said, ‘We guarantee you he is still having issues,'” Jennifer explained.
Jennifer and Norman want families to know it is OK to reach out for help. It is OK to keep asking for help when things may not pan out how they originally planned or hoped.