Evangelist’s son shot himself ‘in a moment of despair’

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Pastor Rick Warren, leader of one of the United States’s largest evangelical churches, said his son’s suicide last week was the result of years of struggle with depression and a “momentary wave of despair.”

In an open letter to his church, later shared with his nearly one million Twitter followers, Rick Warren said Matthew, 27, took his own life at his Mission Viejo home.

Matthew Warren struggled with mental illness, deep depression and suicidal thoughts throughout his life, Saddleback Valley Community Church said in a statement.

Dan Aikin of the Orange County sheriff-coroner’s department said yesterday that Warren died from an apparent gunshot wound around 10am on Friday in his home in Mission Viejo, California.

Rick Warren wrote that his son, the youngest of three children, had enjoyed a “fun Friday evening” with him and his wife, Kay, but Matthew then returned home to take his life in “a momentary wave of despair.”

Rick and Kay founded their church in 1980 with a few people meeting in their house. It has since expanded to be one of the nation’s ten largest churches, based in Lake Forest, southeast of Los Angeles, with a network of “daughter” churches throughout California. Among its hundreds of ministries and support groups are those that focus on people who struggle – prisoners, addicts, and people living with HIV, depression and other illnesses.

But Rick Warren’s first claim to worldwide attention came with his 2002 handbook on applying faith to every day. The Purpose Driven Life has sold 30 million copies and inspired church groups with its short, specific chapters.