A grieving mother-of-three shared a touching tribute on social media days after her husband, the beloved pastor of a Southern California church, apparently took his own life after battling anxiety and depression.
Andrew Stoecklein, 30, lead pastor of the Inland Hills Church in Chino, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, died on Saturday, loved ones said on a GoFundMe page.
“The Stoecklein family, church community and lives he touched around the world are mourning his loss,” wrote the organizers of the page, which by Thursday had raised more than $88,000 for his family.
Stoecklein had struggled with mental health issues and reportedly attempted suicide Friday in the megachurch his father had founded.
"Someone called in and said that they'd seen him or discovered him at the church,” Tamrin Olden, a crime prevention supervisor with the City of Chino Police Department, told the Christian Post.
A second attempt came the following day. This time, Stoecklein killed himself.
Authorities declined to specify how he took his life.
“We are a very small, tight-knit community,” Olden told the Christian Post, saying that a number of officers belong to the church. “It's definitely been a large impact."
Stoecklein leaves behind his wife, Kayla, and their three sons.
Three days after his death, Kayla Stoecklein posted a tribute to her husband on the blog they shared.
“Nothing can take away the suffocating pain I feel now you are gone. I miss every part of you,” she wrote in the post that began "To My Andrew."
“I love you so much and I will miss you every single day for the rest of my life,” she wrote. “When I think of you I will smile, knowing that I will see you again one day. Thank you for 10 wonderful years together. Thank you for giving me the gift of three beautiful blue eyed boys who all resemble you. Thank you for choosing me, for believing in me, and for showing me how to live fearlessly.”
Stoecklein had returned to his work at the church about two weeks earlier following an involuntary 4-month-long break to deal with depression and anxiety.
“This is just really exciting for us to be back here,” he said in his first message back on Aug. 12, with his wife standing by his side. “A lot of you don’t know what she has to go through by being married to me and it is not easy to be a pastor’s wife. She sees all of the behind-the-scenes and especially through this journey that’s been really difficult. I have not been a very fun and easy person to live with."
He explained that although the church was doing well financially and they were attracting a record-setting attendance, he had been struggling for some time.
After Stoecklein’s father died from cancer in 2015, he assumed leadership of the church. He said that in the last year, he and his family had several serious stressors, including being forced to move after receiving threats from stalkers. He had suffered health issues, including needing to have “a softball-sized mass” removed from his chest and passing 60 kidney stones.
He also said that after enduring a grueling travel schedule, he began experiencing panic and anxiety attacks. Though he sought treatment, he experienced an extreme panic attack during a church service on Good Friday.
“For the first service, one of the security guards, who helps follow me around, found me on the bathroom floor in the offices just with this extreme panic,” he said.
Then in April, church elders asked him to take some time off.
“I was upstairs at the time," Stoecklein said. "Kayla and the boys were downstairs and I just, I freaked out. It was actually the flooring guy who called and said the flooring wasn't going to be installed in time and it triggered me and I went in this full-on panic attack.
“And if you've ever been in one or around someone who's is in the middle of a full-on panic attack, it's a scary thing. I was in fear for my life,” he continued. “I thought I was going to die. I was pacing back and forth. I wasn't making sense. Kayla was begging me to go to the hospital. I was refusing. I was refusing to take any medication. I was like, 'Girl, I got a message to preach on Sunday. I'm not going to the hospital.' And I was just totally whacked out of my mind."
After finally going to the hospital, Stoecklein went on sabbatical.
He urged the congregation to be more mindful of their mental health and the mental health of others, saying: “Over the last few months, I’ve been able to learn more about this, and process and cope, and it is OK to feel that way, and you can get passed it and you can work through it, but you have to identify it.”