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Yorktown Dad Turns Tragedy Into a Teachable Moment

YORKTOWN, N.Y.-- Jeffrey Veatch stood in front of a television screen marked with the words “A Message from Justin,” in the Yorktown Teen Center last Tuesday morning.

“This is my son Justin,” Veatch said, motioning to photographs on the television. “He wasn’t able to come with me today, but I’ll get to that a little later.”

This is the familiar introduction Veatch gives to young teens before delving into the tragedy and pain of losing a son to drug use.

“I talk to them about Justin as if he’s not gone,” Veatch said. “The idea is to give them a message from their peers, not a parent or an authority, just someone who is one of their peers.”

After Veatch lost his son Justin, 17, to an accidental drug overdose in 2008 he embarked on a mission to raise awareness about drug use for teens his son's age. His presentation Tuesday was not made in front of his normal audience—it was in front of social workers, administrators and teachers from Yorktown to explain the presentation he normally presents to teens.

“I wanted to do it,” Veatch said of the organization he started, The Justin Veatch Fund, and his talks with teens and outreach into the community. “Like any parent I wanted to do something good out of something so sad, but, like any parent, it’s too close.”

Veatch told the audience of his son’s musical accomplishments and talent, which started when Justin was five years old with piano lessons. Lessons led to his first recording at age 12, and his inclusion in the band “Warsaw Pact” at age 13.

Taking the audience through the timeline of his son’s life, Veatch shows that tragedy does strike even the most talented of individuals. Veatch said his family couldn’t help but support Justin’s talent in music.

“When you find a young person who is so good at something, you don’t want to deny them that,” he said.

In the usual presentation, without the narrative he gave administrators, Veatch tells the audience why his son couldn’t join him to give his message.

“Our son, who we felt would one day fill a stadium with fans, had died,” Veatch said. “We did not have a clue that he was in trouble…we can all learn from Justin.”

Parents often ask themselves questions after the death of their child, but instead Veatch poses questions.

“Could this happen to you…or one of your friends?” reads the question now written out on his slideshow.

Veatch was determined not to let his son’s talent die.

“Just because he can’t be famous, doesn’t mean he can’t be famous,” Veatch said.

His intent to show the world his son’s talents came to fruition with the production of “Permagrin”—an album title Justin had picked out prior to his passing. The Veatch family heard from, and reached out to musicians who had been inspiration to Justin, and found in return Justin had been an inspiration to them.

Specifically, Veatch told of one musician who even tattooed some of Justin’s lyrics on himself—a song Veatch played during the slideshow. When he communicated with the musician, Veatch was told that the musician himself had struggled with things like drugs and Justin’s message and story was something that helped him.

With the help of several other musicians, Justin Veatch’s very first album was released featuring his original songs sung both by him, and by those very musicians who he looked up to.

“I didn’t want it to be lost. I didn’t want him to die a second death because his music had died,” he said.

What Veatch shared with the audience are the lessons that Justin’s peers and other adults can learn from Justin, and also the messages he received from his son once he passed.

“This works,” Veatch said. “It makes me feel like Justin is still with me.”

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