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Arizona teen's body found in Oregon after apparent suicide

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Law enforcement officials found the body of 18-year-old Arizona resident Johnathan Croom near his abandoned SUV in the woods of southwestern Oregon, Dwes Hutson, spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, said Tuesday.

A search team equipped with cadaver dogs found Croom’s body just after 6 p.m. Monday. He had apparently hung himself, Hutson said, adding that the condition of the body led authorities to believe Croom committed suicide around Aug. 18. 

Hutson also said that text messages sent to a friend on Aug. 18 indicated Croom was contemplating suicide.

Friends and family on Tuesday described Croom as a quiet, smart teen with a wide smile, but who had recently been distraught over a romantic breakup. A former Boy Scout, Croom had seen the film “Into the Wild” several times, his family said, and had spoken to friends about looking for an “adventure” during his trip.

In a phone interview from Oregon, Croom’s father, David Croom, told the Los Angeles Times that his son was "brokenhearted" over a recent relationship and had been depressed in the weeks since.

“When you’re 18, you think it’s the end of the world,” Croom said. “I think he was just trying to find himself and he ended up getting lost in the wild.”

Johnathan Croom’s family last saw him on July 30, when he set out from Apache Junction, Ariz., outside Phoenix on a road trip to Washington state to visit a friend. His family did not initially know he was headed out of state, but tracked him down a couple days later by phone.

Johnathan took a similar trip earlier this summer, when he drove alone to the Grand Canyon and slept in his car.

“He just took off, I think he was just trying to get it together,” David Croom said.

Sheriff’s deputies spotted Croom’s car last Monday near the town of Riddle, Ore., parked on a narrow, windy road flanked by thick forest and streams. Two days later, officers found the unlocked SUV in the same spot. A hunting rifle, Croom's wallet with $200 in cash, and a book on outdoor survival skills were found inside.

The deputies called his father, the car's registered owner, and rescuers on Thursday began searching for the teen in the thickly wooded area.

“This is very hard. We’re a faith-filled family,” said the elder Croom, who described the tall, dark-haired teen as witty and intelligent, and an enthusiast of Web coding and hiking outdoors.

Lynne Ockey, a neighbor, said the teen was polite but had an independent streak. "He's the kind of kid that doesn't need someone to do something with him," she said.

Johnathan, who graduated from high school early, had recently moved into an apartment with his older brother and was expected back Monday to begin his second semester of college classes.

David Croom said Johnathan had maintained a sunny demeanor with his family, but conversations with his son’s friends over the last month indicate Johnathan was troubled. “He didn’t turn to us when he was hurting.”

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christine.mai-duc@latimes.com

Twitter: @cmaiduc

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