He battles, but disease defeats him

Third of three parts. In Part 2 on Wednesday, Orange Coast College student Jon Ludlow decided to stop following his medication schedule, skipping some doses. His behavior became erratic when he stopped taking the prescriptions altogether. He hailed a cab but failed to pay the fare. His parents, Melissa and Dave, started searching for him.

Melissa Ludlow felt desperate, especially now that it seemed her son Jon had broken the law by running from a taxi cab without paying the fare.

Sitting in her parked car, waiting for Jon's girlfriend to return from trying to reason with him at his apartment, she joined family members in searching on their smartphones for hotlines or government resources that might provide some relief.

"It came on so quickly," the mother said. "We didn't know. We weren't prepared."

It wasn't for lack of trying. Jon's older brother, Devin, had gone to the local library to look for books but found none that seemed helpful. He called a friend whose family members had been diagnosed as bipolar to seek advice, but he didn't hear back soon enough.

Melissa had printed out three copies of the Wikipedia page about Xanax withdrawal symptoms, giving one copy to Jon's girlfriend, keeping one for herself and leaving one with Jon, who scribbled nonsensical phrases on the back of it. The family had found the information helpful.

On this night, Ivy Ho, Jon's girlfriend of nearly a year, returned from his apartment unsuccessful. Racked by psychosis, he had broken up with her recently and still refused to hear her out.

Seeing no other option, Dave called the police.


An expert at calming down when he needed to, the 19-year-old Orange Coast College student offered the Santa Ana police officers glasses of water when the uniformed pair walked into his room.

They didn't plan to arrest him. Rather, his father had asked that they take him to a hospital.

"We put people in jail for committing crimes. That's what people go to jail for," said Santa Ana police spokesman Anthony Bertagna. "Mental health, unless they've committed a crime, is not a crime."

The officers said they couldn't force Jon to go to an emergency room, but they agreed to try talking with him, Dave recalled. Melissa and Ivy waited outside the apartment on the Santa Ana side of the South Coast Plaza area.

Jon acquiesced to their requests that he seek treatment, much to his father's relief. Still, he chose to ride with the officers to St. Joseph Hospital in Orange instead of driving with his dad, whom he hadn't forgiven for confiscating his car. (Santa Ana police records show a response to a disturbance on Jan. 8 at Jon's home, but make no mention of a trip to the hospital, Bertagna said.)

Jon was hospitalized on a 5150 hold, in reference to a section of the California Welfare and Institutions code that allows a designated facility to keep a patient for up to 72 hours to see if he or she qualifies to be detained involuntarily for more serious help.

The standards are tight. To be held by a hospital for more than three days, a patient must qualify as likely to harm himself or others or be considered severely disabled.

During an evaluation, the doctors study the patient's behavior, emotional state and clinical history, explained Tom Loats, director of Behavioral Health Services at St. Joseph.

They ask what the patients' plans are to control their diseases. How will they manage their symptoms? Do they understand the bad feelings will probably return? What is their safety net?

Dave slept at the hospital while Jon awaited his examination.


At first, Melissa and Dave weren't sure whether Ivy should visit Jon in the hospital's visiting room. Jon told them he would prefer not to see her, but Ivy continued to insist that she just wanted to look at him.

Refusing to take no for an answer, in she went.

Jon's parents waited, on edge, their nerves frazzled after weeks of trying to calm their child, who had suffered a psychotic break after he abruptly stopped taking his prescribed Adderall, Xanax and Prozac. The decision sent him spiraling into irrational thoughts and behavior, taking him further away from his parents.

While Ivy was inside talking with Jon, the emergency system was triggered. The warnings sent Jon's parents into a code red of their own.

"Is it Jon? Is it Jon?" Dave asked, pushing toward the doors and wondering if something had happened to his son or Ivy.

It was just an electrical problem; Ivy returned beaming. After much crying and hugging, Jon had understood that Ivy never stopped loving him. She promised she would be back the next day to visit.


After two days, Jon was transferred from St. Joseph and soon released. The following week, after a delay in getting Jon's prescription, he promised his mom that he would continue on the calming Seroquel — an antipsychotic used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which he had taken at St. Joseph.

He had visited his private psychiatrist that week too for a consultation.

The parents believed things were improving for their son. On Jan. 15, Melissa, Ivy and Jon went shopping, saw a movie and had dinner.

Even though Jon still wore a beanie and sunglasses, which he believed would prevent radio waves from entering and manipulating his mind, at the restaurant he opened his mouth wide, showing his mom he had swallowed the Seroquel pill. They would get through this, she thought.

Later that night, Jon grew delusional. He thought there were cameras in his apartment filming him for a reality show, and he believed he was the brunt of the joke.

He is believed to have smoked medical marijuana, but rather than calming him as he had hoped, he felt worse. (A toxicology report would later show no signs of cannabinoids.)

Jon's odd behavior continued. While the two were at his apartment, he wrote a note to Ivy, asking her to leave. He threatened to call the police if she did not. Ivy texted Melissa, who sent Dave to pick her up.

Ivy left, closing the door behind her. Then she realized she had forgotten something.

"I love you," she said, poking her head back inside.


Jon's roommate called the next morning to say he had disappeared yet again. He had left his apartment door ajar.

Arriving at the South Coast Metro area apartment soon after, Ivy checked Jon's Google history. Around 5:45 a.m., he had looked up the nearest train station and shooting ranges. He had also researched taxi companies.

Melissa, Dave and Ivy sorted through notes in his room, trying to piece together where Jon might have gone. They called shooting ranges to warn them that Jon was not well and contacted taxi companies to see if they had a record of him.

They also went to look for him. It was almost fun, his dad recalled, now haunted by the memory of their plugging in Ivy's iPhone and listening to music as they drove.

Around 7 that night, Jan. 16, the family filed a missing person's report with the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Melissa straightened up his room so it would be clean when he returned.

The same officer who took the report met them at their home four hours later with the news.

Jonathan Ludlow had plunged head-first into a dry concrete flood channel under Baker Street in Costa Mesa at 7:25 that morning.

In the fall, Jon had bruised much of the right side of his body, including the shoulder, upper arm, hand and ear, the autopsy report shows. He bit the right side of his tongue. His nose went unscathed, but the right side of his abdomen and his right lung were damaged.

The report further revealed cracks to the right portion of his skull and to his right ribs.

Authorities at Western Medical Center pronounced Jon dead at 11:13 a.m. His death was classified as a suicide.


Since Jon's death, his parents have made a point of facing it as fact. They held the funeral. They visited the spot where he jumped. They sorted through his things.

They aren't seeking closure, but peace. They are learning to deal with his death better, but they don't expect ever to forget what they've gone through — nor do they want to forget. They want to talk about what happened and process it.

Melissa went several times to see Jon's embalmed body at the mortuary. She said she and Dave believe his spirit has passed "behind the veil," leaving behind his physical form.

Perhaps for the first time, Dave speculated, Melissa could speak with her son free of the chemical imbalances that plagued him during his life.


Eleven weeks after Jon died, Melissa and Ivy again went to visit Jon's grave. It was Ivy's spring break from Orange Coast College.

The sun shone on the hillside where he is buried at Pacific View Mortuary in Newport Beach. She and Ivy knelt, unwrapping the flowers. Together they trimmed the stems of the daisies and placed them in a jar full of water.

The petals were dyed neon orange, a color they thought Jon would have liked.

"I know he's with me everywhere we go," Melissa began, tears wet on her cheeks.

But here is where she feels like she can be closest to him. She visits several times a week, sometimes with others, sometimes alone.

When Melissa goes by herself, she talks out loud to her lost child. She tries not to wonder about the past, but instead focuses on the present. Where is he? Is he at peace? Is he free from what plagued him here?

Picking up her scissors again, Melissa began to snip blades of grass.

Melissa is concerned the grass will grow over if she doesn't continue to trim it. She hadn't ordered the headstone yet and dislikes the thought that grass might grow over the dirt outline where a patch was removed to inter the casket.

If the green blades did fill in the outline, so too would the exactness of his physical representation fade. Jon's plot would become part of the hillside, lost in nature until an etched slab landed with a finality that couldn't be ignored.

Part 1 | Part 2


Did You Know?

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Orange County.

279 people died from suicide in 2010. Of them, 210 were males.

For each suicide death, an estimated 11 suicides are attempted.

In 2010, 11,789 hospitalizations were attributed to mental diseases and disorders, making it the 6th leading cause of hospitalization in the county.

Source: 2013 Orange County Health Profile

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