Megachurch Pastor Andrew Stoecklein was at work inside the Inland Hills Church his father founded in Chino, California, when he attempted to take his life last Friday, which ultimately led to his death a day later, local police have revealed.
Church officials who announced the pastor’s passing late Sunday did not previously disclose that Stoecklein attempted suicide in the church.
When contacted by The Christian Post for further details on what may have triggered the suicide attempt, a church official who identified himself only as Pastor Chris, told The Christian Post that he was unable to immediately discuss the situation.
Tamrin Olden, crime prevention supervisor with the City of Chino Police Department declined giving any detailed specifics from the formal police report but told CP late Tuesday that police received a call from the church about Stoecklein’s suicide attempt at about 11:08 a.m. last Friday.
“Someone called in and said that they’d seen him or discovered him at the church. I don’t know the details of where he was at,” Olden said. “He was inside the building somewhere but I don’t know exactly.”
When asked if the information isn’t recorded in the police report, she said “we don’t release those types of details.” She also declined to reveal how the 30-year-old pastor took his life.
Olden would later disclose in her interview with CP that the police department had been personally affected by Stoecklein’s death because a number of officers are members of the church. She also shared that the department regularly works with Inland Hills on faith-based initiatives.
“Obviously it’s a devastating situation regardless of who is involved but the fact that we have a connection to that congregation makes it even more impactful. We are a very small, tight-knit community. We have a lot of personnel who are familiar with the church, who attend the church. We have family and friends from the church who live in the community. It’s definitely been a large impact. A lot of people were familiar with the congregation. We have a small hometown feel. So we’re going to be impacted by those types of tragedies even more so because of our connection to them,” Olden said.
Stoecklein, who leaves behind his wife, Kayla, and three sons, took his life approximately two weeks after he returned to work as Inland Hills Church’s lead pastor. He had been away on an involuntary four-months-long break to deal with depression and anxiety.
In his first message back from the sabbatical on Aug. 12, Stoecklein revealed that even though his church was doing well financially and they were attracting record-setting attendance, he was falling apart for several months.
After his father died from cancer in 2015, Stoecklein, who turned 30 in May, took on leadership of the megachurch. He and his family were soon forced to move in recent months, however, after threatening encounters with stalkers. He also developed health complications, which led to a mental breakdown in April. He was forced by the elders of his church to take a sabbatical at that point.
“… About seven months before this Thursday breakdown, it really began this downward spiral where physically I was not OK. I, in that period, had two surgeries to remove a softball-sized mass from my chest. I’ve passed 60 kidney stones now which I’m very excited about. Those are my babies. Oh yeah,” he quipped.
He explained that in March, he began experiencing panic and anxiety attacks while on a trip overseas.
“I thought on top of all of this. We should go to India and Africa for three weeks. So I hopped on a plane and I’m overseas and I started to experience panic attacks and anxiety attacks and was working with a wellness doctor on this and then we thought, let’s get back from India and then a few days later I spoke at seven Easter services,” he said.
On Good Friday, he experienced an extreme panic attack at church.
“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. And that’s when we really started to know that something wasn’t right. And then we got through Easter.
“I was trying to say ‘you know, it’s jetlag.’ And ‘I’m OK. I can keep going …’ And then Thursday afternoon happened,” he said.
The Thursday afternoon is the day in April when the elders asked him to take some time off to get better.
“I was upstairs at the time. 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,” Stoecklein said.
“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. 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,” he revealed.
Stoecklein said it took two doctors on the phone to convince him to allow his wife to take him to the ER.
“I wasn’t even able to walk. They put me in a wheelchair, wheeled me in and I had my sunglasses on. I still remember. I had sunglasses on because I thought that everybody at Inland Hills Church was going to be at the hospital watching me go through this breakdown. And I was thinking these wild thoughts and I thought that someone was going to kill me. And so I was hiding and they rushed me immediately right to the back. And they put me in this hallway and they were telling me that there was no room,” the young pastor continued.
He noted that he said “some pretty outlandish stuff” which he didn’t remember saying but his wife told him about.
In the Aug. 12 message, Stoecklein also encouraged his congregation to be more aware of the mental health crisis in America and used the story of Old Testament prophet Elijah to illustrate that mental health is a common subject in the Bible.
“Elijah, he pinpoints the pain. He acknowledges that he is filled with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. And you see mental illness on display. Now that is something that we don’t like to talk about much, do we? Especially not the church. And what’s odd to me about that is from cover to cover in Scripture, it’s filled with men and women who’ve struggled with their emotions and feelings and have been honest and we have these Scriptures that have been preserved to read and relate to these feelings and emotions,” he said.
Olden told CP that while they have not yet been informed of details concerning a memorial service for Stoecklein, the church will be supported by the faith-based and law enforcement community.
“We have not received those details yet … I know that we do have some individuals in our department that are in contact with the congregation. We’ve offered our support and condolences and what the nature of our involvement will or won’t be, we haven’t determined that,” Olden said. “I’m sure we’ll have personnel who will be attending the services.”