Blythe local and 30-year-old Steven Camou was a beloved son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend and more.
Tragically, on the afternoon of Oct. 27, Camou took his own life in the North Fifth Street core of the city.
Angela and George Colangeli, Steven’s parents, invited the Times to Camou’s Celebration of Life at Shiloh Agape Ministries in an effort to shine a light on the struggles of mental illness and addiction, as well as in the hopes of underlining the importance of seeking help.
“(W)e dealt with mental health – and, it’s a nightmare in Blythe; a nightmare. I went with him to every appointment he had. I fought; I got threatened to (be) put in jail; I threatened to sleep in a tent outside of mental health,” shared Angela. “I’m going to tell all of you right now, in my son’s name – I’m not going to stop the fight to make mental health better in Blythe. Because my son should not have died (...) I know a lot of people have given us money. I didn’t want money; I wanted to bury my son myself. But my cousin Danielle said, ‘Hey, why don’t you start a fund for people who have mental illness like schizophrenia?’ Fortunately we were blessed that, every time I took Steven to Palm Springs (or) Indio, I had money. But there’s a lot of people out here that don’t have it. And they can’t travel; and they don’t have the gas money, they don’t have food – they don’t have anybody to fight for them. So, if you have a problem – I give you my word, that if you want me to camp out at the mental health; I have no problem doing that. If you need somebody to fight for you; I have no problem to do that. We’re starting a scholarship fund for mental health – my son didn’t die for no reason. He didn’t die for no reason; but he was tired. We were tired. The last thing he said to me is, ‘Mom, I love you. And life’s going to get better from here on out.’ I don’t know...For him it did. For me, I’m going to struggle. All of us are going to struggle. But I can’t be sad because Steven – loved life.”
The celebration of life was held among friends and family on Nov. 4.
Affectionately known as ‘Chaos,’ Camou’s celebration of life included a photo slideshow with a backdrop of music – which ended with a friendly smile-inducing video reminder from Steven for everyone to: “Keep it cute, or put it on mute.”
Family photos spanning the life of Camou brought those in attendance to occasional tears, and laughter – with Chaos’ smile ever-present and beaming in the shared memories.
Family members followed the slideshow with shared words, memories, and reflections on Camou’s personality, heart, and life.
“I just want to thank everybody. I want to thank all my family – My Mom, George, everybody that’s been together – putting this together. I’ve kinda been absent since I’ve been here. I just got back from Montana. This is a shock, man. It’s a shock because – my brother, he represented love,” shared Alonzo Camou, Steven’s brother. “One thing about my brother is – no matter what. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what he was going through, he represented love. (...) My brother loved everybody. He loved my Mom, he loved my family. He loved – whoever was going through the worst, he’d be right there by their side smiling. That’s how I know my brother.”
Alonzo spoke on times shared with his older brother Steven.
“He’d always be down to clean, too. I’d be like, ‘Hey, bro; want to come over and clean?’ He’d be like, ‘Got you,’” shared Alonzo. “It was hard to tell what he was going through, because he was always smiling.”
In recent years, Camou was diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Through the years, Camou also struggled with the battle and harsh realities of addiction.
“He loved everybody that he was around. He would always tell us about what was going on with his friends, his family – just different things that he was involved in. But, through all those things – he partied too much like a rockstar. And, when we started seeing the signs of addiction, you know. I had to change; I had to go from those smiles to – ...to be there for my son,” shared George Colangeli. “I had to set the boundaries, the accountability. And there was one time, when we got a call late at night that Steven wasn’t doing too good. He was at a party; so, we called – we called some of his family, and everybody was either, ‘It’s too late.’ Or, you know, it was one of those calls, ‘Everybody goes to parties; everybody has a good time.’ But, I jumped in my car with Angela, and I literally ran through the party with my car. To find Steven, laying on the dance floor – with all his friends sitting there laughing. I was there for Steven; I know why he ended up that way – it’s addiction. But beyond that addiction, we picked up the pieces. We put him in that car – he fought us. He fought us the whole time. We took him home. And when we finally got everything settled, he – he told us he loved us. He was home; he was safe. And that’s how we felt the whole time. But things changed. When mental illness takes ahold of your brain – it’s not the same person. That wasn’t Steven – the one that would have these outbursts or post stuff on Facebook. Or whatever he did; he did some things that – yea, maybe weren’t acceptable. But that was his mental illness. He always showed love. Love and respect. He’d come to our house; the dogs would love him. He’d stay there, and be with us; but that mental illness would come through.”
Colangeli also shed light on the taxing day-to-day toll mental illness could take on Camou, even through what would ultimately be the 30-year-old’s last birthday in March.
“We took Steven out of town, to give him a little shopping spree. Because that’s what Steven liked to do, right? He liked to shop, he liked to do things. So, we took him out – we took him to a restaurant; we had a good time with him. A lot of laughing; he was having a good time. So we said, lets keep this good time going. Let’s rent a hotel, stay. And tomorrow we’ll do some more shopping, (then) go home. Because Steven – it was his birthday. And he wanted to have a good time; we were there, and he didn’t want to bother too many people. So, we rented a hotel. And, most people, when they come to our house – our family, our kids, whoever – it’s a safe place. It’s a quiet place; it’s somewhere you can rest and not worry about anything. But we were in a hotel. And those demons came for Steven – He stayed up all night long, trying to hold it together. He tried to hold it together as best as he could; but there were voices – voices that were in his head. Every little noise that he heard, he thought someone was there to – ...they wanted his attention. They wanted him to go outside; they wanted him to go do some drugs. They were all over the place. And we stayed up all night with Steven; trying to comfort him – trying to (get) some peace for him,” shared Colangeli. “And after that night, we realized – I wasn’t mad no more. I’m mad at Satan; I’m mad at the demons; I’m mad at addiction. But I’m not mad at Steven. I understood – I finally understood what 24-hours in the life of a schizophrenic was...And most of the time, he was sober; completely sober. People think, you know, ‘Oh, he’s just high or whatever.’ No, he was sober. But mental illness takes that person away from you.”
Family friend and City of Blythe Mayor Dale Reynolds also spoke and echoed an encompassing message.
“I’m here as a friend of the family. Steven, as you saw in all those photos, had a smile that could make your day,” said Reynolds. “From the bottom of my heart – you young people, listen and listen good: if you see a problem, help them; do not ignore them. If you’re going through problems – reach out; don’t sit there and figure it out yourself. Because it will not help you; if you need help, ask for help.”
Shiloh Agape Ministries’ Pastor Samuel Burton took a moment to underline the significance of truth and sincerity in Camou’s life.
“God would rather have the ugly truth, than a pretty lie. And most of you have been taught in church to bring God a pretty lie, and hide the ugly truth. Most of us won’t come up in church and be our real selves before God – what we do is try to pretend,” shared Burton. “Pretending one thing before God, and knowing we was another thing – Pretending (...) God wants to heal all our broken hearts, but we need to bring him all the pieces. One of the things I learned from Steven was – he would bring God all the pieces.”
Speakers at the celebration of life included Camou’s uncle, Santiago, who took a moment to thank Camou for changing his understanding of homosexuality.
Camou’s life made a lasting and heartfelt imprint on many people, friends and relatives.
In appreciation of the outpour of support, Steven’s mother Angela Colangeli offered some words of comfort to those in attendance.
“Since this happened, a lot of people have come to us and said, ‘What could we have done? What didn’t I do? Why didn’t I help him?’ There’s all the why’s. I’m Steven’s Mom – and I tried; and I fought; and I couldn’t even do it. So nobody could have done anything; so, don’t feel bad about anything – that’s not the way Steven would want you to be,” shared Angela. “Don’t be sad anymore, because Steven was happy. This hurts my heart; I’m never going to be the same. But remember Steven as being happy; because that’s what he was. Take the best memory you had of him, and erase the suicide, and remember that – because that’s what Steven was. (...) Steven did come out; and I want people to know that it’s OK to be gay. I love my son; but when he told me? I told him, ‘No you’re not. I’ve got to have grandkids. No, no, no.’ So, George pulled me aside and said, ‘Do you love him any different (today) than (yesterday?) Do you love him any different?’ And I said, ‘No; I still love him the same.’”
Camou’s struggles over the years dovetailed into several facets of mental health and addiction in the Blythe community.
A resonating question of challenges faced in the rural Palo Verde Valley that Steven Camou’s parents are now determined to bring and keep at the forefront toward a better future.
(Note: If you or someone you know are struggling with mental health, addiction, or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – available 24/7 – at  273-8255.)