The garage where Julie Woodward took her life is gone now,
bulldozed by her grieving parents, as though that could erase what
Just over a year ago, on July 22, 2003, the 17-year-old North
Penn High School junior hanged herself in the garage behind the
family's house in North Wales. Her father found her body the next
No parent can understand a child's suicide, but Julie's death was
particularly puzzling. A bookworm who studied Latin, Julie had
always been cautious and reserved and never impulsive. "She had no
history whatsoever of self-harm or suicide," her father, Tom
Woodward, said last week.
Julie was planning to leave on a college-hunting trip with her
family later that week. In her journal, found after her death, she
dreamed of a happy future of marriage and babies.
"She was just a very bright, self-preserving kid," her mother,
What could lead such a child to kill herself? The day after
Julie's death, the Woodwards got a possible clue. Their neighbor,
North Wales Mayor Douglas Ross, shared information he had spent the
night gleaning off the Internet. It linked a class of antidepressant
drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) with
suicidal impulses in children.
A difficult transition
Julie, a pretty girl with sand-blonde hair that fell to her
shoulders, had been not only a child model but, as her parents
describe her, a model child.
But the year before her death, she transferred from a small
all-girls school to sprawling North Penn High, where she struggled
to fit in. She became unhappy, withdrawn and irritable. Her parents
took her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed depression and prescribed
the antidepressant Zoloft.
Tom Woodward said doctors assured him that Zoloft was "mild, very
safe, and essential to her treatment."
Seven days after she began the medication, Julie killed herself.
Her parents are convinced there's a link. "If Julie had never taken
Zoloft, she would be alive today," Tom Woodward said. "I am 100
percent sure of that."
They found a champion in U.S. Rep. James Greenwood, a Bucks
County Republican and longtime children's advocate. As chairman of
the subcommittee on oversight and investigations, Greenwood had led
high-profile probes into Enron, Martha Stewart and human
Six months after Julie's death, Greenwood announced that his
committee would investigate the link between antidepressants and
The hearing was scheduled for July 20, and the Woodwards planned
to attend. "We were looking at this as a watershed moment," Tom
An abrupt change of plans
But the day before the hearing, Greenwood informed the Woodwards
that the hearing was being postponed for unspecified reasons.
Only later would they learn that, a few days earlier, Greenwood
had quietly decided to leave Congress to accept a $650,000-a-year
job - that's more than four times his congressional salary - as
president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group
that represents numerous pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer,
maker of Zoloft, the drug Julie took before her death. A Pfizer vice
president serves on the group's 46-member board of directors, which
The Woodwards felt betrayed and called the job offer on the eve
of the hearing "very suspicious."
In a telephone conversation with Greenwood on the anniversary of
Julie's death, Kathy Woodward accused Greenwood of allowing the
pharmaceutical industry to buy his silence. "I think he sold out all
the victims and future victims," she said.
Greenwood, in a 90-minute interview with me Friday, strongly
denied any nefarious undertones to his new career choice. He
defended his actions as ethical and said the Woodwards' accusations
are based on a groundless conspiracy theory that began circulating
on the Internet after he announced his new job.
Besides, he added, the hearing was merely postponed until after
the August recess. In tomorrow's column, I will let Greenwood
explain in detail.
As for the Woodwards, they believe every day Congress delays is a
day another Julie could end up dead.