Her son died alone in the woods by Lawrence; his death, after a long mental health struggle, was ‘too easy,’ she says

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

Logan Zane was "much more than a mental illness," his mother, pictured hugging him, says. "He was kind and caring,” made friends easily and “touched lives in amazing ways.”

Gayla Kelly thinks her son came to Lawrence in his final days because it was a place where he had been happy.

“He said once that Lawrence was where he began his adult life” — he excitedly came to KU in 2012 to study music education — “so I believe that a part of him felt this was the right place to end his life,” she said.

But she can’t be sure — even as she “relives and rethinks every action and conversation” that preceded the recent discovery of her only son’s body in the woods just north of the Kansas River.

As with so many things about Logan Zane’s state of mind, that choice will remain a mystery.

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

Logan Zane died in Lawrence in February 2024.

One thing she does know — at least in her mother’s heart — is that 29-year-old Logan would be alive today if it hadn’t been so astoundingly simple for him to buy the weapon that killed him.

“I honestly believe that if it hadn’t been so easy to get that gun, he would still be here,” she said, describing a sequence of events that make her “absolutely sick and furious.”

“We are not a gun family,” she said. Before Logan bought the gun in a gas station parking lot after finding a seller online, he had never even held a firearm, as far as Gayla knows. His YouTube history indicates that he had to look up how to operate one. But as soon as it was in his hands, “it was too easy,” she said. “I believe in his mind there was no turning back.”

While there are many ways to die by suicide, dying by a self-inflicted gunshot is by far the most common. Of the approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. who died by suicide in 2023 — the highest rate on record — more than half used a gun, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And guns are everywhere; in the United States, they outnumber people.

But Gayla, of course, doesn’t think of her son as a statistic.

“He was an amazing person,” she said. “… He was much more than a mental illness. He was kind and caring,” made friends easily and “touched lives in amazing ways.”

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

Logan Zane, at goal, loved playing sports and music, his mother said.

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

Logan Zane, center, is pictured with his mom and stepdad, Gayla and Kevin Kelly, while he was a student at KU.

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

A selfie of Logan Zane and his mom, Gayla Kelly, at Allen Fieldhouse when KU beat North Carolina for the 2022 National Championship.

He loved sports and music and was proud to play in the KU marching band and in the pep band at Jayhawk basketball games, she said. He fell in love, explored different parts of the country and had adventures and aspirations, like most young people. After his death, Gayla discovered that he had job interviews and apartment tours set up – before the depression descended again, leading him to take a train from Newton to Lawrence on Feb. 17 and to end his life sometime the next week.

“We had a missing person report out for him and desperately hoped we would find him in time to get him the help he needed,” Gayla said.

When she heard the news that his body had been found days later in the woods, she was “shattered but not surprised.”

Logan had been living with depression for so long and had tried “so hard,” but like thousands of young people battling mental illness, he walked into what feels to Gayla like a perfect storm of vulnerability — easy access to a gun and few resources to keep “the darkness” at bay.

“Sadly, the number of suicides will continue to rise unless we have major changes in this country when it comes to mental illness, health care, overall costs of living and gun control,” she said.

Having health insurance for long-term care alone would have made a “huge difference,” she said.

Gayla’s beliefs are not simply a grieving mother’s hindsight. They are largely shared by leaders in the suicide-prevention community, like Lawrence’s Marcia Epstein, a longtime mental health social worker, who points to research indicating that the easy availability of firearms makes suicide more likely in many situations. When known risk factors like mental health conditions and other life stressors combine with access to an easy means of death, the risk of suicide greatly increases.

“We know that other countries that have eliminated or significantly reduced access to their most frequently used means of suicide have greatly reduced suicide deaths in their countries,” she said. “We know that the states … with strong laws for firearms safety have significantly reduced suicide deaths in their states.”

Epstein is careful to note that each person who dies by suicide is unique.

“Those grieving the person never get the opportunity to know all the things that led to the death,” she said. “We may develop a sense of what likely contributed.”

Acknowledging that the health care system in this country “is full of inequities and disparities in who truly has access to what kinds of care,” she also said that training for reducing suicide risk is generally inadequate, so that “access to health care does not guarantee access to compassionate and knowledgeable helpers for people who are grappling with suicide.”


On a recent Saturday, Gayla and her husband, Kevin, traveled from their home in Park City to place a marker in the Lawrence woods where her boy died. A hiker who had discovered Logan’s body in the lonely spot near the river offered to escort Gayla there to lay a memorial next to the small cross that the hiker had already planted.

“I am so thankful that he was found by a kind and caring person,” Gayla said.

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

Gayla Kelly placed a memorial for her son, Logan Zane, at the spot in the woods by the Kansas River where he died in February 2024. The hiker who found Logan’s body placed the wooden cross.

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

A memorial placed by his mother marks the location where Logan Zane died in Lawrence in February 2024.

The memorial she placed reads: “If tears could build a stairway and memories were a lane, I would walk right up to Heaven and bring you back again.” Around that central message, Gayla added other messages, including “988,” the number for the national suicide hotline.

She also authorized an unusually frank obituary about Logan’s life and the struggles that led to his death, not just to honor the reality of his existence but also in the hope that other families touched by suicide will feel less alone.

“Sharing Logan’s truth,” rather than burying what happened, “was very important to me,” she said, even though it has also been excruciating. “… I needed my Logan to be shared, not a rainbow and roses version of him.”

And, too, she needed to express a sentiment that can get lost in the well-meant and necessary exhortations telling suicidal people to just “reach out” if they are struggling.

“What I want people to see is that when a person gets to this point, this amount of darkness, they usually can’t reach out. This is why it is important that we try to reach out to people that we know are struggling.”

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

Logan Zane is pictured with his mom, stepdad and his niece.

photo by: Courtesy of Gayla Kelly

Logan Zane played saxophone in the KU marching band in the early 2010s.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one or would like emotional support, the 988 Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. You may also text 741741 to speak with a crisis counselor. Locally, HeadQuarters Kansas can be reached at (785) 841-2345.


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