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Cathy Lynn Grossman-USA TODAY
Megachurch pastor and author of "The Purpose Driven Life" said his son struggled "from birth" with mental illness.
Matthew Warren was 27, youngest of 3 children. Another pastor will preach in Rick Warren's place Sunday.
Pastor Rick Warren, leader of one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, says his son's suicide last week was the result of years of struggle with depression and a "momentary wave of despair."
In an open letter to his church, later shared with his nearly 1 million Twitter followers, Warren said Matthew Warren, 27, took his own life at his Mission Viejo, Calif., home.
Matthew Warren struggled with mental illness, deep depression and suicidal thoughts throughout his life, Saddleback Valley Community Church said in a statement.
Supervising deputy Dan Aikin of the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner's Department told NBC News that Warren died from an apparent gunshot wound around 10 a.m. Friday. .
Warren wrote that their son, the youngest of their three children, had enjoyed a fun Friday evening with him and his wife, Kay, but Matthew then returned home to take his life in "a momentary wave of despair."
It was a life-long battle lost, despite consultation with top doctors, counseling, medication and floods of prayer. Despite all that, Warren wrote, "this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life."
"I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said 'Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?' " Warren recalled.
Even so, Matthew Warren spent his short life reaching out to others, his father said, calling him "an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate man" with "a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He'd then make a beeline to that person to engage and encourage them."
On Sunday, Warren's brother-in-law and frequent co-pastor at Saddleback would take the pulpit.
Rick and Kay founded their church in 1980 with a few people meeting in their condo. It has since expanded to be one of the nation's 10 largest churches, based in Lake Forest, southeast of Los Angeles, with a network of "daughter" churches throughout California.
Among its hundreds of ministries and support groups are those that focus on people who struggle - prisoners, addicts and people living with HIV, depression and other illnesses.
But Warren's first claim to worldwide attention came with his 2002 handbook on applying faith to every day. The Purpose Driven Life has sold 30 million copies and inspired waves of church groups.