SANTA CRUZ -- The death of Nathan Phillips, a 17-year-old Aptos boy who was missing for more than a week before fishermen found his body in the surf of Seacliff State Beach last week, was ruled as a suicide Wednesday by the Santa Cruz County Coroner's Office.

The cause of death was drowning facilitated by a weighted backpack, said Santa Cruz County sheriff's deputy Ryan Kennedy. Kennedy did not say what sort of weight was used in the backpack or the weight of the backpack.

Phillips left his family's Aptos home Dec. 2 saying he was "going on an adventure" and was reported missing the next day. His road bike was found abandoned near Seacliff State Beach the same day he was reported missing. Though crews searched the area, there was no sign of Phillips.

Fishermen discovered his body Dec. 12 on the north side of the pier at Seacliff. It wasn't immediately clear if the body was Phillips; he was eventually identified by fingerprints.

In a prepared statement, Phillips' mother, Betty Warren, said no one will understand her son's final thoughts.

"There are no words that can adequately express the grief of a mother's loss, and in the same way, words also fall short when I hear myself say that I cherish every memory with my son," Warren said. "But I do. I will never say that I have six children now. I will always have seven. You will always be with us in our hearts."

Phillips, who would have graduated from Aptos High School in the spring, was remembered by high school friends Wednesday afternoon at Seacliff pier, said his sister, Bek Phillips.

Phillips' parents are divorced, and Nathan was living with his father at the time of his death, his sister said.

"We feel pain in that we feel that there may have been signs that we missed in not being as close to him as we would have wished," she said. "We are left with the unanswered question: Is there anything we could have done?"

Phillips saying he was going to go on an adventure could have been a warning sign, said Diane Brice, director of the Suicide Prevention Services of Central Coast. But it could have been hard to detect since most people aren't aware of suicide warning signs.

"It's in no way being disrespectful to the family because most people don't know the risk factors," she said. "They don't know about suicide."

While people think suicide is rare, but it is one of the top 10 causes of death in most age groups in the U.S., Brice said.

General signs of a suicidal person include moodiness, engaging in risky behavior, acting impulsively or giving away prized possessions. And the best way to help is to reach out and talk, Brice said.

"It's helping people by sitting down and saying 'I noticed you haven't been going out and hanging out with friends lately,'" Brice said. "It's getting in there and getting that conversation going and listening to what's going on when things change."

For information or to contact the suicide prevention services, call 877-663-5433.

Follow Sentinel reporter Calvin Men at Twitter.com/calvinmenatwork

---

©2013 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com