By Michael Rubinkam | Related Press
MOUNT CARBON, Pa. (AP) — Janel Firestone discovered her son — the 24-year-old, simply resigned mayor of the tiny Pennsylvania city of Mount Carbon — in what she assumed was a deep sleep. She tried to wake him for his in a single day shift on the native grocery store, however he couldn’t be roused, even after she sprinkled him with water from a moist washcloth.
She wasn’t involved. Brandon Wentz had all the time been a heavy, heavy sleeper.
Current days had been onerous for him. The household had simply moved to a close-by city, requiring him to surrender his workplace, and he had agonized over his resignation letter. He felt like he was letting his constituents down.
It was a small factor, that letter, however Wentz’s incapability to put in writing it mirrored his current struggles.
“You could just see the stress and sadness in him,” recalled his mom.
Wentz lastly submitted a quite perfunctory 180 phrases and met up with an in depth pal, Ryan Fessler. They frolicked in Wentz’s room for some time, and Fessler left.
A number of hours later, Firestone tried to roust her son. She gave up, deciding to let him sleep off a migraine. What she didn’t know was that her son was not sleeping — he was dying of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl.
By the point Firestone discovered him at 6:30 a.m. the subsequent morning, foaming on the mouth, he was gone.
A police investigation was launched into Wentz’s demise, and state troopers sought to query Fessler. However they might by no means get the chance. Fessler, too, would die of an overdose lower than six months later.
Two pals poisoned by the identical lethal cocktail — two households, left to endure and to query who and the way and why.
Wentz’s passing on Nov. 9, 2017, got here close to the top of a yr that noticed a document variety of drug overdose deaths — greater than 72,000 nationwide, based on the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention. Two weeks earlier than Wentz died, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic to be a “public health emergency.”
By that point, fentanyl had emerged as one of many largest threats. An artificial opioid each low cost to supply and extra highly effective than heroin, it has flooded the illicit drug market in recent times. The drug was implicated in two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s 5,456 overdose deaths in 2017, a 150 % improve in simply two years in one of many nation’s hardest-hit states within the ongoing opioid epidemic.
Wentz’s household stated they by no means noticed it coming.
“I never would’ve thought he had an issue,” stated Firestone, talking publicly concerning the circumstances of her son’s dying for the primary time. “Brandon made a mistake and paid the ultimate price.”
Wentz had so much going for him. The younger man recognized to all as “Honcho” was simply 22 when he turned mayor of Mount Carbon, inhabitants 87, a speck of a city in japanese Pennsylvania’s coal area. Wentz, whose grandmother had served as Mount Carbon’s first feminine mayor within the 1980s, relished the position and took it significantly, fielding constituent considerations and serving to the volunteer hearth division rebuild after its firehouse burned down.
“We greatly appreciated him. The compassion that he showed for us, I can’t even explain it. It was overwhelming,” stated Mary Ann Sadusky, a fireplace division trustee.
Aside from his mayoral obligations, Wentz was a doting older brother, knowledgeable writing main at Kutztown College, a hoops fan who coated the NBA for a sports activities web site. Universally well-liked, he had a large circle of pals and will make anybody giggle.
“He essentially was a mayor before he became The Mayor,” stated a longtime good friend, Brandon Radziewicz, who credit Wentz with bringing him out of his shell in highschool.
However Wentz had one other aspect. His closest companions have been conscious he was dabbling in heroin, which they frowned on however felt powerless to do something about. They didn’t understand how typically he used medicine, and it was straightforward to inform themselves he had it underneath management , it wasn’t that dangerous or he might make his personal selections. They talked about going to Wentz’s household, however determined to let it go.
As soon as Ryan Fessler entered Wentz’s life, his conduct turned harder to disregard.
A pair years older than Wentz, Fessler was inventive and musical, quick-witted and delicate. He labored a succession of low-wage jobs, however by no means appeared to have a grand plan for his life.
“He just wanted to do his music,” stated his mom, Kim Kramer.
Fessler’s personal wrestle with medicine began with the prescription painkiller Percocet after which, when that turned too costly and troublesome to acquire, shifted to heroin. He requested his mom for cash however she refused, figuring out the place he’d spend it.
By the autumn of 2017, Fessler was profoundly addicted — a “lost soul,” in accordance with Julie Sears, a pal from childhood who started courting him that summer time.
Fessler and Wentz bonded over medicine, however their friendship went so much deeper, in accordance with Sears.
“They were the same person,” she stated. “They both wrote, they both drew, they would make up funny raps together. They really did want the best for each other.”
Most of Wentz’s longtime pals didn’t see it that approach. They have been alarmed by his relationship with Fessler.
“He wasn’t a bad person, he was nice, but he had his own demons, too, and demons will invite more demons,” Radziewicz stated. “I think they were good at fueling each other’s habits.”
Wentz’s household had no concept he was utilizing opioids, however they might see that his life had taken a flip.
A couple of months after turning into mayor, Wentz was pulled over by state police, who discovered a small bag of marijuana and a glass pipe in his Pontiac Grand Prix. Wentz pleaded responsible to DUI and was sentenced to 72 hours in jail. He additionally misplaced his driver’s license, which pressured Wentz, a commuter scholar, to take a depart from Kutztown.
It was his first and solely brush with the regulation, apart from a pair visitors tickets, and it affected him deeply. He was upset his classmates have been leaving him behind, and disillusioned that he had let himself and his household down. He wrote a observe from his jail cell, apologizing to his mom for what he had completed.
Wentz had suffered nervousness and melancholy since highschool, and now these signs grew worse. He started seeing a psychiatrist, however didn’t assume the medicine was working.
Associates believed his heroin use turned extra frequent in the summertime and fall of 2017.
Not lengthy earlier than his dying, Wentz informed Andrew Vogel, certainly one of his English professors and a trusted adviser, that he may by no means make it again to high school. Vogel had taken a particular curiosity in Wentz, an unfocused however undeniably gifted scholar, and pleaded with him to maintain his choices open.
“He was worried about how people were perceiving him when we spoke last, with the DUI, with resigning from his position as mayor, struggling with school, all of that,” Vogel recalled. “He was concerned about what people thought. He wanted to do the right thing.”
A couple of days later, Firestone got here residence from work to seek out her son sitting in the dead of night, struggling a migraine and placing the ultimate touches on his resignation letter. Fessler confirmed up simply as she was leaving for the grocery retailer.
Firestone wasn’t precisely thrilled to see him. She had by no means trusted Fessler. It was only a intestine feeling. She informed her son she didn’t like them hanging out.
“Mom, you’ve just got to give him a chance,” Wentz would reply. “You don’t really know him. He’s just going through some issues. He just needs a friend.”
Now, together with his mom on the retailer, Wentz advised his youthful brother that he and Fessler “need to have an adult conversation.”
They disappeared into Wentz’s bed room.
It was the morning after. Firestone’s world had come crashing down, and right here was Fessler, once more, at her doorstep, not 5 minutes after her son’s physique was taken away.
Fessler was beside himself when he came upon his good pal was lifeless — as distraught as his mom and girlfriend had ever seen him — and insisted on going to Wentz’s home.
“What can I do?” he requested Firestone.
She confirmed him a enterprise card. It had been left by a state police trooper who was on the home earlier.
“This officer needs you to call him,” she stated. “He has questions for you.”
Fessler took a photograph of the cardboard and promised to “turn myself in.” He requested Firestone for a hug; she couldn’t do it. Not then, and perhaps not ever. Even then, she suspected Fessler had given medicine to her son.
Fessler didn’t attain out to police. A trooper left a message on his cellphone in early December, however as an alternative of returning the decision, he blocked the quantity. A couple of weeks later, on Christmas Eve, his girlfriend discovered him in mattress. He was excessive and he was crying.
“I killed my best friend,” he wailed. “I gave it to him.”
In his grief, Fessler’s habit grew worse.
Kramer begged her son to maneuver to Florida to be together with his father. He had no drug contacts there, and would have a shot at restoration.
Fessler agreed. He spent the early a part of 2018 within the Sunshine State, in remedy. He was doing higher.
However Fessler additionally confronted unrelated drug costs in Pennsylvania, and he needed to return for a listening to. His household nervous he would relapse. They plotted to convey him again simply lengthy sufficient to go to courtroom, to observe him intently and whisk him again to Florida as quickly because it was over.
Firestone caught wind of Fessler’s scheduled courtroom look, alerting state police that he can be again on the town. A trooper informed her he would go to the listening to to ask him about Wentz’s demise.
However Fessler by no means made it.
Early on the morning of April 16, he fatally overdosed on heroin and fentanyl, the identical mixture that killed Wentz. He’d been in Pennsylvania simply over two days.
Kramer, Firestone and their households had come to the identical horrible place. Each misplaced youngsters to the identical poisons. Each needed to know the way it might have occurred, and whom they might maintain accountable.
To today, Firestone is not sure concerning the extent of her son’s drug use. His organs didn’t present indicators of heavy or persistent use.
“My gut feeling is he contacted Ryan to get something to take the edge off that day,” she stated.
Regardless of the purpose, she’s positive he didn’t intend to overdose. A couple of hours earlier than his dying, Wentz had requested his mother to swing by their previous home in Mount Carbon to select up his flash drive — he informed her he deliberate to arrange an area of their new home and begin writing once more. Then he despatched her an inventory of issues to get from the grocery retailer: inexperienced grapes, pepperoni, apple sauce, crackers, iced tea, sports activities drink.
Greater than anything, Firestone needs his associates had introduced their considerations about her son to her.
“We could have saved his life together rather than bury him together,” she stated.
His pal Radziewicz agrees.
“I was thinking, foolishly, that I would lose my best friend, and he wouldn’t talk to me again,” Radziewicz stated. “Guess what? I lost my best friend.”
Firestone cried anew when she discovered of Fessler’s dying. She was unhappy for his mother, and annoyed that the reality about her personal son’s demise may by no means come out. There have been occasions when she couldn’t assist however hate Fessler, whilst she understood that he struggled, too.
The households have no idea one another. Firestone just lately handed her quantity to Kramer, and Kramer plans to attach sooner or later. “She needs to talk to me, I think,” Kramer stated.
Kramer says she understands Firestone’s emotions towards her son — as a result of she feels the identical about whoever provided her personal son’s medicine.
“I’m there,” Kramer stated. “I get it, I actually do. You get up, you consider all of it day, it’s eternally
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there. You need to discover out who gave it to them. … You need to hate the one who handed your son the bag.”