Community grieves 14-year-old girl killed in suspected fentanyl overdose
Another teenager gone too soon.
Another family left to bury a child.
Another high school vigil to mourn the death of a classmate.
“This has to stop,” implored a Bradshaw Mountain High parent this week on social media.
On Oct. 20, a 14-year-old Bradshaw Mountain High School student died of an overdose death after taking what investigators suspect was a counterfeit pill laced with the potent narcotic painkiller fentanyl.
The Daily Courier is not naming the young victim, which is the newspaper’s policy in most cases unless the family wishes to share their story.
In another local case in late March, a 17-year-old homeschooled Prescott Valley girl, Hannah Cupp, also died of a fentanyl overdose. A month later, Cupp’s parents shared their lament so as to sound the alarm against the deadly drug in hopes of saving other teens’ lives.
In 2017, two former Bradshaw Mountain High School athletes, Gunner Bundrick and Jake Morales died of what was determined to be an accidental overdose from a mix of drugs and fentanyl intoxication. Morales’ family, that includes Prescott Valley Mayor Kell Palguta, also have spoken up about their personal sorrow, imploring teens against taking anything not prescribed to them by a doctor.
MatForce Executive Director Merilee Fowler said this is the seventh teenage fentanyl overdose in the last two years. MatForce is Yavapai County’s substance abuse prevention coalition headquartered in Prescott Valley.
Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Partners Against Narcotic Trafficking Task Force confirmed Wednesday afternoon that they have made arrests related to this latest death, with the investigation still active.
Five days before this young girl died, a sheriff’s deputy arrested a man on felony drug sale charges after he tossed 300 fentanyl pills out his car window during a traffic stop in Cordes Junction. In 2020 to date, PANT has made 50 felony arrests related to the sale and distribution of the far-too-often deadly fentanyl pills. PANT and other area law enforcement leaders have also conducted public warnings about the prevalence and danger within the community.
“It’s very sad. It’s very sobering,” said Humboldt Unified School District Superintendent John Pothast of this latest tragedy. “Unfortunately, it’s a pandemic in its own right in our nation right now.”
Almost immediately after the young girl’s death was announced, Bradshaw Mountain students organized a vigil at the local skate park, said a concerned BMHS parent, Nicole Indicavitch. It is heartbreaking to her that at their ages this is commonplace enough that students are prepared to host such an event, she said.
The time is now to energize the broader community to fight back against a drug so unforgiving that a one-time experiment, or taking a prescription pill they think is innocuous, sends them straight to the grave, Indicavitch and others said.
“Our kids know how to grieve a loss like this because they’ve had so many,” she said.
To date, the fentanyl scourge has claimed 50 Yavapai County lives in the last five years, Fowler said.
“I’m really scared for our kids,” said Fowler, whose coalition is embarking on a billboard campaign the day after the election titled, “One Pill Can Kill!” “They don’t know that taking one pill can mean their last breath on Earth.”
Though drug experimentation has long been an uphill battle with teenagers across the generations, Pothast said fentanyl brings heightened fear because “fentanyl has no forgiveness.”
For Ryan Gray, a high school parent and president of the Humboldt Unified School District Governing Board, the loss of yet another young life in the community is a painful blow.
He said he aches for the family’s horror, and the too-familiar “sadness for a young person that never really got a chance to understand what their life could really be like.”
“The presence of fentanyl in our community is devastating for families all over the place,” Gray said. “It’s going to take a commitment from everyone to rid ourselves of this scourge.”
Gray and others commended the efforts of law enforcement, MatForce and other community groups seeking to alert the community of these dangers. They applauded parents, teachers, and counselors who sound the alarm. Yet with teens who think they are invincible the conversation can never be over, they emphasized.
Unlike in other eras, teens experimenting for the first time “may not get a chance to learn a lesson the hard way,” Gray said.
“The first time may be their only time,” he said. “That has to be the message.”
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.