Vanessa Abbott

Born: June 1990
Died: January 2015

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this one could be a novel. It would be a novel about a life of love for everyone and everything, it would be about a life of truly believing that all people deserved to be treated with dignity and respect no mater what. Vanessa believed that everyone has a loving, caring side just waiting to get out. Not only did she love everyone and everything, mostly they loved her back, though she didn’t always see it. I sometimes think she could have picked up a rattle snake and it would have instantly been her friend. Then there was her smile. I don’t think anyone would deny that when Vanessa was among friends she was always smiling and making others happy. She was only 4’11” but she had the biggest heart of anyone I have ever known. That was where her struggles began.

Read Vanessa’s story.

Hunter Dalton

Born: March 1993
Died: December 2016

Hunter was born in Cornelius, North Carolina, on March 9, 1993. Hunter’s zest for life was immediately apparent as was his love of sports. He played little league baseball, soccer, basketball and Pop Warner football. His athletic “claim to fame” was beating Steph Curry in a free throw competition at McKillop Basketball camp held at Davidson College. He played JV and varsity football at Hopewell High School. As he became older, his passion for sports shifted to a love of golf. His favorite day of each year was the Saturday he spent with his Mom at the Masters Golf Tournament. Growing up on Lake Norman, Hunter spent endless sunny days swimming, boating, kayaking, knee boarding or tubing with family and friends. Hunter was very adventuresome and he loved to travel. His favorite trips included Ireland, the Caribbean Islands and a cruise with friends that earned him the nickname “the Captain.”

Read Hunter’s story.

Drew Gintis

Born: February 1994
Died: July 2015

Drew began wrestling in high school his freshman year. It became his passion. His wrestling record his freshman year was 21-1. His one win was a forfeit. He was determined his previous record would never happen again. By his junior year, he was team captain with a 21-2 record, hoping to go to States. Drew worked so hard and was determined. Wrestling became the arena in which he was the team star, until his injury his senior year. Drew tried to continue competing, but his shoulder injury was too severe. He lost his identity and his confidence. The loss of his dream of going to States and of losing his identity began his downward spiral. Drew was prescribed opioids and developed an addiction. On July 31, 2015, we got the phone call that changed our lives forever. Never again, would we be the family of four. Never again would we see the smile that lit up every room and our boy would now forever only live on in our memories. (Submitted by Haley Gintis, Drew’s sister)

Michael Ragone

Born: May 1985
Died: January 2016

Funny, funny kid and man. He loved fishing, football, poker, jokes, his girlfriend, family, and friends. He was hysterically sarcastic and edgy. He sang songs in Italian that he memorized. He lit up a room with his smile and personality. He was ashamed of his addiction and always thought he could beat it…on his own. One of his last texts to me was: “love u 2 Moms.. Don’t let fear control you. I know how bad this sounds but I promise I will not make you bury me. I’m going to outlive u.” He didn’t mean to leave us. Lured, by a cunning drug that destroys impulse control and crushed under the shame and stigma of being addicted. He used alone and died. (Submitted by Betsy Ragone, Michael’s mother)

Jason “Wes” Sapp

Born: September 1994
Died: April 2016

Wes was a great friend, a better brother, and the best son! He will always be remembered for his playful, kind nature. Growing up in a small coastal town in NC, Wes was a “big fish in a small pond”; a honor student, all-star athlete and county champion. His senior year of high school he earned the VIP Athlete award and was honored with the opportunity to speak at his graduation. He immediately enrolled in college following high school, where he quickly realized he was now a “small fish in a big pond”. This realization, and Wes’ desire to “belong”, drove him to rushing for a fraternity that eventually led him to making poor decisions and smoking marijuana. Ending his first semester, Wes, having always been an A student, was failing all his college courses. We made a decision not to pay for a second semester at the college and, instead, bring Wes home to reassess.

Read Wes’s story.

Matthew Eyster

Born: October 1994
Died: April 2016

Matthew was a shy quiet boy but everyone wanted to be around him. He always had a full social calendar. Matthew was stubborn like you wouldn’t believe and nobody told Matthew what to do but he was never in any trouble. Parents of friends loved to have him over because he was so quiet and wonderful. He had many “adoptive” parents and brothers. You would to this day be unable to find a coach, teacher, friend or parent of a friend to say anything negative about him. Matthew was an outstanding athlete. His high school soccer coach once told me that he had a God given gift. During Matthew’s life he shined at everything he did and I was proud of him like every mother is.

Read Matthew’s story.

Blake Bailey

Born: February 1995
Died: September 2018

Blake was extremely intelligent and wise beyond his years. He was generous with his time in helping others and loyal to his family. He began his struggle with substance abuse at age 14 with marijuana. He was self medicating for depression and slight bipolar. After his daughter was born he was introduced to opiates and began a three-year downward spiral that ended with him getting clean in rehab. He was clean for nine months when he died of straight fentanyl poisoning. He didn’t want to be addicted and desperately wanted to be free from drugs. The only peace his family finds now is knowing he is free from his suffering. (Submitted by Mary Kay Bailey)

Sydney Taylor

Born: January 1992
Died: August 2019

Sydney was the mother of three incredible kids. She was an amazing mother. Sydney always had a smile for everyone. She was the most loving person I have ever known. I miss her terribly every second of every day. (Submitted by Crystal Brown)

Taylor Allen

Born: September 1994
Died: February 2019

Taylor was one of a kind. He loved and cared so deeply for his family and friends. His two best friends committed suicide within eight months of each other in 2011 and he was never able to recover from losing them. His struggle with anxiety made him self medicate and he struggled with alcoholism. I miss my son so much my heart has not stopped hurting since that awful night. I Love You Taylor Shane! (Submitted by Stephanie Rivers)

Preston Powell

Born: June 1989
Died: December 2017

I knew Preston had a problem! We had dealt with it for years. He was the most fun loving person you would ever meet. He loved making people laugh. Loved working with his hands and would always say “I’m sorry for all I have put you through and I’m going to make you proud of me.” He got with the wrong group of friends at a young age and always said he fought his demons everyday. He tried so hard to stay drug free. He went to rehab, lived in Oxford House and did great. But what I didn’t realize is as good as he was doing the demon was bigger!! I talked to him for 45 minutes the night before he overdosed about a new job he was starting and how excited he was that he was going to make me proud. That night his drug dealer brought him heroine but what he didn’t know was it was mostly fentanyl. It killed him instantly. I will forever remember the knock on my door telling me my baby boy was gone. My only hope is he knew I was so proud of him. On August 31st, I will help with the Overdose Rally hopefully to help families going through the same thing and help people understand it’s a disease that they deal with every day. They are someone’s son!!! I will always love you Preston and mama’s proud of you . He was only 28 years old. Now he’s dancing with the angels.

Caleb Shelton

Born: October 1989
Died: October 2016

Caleb is best described as loving, compassionate, always expressing an extraordinary level of kindness to all, especially children, as well as being loyal, humble and athletic. A natural athlete, Caleb played several sports in his youth. His favorite was baseball, excelling as a 2 time high school All Conference player (left-handed pitcher), defensive player of the year (1st baseman), whose career culminated in a NCAA Division 1 scholarship. A good student, Caleb stood for all the right values, was a friend to all, treating everyone with respect, loved children of all ages, freely giving of himself to help kids whenever opportunities presented themselves.

Read Caleb’s story.

Michael Morong

Born: February 1986
Died: November 2015

From the first time I saw my son Michael, I thought he could be anything that he wanted to be. I never thought it would be a drug addict, and I definitely didn’t think he would die of the disease of addiction. Growing up, Michael loved to hunt fish and play with his sisters and brother. He was like any other normal child. Then high school came and he was introduced to illicit drugs which finally were the demise of him. During the time that he was in and out of recovery however, he helped numerous people work through the 12 steps of AA. Was in and out of detox numerous times, and gave help wherever and whenever it was asked for. I saw him come alive again while in recovery and thought that we had this disease arrested for good. He got married and had two children who are now growing up without their father. Then one night I got that dreaded phone call that every parent never thinks they’ll get. He was on life support and never came back out. I had to make a decision that no mother ever wants to make, and that was to turn his ventilator off. He died on Thanksgiving morning in 2015, and my life has not ever been the same. I see Michael in everything and everyone that is good. He’s in the stars and the birds and the wind. He is everywhere, and thank God. I have spoken about him with pride and with tears in my eyes because he was my greatest joy deepest sorrow in this lifetime. He’s dearly missed and loved even more today and always. (Submitted by Phyllis McCray, Michael’s mother)

CJ Unterstein

Born: May 1986
Died: November 2016

CJ was my best friend, the funniest person I have ever met and the person that I thought I would spend my life with. He was a little brother and an uncle to two beautiful little girls. He had dreams and hopes, but he was also sick. The disease won, and the world is a darker place without him. I miss him every day. (Submitted by Lisa Evans)

Jonathan Washburn

Born: July 1997
Died: September 2017

Jonathan is my son. He was a sweet young man, one who displayed kindness, and grace, when not under the influence of drugs. Before his substance abuse problems, he was an honors student, a talented football player, and an articulate and intelligent young man, one who could master many skills easily. He lit up with a smile when I cooked his special foods or told him that I loved him, and he always had a tender spot in his heart for animals, children, and old people. The father in the Broadway play Dear Evan Hansen sings the following words to his dead son, words which aptly describe the feelings of parents who have lost children to overdose: “I gave you the world, you threw it away, leaving these broken pieces behind you.” The families left behind truly are fragments of their former selves, while drugs gave our children no choice but to throw away the world. This epidemic must stop. (Submitted by Liz Washburn, Jonathan’s mother)

Austin Heath

Born: August 1993
Died: February 2019

Austin was born in Mt. Airy, NC, on Aug. 5,1993. Austin loved life, his mother, his family, and many friends. He loved sports. Growing up he played little league baseball and played competitive paintball where he traveled to play in tournaments on many levels. He loved the water and enjoyed spending time on the lake swimming, boating, and tubing. He loved to travel. Some of his favorite trips where out west with his stepdad and cruises to the Bahamas with family. Austin had a smile that was contagious and a heart of gold. He made others happy and didn’t know a stranger. He was loved by everyone and will never be forgotten. (Submitted by Deanna Brown, Austin’s mother)

Harvey Stephenson

Born: November 1969
Died: July 2017

Best uncle and friend ever. Always had a loving smile, enjoyed being outside, loved meeting new people and loved spending time with his daughter and the rest of our family. Forever in our hearts, missed tremendously. (Submitted by Shawnta Stephenson)

Kevin Allen

Born: November 1980
Died: May 2015

Our son Kevin was born on November 20th, 1980. He was one of the happiest babies I’ve ever seen in my life. He was always smiling and we called him our little angel baby. He was always very very bright. He potty-trained himself at 18 months old and he taught himself to read at five years old.

Read Kevin’s story.

Katie Thomas

Born: December 1994
Died: August 2016

Katie Thomas never met a stranger, she was the second of three girls and the heart of our family. Katie loved all animals and had a passion for people with special needs. She wanted to fix everything and carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. When Katie was 13 she had two back surgeries within a year and was prescribed an endless supply of OxyContin. This would be the beginning to an end. The next several years would be a constant battle of rehabs and behavioral centers. At 17, Katie became pregnant and gave birth to the love of her life, a little boy she named Landen Ray. She often wrote about the dreams she had for herself and Landen and tried so hard to be the mother he needed. She felt she had finally done something right. In 2016, at the age of 21, Katie lost her battle and is no longer suffering through the pain of addiction. (Submitted by Angelia Thomas, Katie’s mother)

Brittany Redmond

Born: October 1989
Died: May 2021

Brittany never wanted to be defined only by her addiction and mistakes, but she wanted people to know the truth with the hope that honesty about her death could help break the stigma about addicts, and get people talking about the problem and signs of addiction that is taking so many lives too soon.

Read Brittany’s story.

Gabriella Aviles

Born: February 2003
Died: October 2021

We moved from Temecula, CA to Apex, NC in June 2019, Gabriella’s junior year of high school, then Covid hit. Gabriella had limited socialization and she only smoked pot to ease her anxiety. Through counseling it was a bit challenging but we always said “we got this” until she passed.

Months went by and the cause of her death was fentanyl poisoning.
The toxicology report showed 9.4 mg/L Fentanyl and  0.010  mg/L of cocaine. She was killed instantly.

Gabriella had a huge heart, infectious smile, and would light up the darkest room. She was beautiful inside and out!
At age eighteen, she had so much life to live for until someone took that away from her and poisoned my beautiful daughter. (Submitted by Lynelle Esposito, Gabriella’s mother)

Robert Wood

Born: October 1980
Died: October 2021

Bobby was the most amazing man I’ve ever met, my best friend, and my fiance. He fell into addiction “heroin” after a motorcycle accident. He struggled with his demons for 10+ years, finally in 2017 he got help and got clean.

He knew if he was going to be apart of his children’s lives he had to get help. He was drug free for 5 years. He was so proud of himself I was so proud of him. Unfortunately, in 2021 Bob relapsed one time and died.

Bob loved life he was a father and grandfather. He looked up to his younger brother. He was going back to college for Art. He loved to draw , Bob had a passion for working on his motorcycle. And he loved music. Even through his addiction if he could help one person he was happy. What he wanted most in life was to make his children proud. He wanted them to see how he changed his life for the better , and that anyone can turn their life around if they wanted it bad enough.

I know even now if his story can help save someone’s life he would be happy. I miss him the person he was kind, funny, determined. He will forever be missed, loved and remembered. Bobbyforever41 (Submitted by Sharon Hanuszak, Robert’s fiancée and best friend)

Brandon Gilchrist

Born: December 1989
Died: December 2021

Brandon or B as all his family and close friends called him was 32 and he was a handsome smart loving an caring young man he was ambitious and had a thrill for life he loved music he was very passionate about it. Brandon loved too hang out with friends and party and have a good time but slowly throughout the years it turned into more and he struggled with addiction.

B finally lost his battle on Dec 28 of 2021 to fentanyl after several overdoses. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him he was my soulmate my best friend. B leaves behind 3 children who love and miss him dearly and it breaks my heart. If you are struggling with addiction please get help there is hope! Especially if you have children. Your family and friends love you not the drugs or streets. God bless (Submitted by Kristie Morrison, Brandon’s girlfriend and best friend)

Jace Hardwick

Born: June 2002
Died: June 2021

This was my fun loving energetic son. He is so dearly missed.
I miss you Jace hardwick. (Submitted by Ashley Hardwick)

Joshua Cook

Born: December 1989
Died: September 2021

He was a son, brother and a father and I miss him. He fought his demons long and hard but they won in the end. I will think of you every day and love you always. (Submitted by Ellen Cook, Joshua’s mother)

Eddie Perkovic

Born: April 1986
Died: August 2021

Eddie was my only child, my friend, my best friend. I raised him by myself a n it was always me and him against the world. He was a happy little boy who was so cut and smart as a whip. He learned the guitar at a very young age. He was a musical genius you wrote the most amazing music. He had the voice of an angel he started having anxiety and depression and this led to his addictions. He was a brave warrior who fought the war against drugs with his every being but on 8/28/21 at 805am he lost that war. His leaving left a hole in the souls of all of us on out small family. I miss laughing with him, I miss talking to him. I miss all the things she taught me but most of all I miss him. I love you mom
I love you forever
I like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be. <3 <3 Eddie <3 <3 (Submitted by Pamela Sciulli, Eddie’s mother)

Trent Harrell

Born: January 1999
Died: July 2020

Trent Allen Harrell was my baby. We had a special bond from the beginning. Our older son, Tyler, was alway moving and never sat still. Trent was different. He was shy and loved to curl up in my lap. He loved the outdoors, especially the beach. He was always taking things apart to see how they worked. Trent was funny. Our life is boring without him. The last few years before Trent’s death, he struggled with addiction. He was trying so hard to overcome it. He was doing really good until Covid hit. The college closed and took him off his much needed schedule. The Friday before his death, Trent called to say he was late for his appointment and unable to get his suboxin prescription. He said he was going to die and I told him everything was going to be ok. His dad had worked hard to get a spot in rehab on Monday morning. We just had to make it through the weekend. Trent died on Sunday morning from a fentanyl overdose. Our house is painfully silent. We still cry ourselves to sleep. We miss him more everyday. We believe we will see Trent again. Everyday is one day closer to seeing my Trent Allen again (Submitted by Amy Harrell, Trent’s mother)


Born: December 1986
Died: December 2021

Maria was so beautiful. She was talented and could cook some many different foods well. She found her talent caring for people with illness as an adult. Maria always wanted to be a veterinarian as a chlid. She was a victim of lead poisoning as a small child. She recovered well and was an amazing student. We lost her grandmother when she was five. We were close and did alot of fun things together, I was only twenty when she was born. We had hard times but we had good times too. I had two other children and married. Maria loved her older step sister as a matter of fact they were good friends before they became sisters. Her real father was never really part of her life> Over the years she had a strained relationship with her stepfather who is a twenty eight year recovering addict. As a teenager Maria had many issues and was in an adolescent treatment center as well as a girls school for trobled teens. She really struggled. Bad choices, bad relationships, I went through it all in addition to dealing with my recovering addict husband. I loved Maria so much and wanted to help her any way I could. The best thing I did was learn about addiction through Nar Anon and Al Anon. My daughter moved to Arizonia as an adult. She got into a relationship with someone and they introduced her to Meth. She came home after three years in AZ and she had a Meth habit. She got in recovery but really didnt take it serious. She had two beautiful babies before she passed away. I am raising my granddaughter Amina. Amina’s little brother is being raised by his father in Baltimore. I hope to reunite the children at Christmas. Amina is Autistic and a very bright three year old that is also a wonderful artist like her mother. Khalil my grandson has his mothers beautiful smile. Our family will always be forever wanting to see and love that wonderfully complicated amazing spirit. If you knew Maria you would never forget her. If you could forget Maria you never really knew her. (Submitted by Teresa Robinson, Maria’s mother)

Brandi Freeman

Born: September 1980
Died: April 2017

She was my cousin, she was my hero, I miss her sooooo much. She was a wonderful person and got a hold of the wrong thing. (Submitted by Courtney Love, Brandi’s cousin)

Kenneth Grace Jr.

Born: April 1991
Died: May 2022

Lil kenny was the happiest most loving person I know he was the true meaning of unconditional love his dad was his hero and he would brag on how much I had done for him he was so proud of his daughter she was his world she looks just like him he always would help anyone he could life wasn’t always kind to him but he never let it show he was always into something and trying ways to fool his dad into thinking he was working on a go cart or bike like he was asked to do but he was usually playing around and hitting a tool on metal to act like he was working he would just laugh and say I fooled dad again he just made you wanna smile anytime you saw him (Submitted by Susan Jenkins, Kenneth’s aunt)

Joshua Mathewson

Born: August 1985
Died: August 2022

Joshua was our only son. He was my best friend and the child most like me. He was smart, shy, kind, loyal. He was a devoted son and amazing uncle. He never really saw his value. He worried too much and took things to heart most would shrug off. Josh watched as my health declined, and when he was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition as well, he became terrified. He was in pain always, and embarrassed when he would have to skip events, be late, or hold others up. Josh continued through it all to be a hard worker, a great friend, and a loving son, brother, and uncle. He would help a friend, no matter the time or his own health. He was always ready to help/ defend those in need. The world is a darker place for his friends and family now. We pray he is happy, no longer in pain, running in heaven with his dogs and waiting for the time we will be together again. (Submitted by Theresa Mathewson, Joshua’s mother)

If you’ve lost a loved one to addiction or overdose and you’d like to share their story, submit a memorial here