“He was unresponsive and gasping for his breath...” He was dying before their eyes. On May 13, 2004, my son, Danny, died from an overdose of heroin. He became another statistic in the state of PA, a part of the PA legal system, a victim of a crime, a victim of the choices he made. The paper said, “Sciarretta found in his car…” Danny’s life was now out there in black and white – but not the whole story – not his whole life. He was more – so much more. Danny was everyone’s son, daughter, brother, sister, best friend.
At the young ages of 17 & 18, Danny began to make some choices, some mistakes. But he made one mistake from which, for him, there was no return. And at the young age of 26 he lost his battle with the darkest gift every given to this world – heroin.
Somewhere between graduation in 1995 and Danny’s first year at Penn State York he was in trouble. By 1998 Danny was sitting with his first drug counselor. The years that followed were filled with medication, out-patient rehab, trips to emergency rooms, depression, anger – all part of Danny’s life now. In 2000 he began taking Naltrexone every day to block the effects of heroin. Danny would go 6-8 months without using heroin, when taking Naltrexone. But, the screaming in his head never went away. The years that followed would be filled with attempts to cure Danny. There is no cure for heroin.
Heroin knows no boundaries. It didn’t care where Danny went to school, where we worked, what faith we followed, what color our skin was – it’s a club that opens its arms to anyone. But those arms that welcome you may be the very arms that leave when you most need help. Those arms may also be the ones that do the injection for you. Danny was horrified of needles – someone always did the injection for him.
1976 – Shrewsbury was just a dot on the map – the suburbs, northern Baltimore County. The world didn’t know we were there. What could possibly go wrong in a sleepy, country town? And after all – we went to church; my children went to Catholic school… The years that followed would prove just how wrong I was. Not only had drugs come to Shrewsbury – but the darkest drug of all was here – heroin.
The worlds of drugs and crimes go hand in hand and together they crossed over into our lives. We were not prepared – we never saw it coming. We never imagined that Danny’s first cigarette, first taste of beer, would lead to marijuana, cocaine, and eventually to heroin. Before we ever heard the term, “Gateway Drugs” we were right in the middle of it. Each door, each gate that Danny opened led him to another high. Until he opened that last gate to heroin. And what he thought loved him - it took his last breath. Danny tasted something sweet and he slowly slipped away from us. That descent into the slavery of addiction is slow and sometime unassuming – hiding in the shadows. Danny lost his focus. He gave his love and worship to something of this world. He stepped out of the boundaries of the life he was intended to live.
May 13, 2004 – Danny was missing; he was not answering his cell phone. His sister and I called everyone who knew Danny; we checked hospitals, his friends, his co-workers. Finally at 4:20 a man answered Danny’s cell phone and identified himself as the detective investigating my son’s death. My world became still and almost silent – except for the sound of my scream, as I dropped the phone. At the same time, the coroner and the police were at my front door to tell my daughter she would never see her brother walk through that door again.
The coroner knew something was wrong – Danny had one tiny needle mark in his arm. The coroner’s report classified Danny as a recreational/occasional user; his report was submitted to the DA of York PA. An investigation began and six months later an arrest was made; charges were filed in district court for third degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless endangerment. We were in unchartered waters. But we moved forward with confidence and hope.
Our first appearance in a district court room would reveal testimony that would now alter the lives of the defendant and his family. An eye witness testified under oath that he was summoned to come outside and look at Danny in the car parked in front of his house. He described Danny as, “Unresponsive and gasping for his breath…” The call for help that could have saved Danny never happened; the promise to take Danny to York Hospital was broken. Danny never saw the inside of York Hospital until he was presented to coroner. Danny was found the next day in his car in a park by some children.
We spent two years in and out of court rooms; we made our last appearance in May 2006, when we appeared for a two-day trial. Since Danny was a willing participant that night, and because justice needed to be upheld, a plea bargain was offered to the defendant. The defendant chose wisely and was sentenced to 2 ½ -5 years in a PA state prison. In May 2000, the defendant was paroled – uncontested by me.
That night two mothers lost their sons. Mine no longer walks this earth with me and another mother’s son went to prison. No one walked away untouched. The ripple effect is endless for both families. After five years my family and I are still picking up the pieces. We are different people now - living different lives. The defendant and his family will never be the same.
After Danny’s Story was told to three senators in the PA, an existing senate bill was re-written and given a new number – SB316. It will be presented the PA Judiciary Committee. Then, if it passes through the Senate and House, the offense against Danny that night will change from a misdemeanor to a felony. My hope one day is for Dante’s Law making people truly accountable for life.
Danny’s Story is not about anger or revenge – it’s about preventing the same mistake for your children and it’s about making people accountable for life. As a member of the PA Parent Advisory Committee, I have been fortunate to work on a report on prevention and treatment of drug/alcohol abuse, which will be presented to the PA legislators. When our report is read, our children will no longer be seen as junkies, dopers, felons. Our children will be remembered for their ballet classes and their T-ball games.
Danny’s Story is my reality and a very real possibility for anyone. One out of every four families will be impacted by alcohol and drug abuse. The most innocent and tragic victims are our children.
To share your story of drug abuse with us, please contact Ginger here