As Amalia Henschel’s smiling, angelic senior picture shined like a light over the audience in the River Arts Center from a large screen overhead, her mother, Brigette Henschel, stood at a podium telling the story of her darkest day.
“I want to tell you about my daughter Amalia,” the Wautoma woman said. “I brought her here with me tonight.”
She turned away and picked up a finished, stained, wooden box with a humming bird carved into it.
She didn’t need to explain what was in the box. It was understood it was her daughter’s ashes.
On April 12, 2012, Amalia was found outside a bar in Redgranite, where she had overdosed on heroin.
“I know that she wants me to tell her story and bring awareness to this growing epidemic and hopefully prevent another family from going through what our family has been through,” Henschel said.
Amalia, who had lots of friends and played sports started to appear uninterested and aloof, Henschel said. What she believed to be the typical “partying” any teenager might do, turned into the discovery of prescription pain killers and pot pipes on her daughter.
In late 2011, the Henschel family did an intervention that resulted in drug treatment for Amalia.
The results were short-lived.
On April 11, Amalia left the house to meet up with a friend that her parents knew. But instead of meeting that friend, she met up with someone else who gave her heroin.
“When she left that night, little did we know it would be the last time that we were going to be able to hug or tell her we loved her,” Henschel said.
Amalia met up with Randy Lindgren who supplied the heroin that killed her. Lindgren, along with another man, were charged with homicide in Amalia’s death, under the federal Len Bias law. The cases are pending in court.
Henschel travels around the state talking to groups about her experience, “so that other families won’t go through the pain we experienced.”
Henschel appeared with three recovering heroin addicts from the Appleton area, two of whom co-founded a group just over a year ago called Rise Together.
Former addicts Douglas Darby and Anthony Alvarado took to the lecture circuit as a way to tell their stories of the havoc and devastation heroin use caused in their lives, and how addicts can get help.
Darby, who said he still has the remnants of needle marks in his arm from drug use told his story of not just being in the throes of heroin addiction, but crimes he committed to support the habit, and subsequent time spent in prison for armed robbery.
He said he saw himself going the same way as his father, who relapsed from his own heroin recovery. His father committed suicide 14 years ago when Darby was 15.
“He died with a rope around his neck and a needle in his arm,” Darby said.
Darby’s addiction escalated to a need that led him to rob three pharmacies. He said he watched his own crimes reported on the news.
It was only a few days later, September 2010, a SWAT team kicked down his door and arrested him on felony charges.
He went from prison to a six-month intensive treatment program and has been clean since 2010.
His goal is to help addicts avoid the hell he’s seen in his young life.
Alvarado said getting control of addiction cannot be done alone and families who admit the addiction and get help are the ones who survive.
“I still travel around and see people crying out that it’s not happening in their community,” Alvarado said. “Because of that lack of education, the problem continues.”
A new community group, Community Activated Recovery Enhancement, is working to change that in Sauk Prairie.
Sauk Prairie Police Chief Jerry Strunz is one of 21 members of CARE that includes Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister, county district attorney Kevin Calkins, social services, medical and other legal professionals.
“There is a huge stigma that goes along with addiction,” Strunz said. “People need to get past that. Suffering in silence is not the way to go about it. There is help right in our own community.”
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