Jared Garcia and his mother, Stephanie, celebrate at his graduation from Westview High School

Jared Garcia and his mother, Stephanie, celebrate at his graduation from Westview High School. Two years later, he died from a drug overdose.

 

If tears could summon back a loved one, Jared Garcia would float home, hug his mom and say he’s sorry, grab his phone and see all the text messages and social media hits saying “im worried call me,” “where r u” and “you OK bro?”

But this isn’t a fantasy movie. The tears of Stephanie Garcia and all of Jared’s loved ones only wash bitterly down their exhausted faces. The messages will go forever unanswered, save for the chilling finality of his gravestone:

Loved By All Who Knew Him 

Jared A. Garcia

01/16/2000 to 10/02/2020

“He would’ve been 21 in January—it breaks my heart,” his mother said.

All he wanted to do was rap out his freestyle rhymes to the world, but Jared ended up silenced, lying under a stone marked R.I.P.

Gasping for breath two months after her youngest son’s overdose death, Stephanie checks her heaving chest long enough to blurt out a sentence:

“If only I can save someone else.”

She is quelling her grief with action, leading a march in Jared’s honor starting at noon Saturday, Dec. 12, at 75th and Glendale avenues, turning on 67th Avenue before stopping at Myrtle Avenue. 

The route, significantly, covers the neighborhood where Jared used to buy drugs—probably including the batch that took the life from his body.

Jared was raised in Tolleson and Avondale, graduating from Westview High two years ago, before moving to his mother’s Glendale apartment.

Except for occasional stints in Peoria, where he went to rehab and lived with a roommate briefly, his world swirled around Avondale and Glendale.

The night of Oct. 2, he was found dead next to a dumpster, a sad, lonely end to a promising life of athletics, music, friends and family.

While she may never stop blaming herself for her son’s death, Stephanie shares the blame with two things: COVID-19 and fentanyl.

The American Medical Association stresses the dangers of both.

“In addition to the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the nation’s opioid epidemic has grown into a much more complicated and deadly drug overdose epidemic. The AMA is greatly concerned by an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid- and other drug-related mortality—particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” said a recent AMA press release.

Though she has not received autopsy results, Stephanie said tin foil with residue was found next to her son’s body. She is sure he died from smoking a crushed fentanyl pill. He may or may not have known what he was ingesting but proved that you can only overdose from an injection is a deadly myth.

“He never used needles. I know that. I’m 1,000% positive” Stephanie said. “He would have told me.”

Asked if she feels the pandemic contributed to her son’s death, Stephanie does not hesitate.

“Absolutely,” she said. “It took away the ability for him to congregate and be with people—the isolation factor with drug abuse is huge. That’s where the disease wants you to be.”

Stephanie added that when her son was arrested, “he had to sit in a cell for weeks before he could see a judge.”

Jared had charges this year in Avondale Municipal Court and Glendale Municipal Court for defacing public property, disorderly conduct and fighting.

Struggle after school

Stephanie said Jared excelled at sports at Garden Lakes Elementary School and continued in football at Westview High, where he had a large circle of friends.

After graduating from high school three years after older brother Johnathon, Jared recorded music while working at the Main Event, Papa Murphy’s, Manuel’s and Sonic restaurants. But he showed signs of becoming a “lost soul.”

“He never had a problem getting jobs, but didn’t keep them for long,” his mother said.

Stephanie struggled with depression and overcame addiction herself. She credits Terros Health in Glendale, where she has a case manager to help her monitor her health care, with keeping her from being homeless—or worse.

Even as she was stabilizing her recovery, Stephanie saw Jared having heightened mental-health problems and drug use in recent years.

He was hospitalized in July 2019 for three weeks at a behavioral health hospital.

“He smoked marijuana to slow his racing thoughts,” Stephanie said.

Earlier this year, Jared was in Recovery Innovations in Peoria for residential treatment on four separate occasions.

Concerned about his safety during Jared’s violent episodes, Stephanie had Jared “petitioned,” or taken to treatment involuntarily.

After resisting, Jared responded well to programs addressing addiction and mental health issues.

“When he stopped acting violent, we thought everything was OK,” Stephanie said. Then, Jared nearly died from an overdose in August, leading to another treatment stint.

She was optimistic when Jared had a post-treatment doctor’s appointment on Sept. 28 for psychiatric medications. But he didn’t go.

“He was always refusing his meds. He said they slowed him down too much,” Stephanie said. 

A few months ago, when Jared’s violent episodes stopped, Stephanie was relieved. “I realize now he turned his anger inward,” she said.

When she discovered he was using drugs, she begged him to go to Copper Springs, an Avondale treatment center that specializes in those with chronic mental health and addiction problems.

Even after he refused treatment and continued using, Stephanie felt she couldn’t throw him out of her apartment.

“I didn’t want him to end up dead in the street—so instead he died right underneath me, a parent’s worst nightmare,” Stephanie said. 

With her youngest son gone, all she can hope for is that her painful lessons will help other families thrown into the brutal decisions brought on by the disease of addiction.

“Tough love might have saved his life,” Stephanie said, reflecting on her son’s final weeks.

“I shouldn’t have stopped locking him up to protect him from himself.”