Saying goodbye to a dying child is one of the very worst moments any family can face, but in a series of gut-wrenching videos, Veronica and Devin Eckhardt shared their last moments with their son Connor as he lay in his hospital bed.
In one video, you can see Veronica carefully cutting a swatch of Connor’s hair from the back of his head, telling him, “Mommy is cutting off some of your hair so we can have it forever."
In others, Devin sobs over his son’s body, and Veronica tells him, “I’m just so sorry I didn’t get to have more time with you.”
They decided to share the videos, they said, because Connor was just 19 years old when he died from taking a single hit of the synthetic drug Spice.
"One hit changed everything," Devin explained.
Following Connor’s death, the Eckhardts established a foundation in their son's honor to teach kids that although synthetics might look like marijuana, they are nothing like the plant.
It’s the same message Lt. Wally Stotlemyer of the Winchester Police Department tries to hit home with his town’s teenagers.
“Does anyone know if there's actually a difference between marijuana and synthetic marijuana?" he asked during a talk he gave at Daniel Morgan Middle School.
When no one answered, he told them synthetic drugs “will kill you. Maybe not the first time, maybe not the second time, but eventually it will kill you."
He told the News4 I-Team he asked Winchester Public Schools to speak to students because, “I've seen what it's done to our community. It's deteriorating because of these drugs. The effects of these synthetic drugs have on the user is very scary because every time you ingest one of these drugs, no matter the quantity or what it is, you run the risk of death."
Teachers there say kids that young “are scared to death of heroin” but are already experimenting with synthetics.
“Kids are wonderful because they think they're invincible, and they think it's not going to happen to them," Judy McKiernan at Winchester Public Schools explained. "I can smoke a little weed and they won't go further. Helping them make the connection, I think, is a priority."
The News4 I-Team found some school districts like D.C. are already teaching about synthetics. Others like Prince George's County Public Schools said they’re planning to add them to the curriculum soon.
Dr. Eric Wish at the Center for Substance Abuse Research said by calling it synthetic marijuana, too many kids mistakenly think it's somehow safer than other drugs.
"They're marketed to kids and kids think of them as synthetic marijuana," he said. "No one should use that term.”
He said the word “marijuana” makes kids think, “If marijuana is OK, then the synthetic, it's a good name too, right? But it’s not. You're playing Russian roulette when you take it, that's why it's so dangerous."
Back at Daniel Morgan Middle School, Stotlemyer explained to the class, “Synthetic drugs are man-made. They're not grown, you don't plant them in the your backyard in a garden, put MiracleGro on them and they grow. They're man-made."
He then told them their small town of 30,000 has already had one fatality and at least two teenagers permanently brain damaged from synthetics. "One time,” he said. “Overdosed. Went straight to the hospital and is now basically paralyzed from the neck down. Not even 20 years old. So if you take nothing away from this conversation, take that away.”
It's the kind of lesson Devin Eckhardt said is vital to keep what happened to their family from ever happening to yours.
"If we had known. If Connor had known how dangerous these are, things would have been different."