To Jaimie Farrell, May 15 seemed a lot like any other night.
Her 14-year-old son, Zion Williams-Farrell, had been ransacking the fridge for food and playing video games with his sister.
The only thing that was even a little bit out of the ordinary was that he hadn’t come straight home from school. It wasn’t until shortly before 11 p.m. that Williams-Farrell showed up at their Kitchener home. Farrell figured her son was worried she wouldn’t let him hang out with friends if he went home first.
“He came in smiling. I remember telling him ‘I’m mad at you … but I love you,’” Farrell says.
“Those were the last words that I ever said to him.”
It wasn’t until the next morning that anyone realized there was anything wrong with Williams-Farrell.
“I was getting up to get the kids ready for school, and my daughter yelled from her room that he (wasn’t) waking up,” Farrell says.
Farrell ran into her son’s room and started shaking him, attempting to jolt him into consciousness. She tried CPR. Nothing worked. Williams-Farrell had died.
Months later, a coroner called Farrell to say that her son had died of a fentanyl overdose.
It was unexpected news, to say the least. Farrell says she only knew about fentanyl from news stories.
“To hear him say that it was fentanyl – it broke my heart,” she says.
Farrell remembers her son as a “very sweet and respectful” teenager who balanced his caring side with a more shy, introverted personality.
“For somebody who was a jokester … he was really quiet and reserved until you really got to know him,” she says.
“The more he would joke around with you, the more comfortable he was with you. If you saw the joking Zion, if you saw the laughing Zion, that meant a lot.”
Williams-Farrell was also athletic, playing on competitive football teams from a young age and later adding basketball to the mix. His mother says he would always put in as much effort as he could – never skipping practice, not even in a downpour.
What Farrell doesn’t know was where the fentanyl came from, or what her son was up to after school that night.
“Nobody has been able to tell me,” she says.
“The coroner can’t tell me. The police can’t tell me. The friends won’t tell me.”
Farrell says she knew her son smoked marijuana – something she wasn’t happy about, but didn’t think she could stop – but didn’t think he was involved with anything stronger.
She says she’s sharing the story of what happened to her son in the hope that it will help prevent similar deaths, and urges parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of drugs.
“I don’t want his death to be in vain,” she says.
“I don’t want another mother to lose a child. I don’t want another sister to lose a brother.”
Police say it's rare for someone as young as 14 to die of a drug overdose. Locally, most overdoses affect people between the ages of 20 and 40. Staff Sgt. Sloden Lackovic, who leads the Waterloo Regional Police drug unit, says he’s seen cases locally where undetectable fentanyl has been mixed with drugs like heroin, cocaine and meth.
“It’s a very, very dangerous drug,” he says.
“Fentanyl doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care how old you are. It can affect anybody.”
With reporting by Nicole Lampa