A stunned audience of Greencastle High School students listened Thursday as one student confessed at the end of convocation speaker Dr. Mann Spitler III's presentation that she had used marijuana and heroin earlier in the year.
Spitler, who lost his daughter to drugs, told the girl it was good she was not currently using, that there were resources she could turn to for help and that a simple apology to her sister would be a good place to start.
Spitler told students the story of his 20-year old daughter Manda, who died from a lethal injection of heroin on March 31, 2002.
Since Manda's death, Mann has dedicated himself to telling her story to illustrate the risk factors associated with and the principles of drug addiction.
Throughout his speech students in the audience could be seen wiping away tears and sniffling. As Mann described finding his daughter's body submerged in a bathtub with a syringe floating in the water next to her, one student sobbed aloud.
The emergency response call made by Mann was piercingly poignant. Kids listened, absorbed by the panting breaths taken by Mann as he tried to revive his daughter with CPR.
The pain in his voice was heartbreaking as he told the student body, "It's the only time I talked to my daughter that she didn't answer me."
The story of Manda's addiction began when she was 13 and began smoking cigarettes. She was offered heroin by a boyfriend in middle school, Spitler said.
He explained her bad choices in boyfriends, going from bad to worse and ending with "Daniel," who encouraged her heroin use.
Manda only told her parents about her addiction three weeks before her death.
"She came to us with three things, the first being Daniel had been busted with heroin the night before," Spitler said. "Manda didn't have any drugs on her and there was none in the car, so she drove Daniel's car home.
"She also knew her supplier was gone and she was going to be very, very sick in just a little while," Spitler continued.
Manda's parents put her in a detox program. She came home at the beginning of the third week. They took her car away so she couldn't drive, removed all but one phone in the family room and did everything they were instructed to do.
Mann was with Manda while her mother took a week's respite, and Manda did well all week.
"I don't know why she gave in to her craving for heroin, but she did," said Spitler.
He found her later that evening floating in the bathtub.
"I scooped her up in my arms. She had lost a lot of weight. But, I thought she was so heavy. I laid her on the floor to start CPR. Her nail beds were blue. I knew that was a bad sign," he said.
There was no phone nearby to call 911. He half-dragged Manda to the family room so he could continue CPR while calling for help.
That night her mother returned home. She found all the doors open, lights on and police waiting to escort her to the hospital.
Manda had been on artificial life support for five-and-a-half hours when her mother next saw her. Shortly after that the family was called to say their good-byes, and Manda was gone.
Spitler explained how he had talked with Manda before her death and realized how young people don't realize they can become addicted the first time they inject heroin.
"The addicts need the drug just to feel normal, just to avoid being violently ill," he explained.
He said the danger is that young people in a peer group might be pressured to try heroin, only to become addicted right away.
He encouraged students to think the next time they face a moment of truth when they can choose the right or wrong path.
"What I want for all of you is a life with purpose and meaning to it," Spitler told the students. "Manda lost herself very early. I'm hopeful that none of you will lose yourselves."
One of the questions asked by students following the presentation was "where is Daniel now?"
"Daniel is not in jail," said Spitler.
He was released after selling out two other dealers.
"Those people wanted him badly," Spitler said. "He moved to Chicago and still didn't feel safe. He moved to Kokomo with his grandmother until she found he had stolen $3,000-$4,000 from her. Last I heard he was working construction somewhere in Florida."
Spitler is a retired podiatrist and now serves as president of the Community Action Drug Coalition of Porter County. He tells his family's story to schools all over hoping to inspire parents to protect their children from this killer drug -- and to protect the young from themselves.
He and his wife Phyllis live in Valparaiso.
In August 2007, Mann earned the designation of Certified Prevention Professional conferred by the Indiana Association of Prevention Professionals. He is now pursuing a certification in addition counseling at Purdue University and writing a book detailing Manda's story.
He can be contacted at 219-464-9221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.