While Andrew Frye lay dying on the floor of a Super 8 motel room in Green, Ohio, in April, a party raged around him.
The attendees — high from a mixture of heroin and fentanyl — weren’t other teenagers, but the 16-year-old’s mother and grandmother, police said.
Prosecutors would later say the very people who should have protected the teenager from the dangers of drug use were the ones who walked him to a ledge and “enabled” him to jump.
“We have evidence of drug abuse by more than one person, more than one relative of the deceased,” Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in April. “It appears his mother, her friend and his grandmother, and a friend of the grandmother, all had a hand in obtaining and disseminating heroin among themselves.
“The evidence in this case turns my stomach,” Barry said.
Six months later, the evidence was enough to convince a judge to sentence the teen’s mother, Heather Frye, and her mother, Brenda Frye, to nine years each in prison, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. The women pleaded guilty in August to multiple charges, including corrupting another with drugs, child endangering, tampering with evidence and involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 11 years in prison, according to the paper.
Two other people in the room at the time — Jessica Irons, a friend of Heather Frye’s, and Donald Callaghan, a friend of Brenda Frye’s — faced lesser charges in connection with the teenager’s death.
“The ultimate price was not paid by either of you,” Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Lynne Callahan told the Frye women, according to ABC affiliate WEWS. “The ultimate price was paid by Andrew. It boils down to personal responsibility and because of that a 16-year-old boy is dead.”
“I want to apologize to my family and to everybody that loved Andrew,” Brenda Frye said in court.
Attorneys for the two women had argued that nobody in the hotel room intended for the teen to use heroin; instead, lawyers said, the drugs were intended for a friend, according to the Journal.
After the teenager’s death, Barry, the sheriff, told reporters that it was “quite apparent” that the teenager was beyond help by the time rescuers arrived, according to Fox affiliate WJW. The adults with him had attempted to hide needles and drugs in the room.
Citing court and prison records, the Beacon Journal reported that the women have a history of drug-related crime and that the teenager’s mother spent time in prison on three occasions between 2007 and 2014.
Margaret Scott, deputy chief assistant prosecutor, told reporters in April that overdose deaths are becoming increasingly common in the region.
The Plain Dealer reported that “during a 17-month stretch ending last May, nearly 1,000 people died from an overdose in Ohio.” Over a 17-day period last month, the paper noted, “at least 29 people died from overdoses in Cuyahoga County alone.”
“Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual,” Scott said. “It’s a horrible tragedy because of the age we see here, but it’s not unusual to see family members, unfortunately, procuring and giving the heroin and fentanyl to one another.
“If you’re going to give someone else your poison and you know it’s likely going to kill them,” he added, “we’re going to look at holding you criminally responsible.”
Nationwide, opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least half of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription drug, the CDC said, adding that the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has nearly quadrupled nationwide since 1999.
Heather Frye didn’t have custody of her son, according to the Plain Dealer. A detective assigned to the case told the paper that the 32-year-old wanted to be “the fun weekend mom.”
Andrew was adopted as an infant by Tammy Smith, a great-aunt and legal guardian, according to the Beacon Journal. With the help of her late fiance, John Sabini, she raised Frye alongside her three children like he was one of their own, she told the paper.
When Sabini died in 2010, Smith said, Andrew was overcome by loss and began seeking the company of his biological mother, which worried family members. When his mother showed up a couple of times a year, family members told the Beacon Journal, she claimed that she was not using drugs and that she planned to clean up her life.
“He just wanted his mother and to be around [her] no matter how bad it was,” Julie Andrea, Tammy’s 33-year-old daughter, told the Beacon Journal. “He wanted her to stop. He thought that if he was with her when she was using, at least he was with her.”
Unfortunately, the opposite occurred, and the teenager developed his own history of drug abuse, the Plain Dealer reported. And yet, he was still a teenager, family members told the paper, one who “liked animals, building computers, playing with his cousin’s children and singing.”
“Never in a million years did we think she would get him into heroin,” Andrea told the paper. “We think the only reason he did it was to get her approval.”
The last full night Andrew would spend alive, his biological mother showed up at Smith’s door to take the teenager on an outing. The plan was for the pair to go shopping and then go swimming at a local motel, according to NBC affiliate WKYC.
“He told me he loved me and he would come back,” Smith told the Beacon Journal.
At some point the next day, his mother, his grandmother and their friends gathered in the motel room and decided to shoot up with the teenager. Detectives told the Beacon Journal that Heather Frye told her son to shoot up in a bathroom so she wouldn’t have to watch him do it — the act bothered her.
In a recording of a 6:45 p.m. phone call to 911, a sobbing and hysterical Heather Frye can be heard telling a dispatcher that she awoke to find her child dead, according to the Beacon Journal.
“He’s not breathing,” the paper quotes her as saying. “I woke up and my son is so cold.”
After telling the dispatcher that she suspected her son was dead of a drug overdose, she asked another sobering question:
“Can I pick him up and hold him, please? … I want to hold him,” she said. “I just want my baby back.”
Smith, the teenager’s adopted mother, told the Beacon Journal that she longs for the same thing. She was folding clothes when she learned that her son was dead. There is a hole in their family now, she said, and if she could, she’d give up her life to “truly trade places with him.”
“I miss that boy so bad,” she said. “I wanted him to grow up and go to college.”
“She stole him,” Smith added, referring to Andrew’s biological mother. “I feel broken, I really do.”