‘I couldn’t even hug my daughter’: Parents lose children to fentanyl overdose

‘The newspapers talk about how fentanyl is everywhere. It doesn’t come home until it’s your kid,’ she said.
Published: Jul. 31, 2023 at 5:30 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 1, 2023 at 9:26 AM EDT
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CORNELIUS, N.C. (WBTV) - Two families in northern Mecklenburg County are dealing with the pain and heartache that has accompanied the fentanyl crisis in America.

Parents told WBTV that Laird Ramirez and Olivia Moloney, both students at Hough High School in Cornelius, have died because of a drug overdose.

Two families in northern Mecklenburg County are currently dealing with the pain and heartache...
Two families in northern Mecklenburg County are currently dealing with the pain and heartache that has accompanied the fentanyl crisis in America.(Source: Tamara Ellestad and Gwyneth Brown)

Moloney’s parents, James Moloney and Tamara Ellestad, said their daughter overdosed on Sept. 11, 2022. They said she had gone to sleep in her own bedroom and never woke up. When she was found unresponsive, paramedics were called.

“When I showed up at the house that day, they wouldn’t even let me see her because they suspected fentanyl and they thought if I hugged my daughter, that I could overdose right there, so that’s how dangerous it is, that I couldn’t even hug my daughter when she passed,” James Moloney said.

Olivia was just 14 years old. Her parents described her as a witty teen who liked to have fun, loved her family and possessed a contagious laugh.

Less than a year after Olivia’s death, another Hough High student was lost to an overdose. Laird died on July 1.

Gwyneth Brown, Laird’s mother, said she was shocked to learn her son had died because of drugs.

“It was so awful. It was so shocking. I’m still half-expecting him to come home,” Brown said.

She described her son as a gentle giant with a wry, quiet sense of humor. Brown said her family is awaiting the results of a toxicology report, but paramedics told her that Laird’s death appeared to be a fentanyl overdose.

“The newspapers talk about how fentanyl is everywhere. It doesn’t come home until it’s your kid,” she said.

Laird’s mother and Olivia’s parents said they had not realized their kids had been using drugs. They said they had spoken to their children about drugs and never noticed the teens acting impaired or under the influence.

Parents shared what to look out for and the dangers of fentanyl use after losing their own children to the drug.

James Moloney said he tried to make sure his daughter never showed signs of impairment.

“Every time she would come in I would give her a hug and kind of in doing so would maybe try to smell and see if you smell marijuana or alcohol on her breath, and (I) never saw it. (I) never thought anything, like I literally never thought she did anything,” the grieving father said.

Both families said they had started to learn more about their children’s drug use from information obtained from their smartphones. They think their kids believed they were taking Percocet but not fentanyl.

Ellestad, Olivia’s mother, advised other parents to be invasive when it comes to checking their children for drugs.

“On Instagram, she had multiple different names that she would go by,” Ellestad said. “See who’s following your child’s page that you’re aware of. Go through those followers and figure out if there’s any other aliases that your children could be going by.”

Brown said she would recommend other parents keep an eye on their child’s finances. She added she hadn’t realized her son was using a mobile payment service to pay for drugs.

“Check your kid’s bank transactions. That’s how I learned postmortem that he was using CashApp,” Brown said.

The grieving parents also said they’d wished they had given their kids random drug tests even though they didn’t suspect any drug use.

Ellestad issued a heartfelt plea to other teens and students in the Charlotte area.

“To those teenagers out there who are listening - think about your parents. Think about your grandparents, your siblings, people that love you, depend on you and need you here,” she said.

Brown said she has been encouraging teens in the community to speak to adults if they know about drug use.

“It’s better to share your concern for yourself or your friend and save a life than to go to their funeral,” Brown said.

Officials from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools declined to make anyone available for an on-camera interview for this story. They confirmed that earlier this summer a message from Principal David Farley was sent to families at Hough High School.

Farley’s message said he is working with district staff, local law enforcement and community partners to provide opportunities to educate students about the dangers of drugs in the community.

The memo to Hough High families encouraged students to attend drug education sessions this upcoming school year. The message said students can also use the Say Something app to report drug activity or speak to an adult at the school.