WEIRTON - Indian Creek's Gene Ciciarelli made it clear to Rotarians Wednesday he'd have done anything to have been able to prevent his son's death from an accidental overdose.
But since he couldn't, he's made saving other people's kids a priority.
Christopher Ciciarelli, 29, died in September after taking pain pills that had been laced with heroin. A subsequent police investigation led to the arrest of about 16 people on drug charges and the seizure of more than 100 pounds of heroin-laced marijuana, his father told members of the Rotary Club of Weirton.
NEVER ALONE — Gene Ciciarelli told members of the Rotary Club of Weirton the story of his son’s death from an accidental overdose less than a year ago. Ciciarelli is now a member of Never Alone WV group. -- Linda Harris
"A lot of people were at his funeral, and they told me they can't believe how many children have been lost (in the Tri-State Area), how many have gone unnoticed," said Gene Ciciarelli , now an active member of Never Alone WV.
Never Alone, a nonprofit, faith-based organization founded by Weirton's Patti Barnabei, is focused on fighting drug and alcohol addiction.
The group is planning to rally beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Weirton Event Center, including a candelight walk through downtown Weirton. There also will be food, music, face painting and a balloon launch. Guest speakers are Joey DelSardo, a former University of Pittsburgh wide receiver and recovering addict, and former Steelers cornerback Dwayne Woodruff, now a judge with Allegheny County, Pa., common pleas court. Woodruff and his wife, Joy, chair Pittsburgh's "Do the Write Thing" campaign to encourage middle schoolers to break the culture of violence permeating communities across the nation.
Ciciarelli, well-known in local coaching circles, found his son's body when he was getting ready for church.
"I asked God for a miracle," Ciciarelli said. "I really did believe he was going to give it, but then I realized he'd been dead for a while. I called the ambulance and while I waited for it I was looking for a sign ... I said, if You can't give me this miracle, give me a miracle of another sort.'"
He met Barnabei at his son's funeral, where she told him Christopher had been attending Never Alone WV's weekly meetings.
"I'd had no idea," he said. "But what a difference it was making."
He said the group's mission is an important one.
"I don't want to see anyone have to bury a child," he said. "Since my son's death I've had to go to six or seven funerals (involving drug-related deaths). People ask me how I've coped. I tell them one of the things that's helped me is sending up balloons on special days."
Ciciarelli said he attaches notes to the balloons explaining the significance of the day, fills them with helium and releases them.
"It helps, trying to help others," he said. "And every time I'm able to help someone else, it certainly helps me."
He said you can't overstate the danger drugs pose to young people. He said his son had been clean 12 months, "but I've been told since then that it takes 18 months to really rid your head of the stuff."
He said it's crucial that friends and family speak up.
"I ask (kids) if they knew a friend was doing drugs, would they say something," he said. "I tell them they need to go to any lengths to stop them - tell an adult, tell someone. Yeah, (users) might get in trouble, but they're going to be alive.
"People are afraid they'll get in trouble, that someone might do something to them if they tell ... but you can't shy away from it, you have to speak up."