A year ago today, a young life ended.  Today marks the end of the first year that Henry’s family spent without him, longing for him on every holiday and birthday, at the birth of his sister  and death of his great-grandmother, during family milestones and every day moments.  They say that the first year is the hardest, and I hope that proves true, but circumstances have prevented this family’s grieving from following the usual course. Henry’s killers walk free, and the people who are supposed to protect and serve and to seek justice have not.
Katie filed a civil wrongful death suit today against the couple and the clinic who supplied the methadone that led to Henry’s death.  Just days after he died, the family set up a foundation which is already awarding scholarships to young people with addiction whose families cannot afford inpatient treatment.  WBIR T.V. produced a documentary on Henry’s short life and death which they aired twice, commercial free, and which  is now available to the public, showing both kids and their parents that addiction–and addicts–might look different from what they imagined.  Katie’s writing has raised awareness in our community and beyond about the prescription drug addiction crisis, and in advocating for a thorough investigation into her son’s death and prosecution of the perpetrators under the laws that are already on the books she will very likely change the way these cases are dealt with in the future.    Henry’s life had meaning, and people will remember him.  He made–he is making–a difference.

Why has Henry’s story captivated so many, and why have I written so much about him here?  His mother’s honesty, emotion, and beautiful writing have played a major role.  I had been reading Katie’s blog  for so many years that while I had only met in her person a few times and had never met Henry at all, I felt that I knew all of them and I am sure I am not the only one who felt the same.  Anyone who spends significant time in any online community ceases to feel a huge distinction between real life and virtual acquaintances. I was horrified when Katie posted that Henry had been hospitalized.  I visited frequently to check for updates.  I rejoiced when it looked like Henry was going to make it after all.  And I cried when I read Katie’s Facebook update with nothing more than her son’s full name and the dates of his short life.   If you start at the beginning, as so many did, and read through the little more than a month of postings that cover Henry’s struggle from hospitalization to painful death, you will be captivated too.
Then there was the second part of the story, the part that Katie waited a long time to tell:  that despite overwhelming evidence, most of which she had to search for herself, despite laws on the books allowing for prosecution for homicide of those who deliver a lethal dose of drugs, the powers that be in Knox County had declined to pursue a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Henry’s death.  This is another story well worth reading.  It will horrify and depress you, and if you live in Knox County it may frighten and even embarrass you.  Read the story, which lays out the facts of what happened to Henry at what the KCSO and the D.A.’s office have done in response.  Listen to the media coverage, both local and national, in the sidebar.
Henry’s cause is worth championing, but there is another very good reason that it is a fitting topic for my blog, which began as a continuation of my defunct column from the East Tennessee Catholic.  In the paper I wrote about life issues, usually abortion, but also assisted reproductive technology, euthanasia, the death penalty, even war.  I welcomed the chance that blogging gave me to branch out a little.  But what all the life issues share is the conviction that all life is sacred from conception until natural death.
People writing about Henry make much of the fact that he was sweet, handsome, talented, much-loved, that he was more than his addiction.  But those facts are not the reason that he deserves justice.  If Henry had been none of those things, if he really were the worthless junkie that some of the commenters on the Knoxville News-Sentinel coverage of the case–and even on Katie’s own blogs–would make him out to be, he would still deserve justice.  An “unattractive victim” is still a victim, a human being,  a child of God.

Henry’s life was his to live, and it was stolen from him.  He died painfully over several days.  It shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t go unnoticed and unpunished.  And if we believe that life is sacred and worthy of protection, we should all do whatever we can to make sure that nothing like it ever happens again, to anyone.
If you believe in the cause of justice for Henry, please go here and sign the petition asking for a full investigation into his death.  Thank you.


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