Beside a dilapidated home in Newmarket, a group of family and friends gathered in grief around a festive Christmas tree last night.
Playing Fah Who Doraze from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the group lifted candles and reflected on what transpired at the Bolton Avenue house six months prior.
The song was a favourite of Krista Borley, a 16-year-old who tragically died there from a fentanyl overdose last June. She was found in an abandoned home, just a short distance away from Southlake Regional Health Centre.
“This shit needs to stop,” Krista's mother, Shannon Kehoe, said about fentanyl. “People are dropping like flies, and we all need to give a shit, whether they’re our own or not. Krista did not deserve to die … and we will get justice for her.”
The family is still looking for answers regarding Krista’s death June 22 and said York Regional Police is still investigating.
Her aunt, Kathryn Abbott, said Krista met "unsavoury" people while grieving her father’s death, and fell into doing drugs. Abbott said that Kehoe made every effort to get her daughter help but ran into issues with getting a program or rehabilitation that would take her.
Abbott said the family’s understanding is that Krista and her acquaintances went into the home at 22 Bolton to do illicit drugs, which is a short distance from the hospital. A person gave Krista the fentanyl, ultimately leading to an overdose. Those acquaintances did not call an ambulance. The family put out a missing person’s call early that morning, and police found Krista the next day at the house, after she had already passed.
Abbott said the story is indicative of a very serious drug problem in Newmarket.
“It’s infiltrating our high schools. It’s infiltrating our youth groups. It’s infiltrating families, at a rapid pace,” Abbott said, adding that youth can take fentanyl unsuspectingly. “People need to be aware of the very, very real drug issue that we have in our town here and in York Region.”
York Region created an Opioid Action Plan in 2019 to respond to the national crisis locally, intending to relaunch a new version of it in 2024. In its latest bulletin on Sept. 30, the region reported an increase in drug overdoses, particularly in the Newmarket area, with five reported over the July long weekend. York opioid trends reached a high point in 2021 according to Public Health Ontario data.
Numbers have levelled off since, with a significant decrease in opioid ED visits in the region between 2021 (359) and 2022 (246). But figures remain significantly higher than they were before 2017, with 139 ED visits for opioids in 2016. Deaths declined slightly recently, with 70 within the region in 2021 going down to 65 in 2022.
In relation to the case, the family said a person was charged for distributing fentanyl and failing to call 911. But Kehoe said she hopes someone with further information might come forward as the investigation remains ongoing.
Abbott described Krista, who attended Huron Heights Secondary School, as someone who loved to colour, draw and paint. She wanted to be a cosmetologist, loved making people laugh and journaled every day, Abbott said in a victim impact statement.
“The system failed. It failed my dear loved ones beyond explanation or comprehension,” Abbott said. “Krista represents love and light, friendship and family. She was the glue that kept all of us together.”
But Abbott said she was happy with how the vigil went and the family and friends who came to show support.
“I hope to do this every year, and I hope that every year, more and more people come to support one another if they’ve lost someone dear to them,” she said. “I just hope to keep Krista’s memory alive.”
Michelle Waites attended the vigil after also losing someone else to a fentanyl overdose recently, with Borley also being a dear friend.
“It’s terrible, I think, that these innocent people are dying,” Waites said. “There needs to be more done about it. There needs to be more awareness … This madness has to stop.”
"Our children are not supposed to go first and these deaths are absolutely unnecessary and completely avoidable," Waites added.
Kehoe said the response and support for her daughter’s death has been phenomenal. But she added that the community has to address fentanyl.
“Everybody needs to come together as a community, and we can’t keep our mouth shut,” she said. “This person played with my daughter’s life, and my daughter lost. And I will not let that go.”