Angela Kennecke suspected Emily had fallen in with the “wrong” crowd.
She knew her artistic, strikingly beautiful daughter had been experimenting with recreational drugs like marijuana.
She had no idea the 21-year-old had started using heroin—until it claimed her life.
Emily Groth, Angela’s eldest child, died in May after injecting a lethal dose of fentanyl, an increasingly common, incredibly powerful opioid that’s killing thousands of addicts in the United States each year.
Four months later, Angela, who is a Sioux Falls, SD news anchor at KELO-TV, is still reeling from Emily’s shocking death—but she’s taking to the airwaves with a message for mothers everywhere: this really can happen to you.
About a dozen years ago, I was a college student studying journalism, and I spent a semester working inside the KELO-TV newsroom. Angela was the evening anchor then, too, and, as is common at smaller market stations, the modest newsroom operates as what can only be described as a family. When I learned of Emily’s death—just days before an intervention and treatment her family had arranged for her—I felt the heartbreak of one of “our own” becoming the news.
Reporters interview grieving parents every day—Angela herself was an investigative reporter who extensively covered the growing opioid epidemic—and yet here she is, at the center of her own horrifying story, one she didn’t see coming.
It’s a sobering reality.
At the time I worked in the KELO-TV newsroom, Angela’s daughter would have been about 10-years-old—the same age my eldest daughter is today. As she climbed into the car after school yesterday, blonde ponytail bouncing, eyes shining, chattering happily about her day in fourth grade—I couldn’t help but think of Emily. By all accounts, she was a model student, a talented athlete, a gifted artist—all things my own daughter is today.
And yet, opioids know no bounds, no socioeconomic status, no stereotype. The top student can fall victim to their allure. The head cheerleader. The math whiz. The privileged, middle-class kid. The cherished daughter. The adored son.
This week, Angela traveled to New York for an interview with CBS This Morning about Emily’s story. In that segment, one point in particular stood out to me: “It’s not ‘why me?’—it’s ‘why not me?’”
I can tell you with certainty, Angela is a great mom, an involved parent. Emily grew up in a loving, supportive home.
Why not my daughter, or my son?
Why not me?
There’s no easy answer, of course—but Angela’s hope is that by sharing her story, she can raise awareness and spare others from the tragedy she’s living. The family has also established a charity called “Emily’s Hope” that will utilize donations to offset treatment and insurance costs for addicts and their families. Angela says starting there—doing what she can to raise awareness, and help erase the stigma surrounding addicts—is her duty now, her tribute to her late daughter.
And though nothing will bring Emily back or fill the void her death has left, Angela’s brave voice, even as it shakes with sorrow, is a beacon of hope for thousands who need to hear it—and for countless others who may not realize we need to hear it, too.