CRESTLINE - The Hess family lost two loved ones to heroin on the same day — one directly, the other indirectly.
On Sept. 2, Jason Hess, 35, died of an overdose. Barbara Fultz, his mother, committed suicide a few hours later after getting the news. It was her 60th birthday.
"Life is no longer enjoyable; I have been like Samson holding up the pillars too long," Fultz wrote in one of three suicide letters she left behind. "Today, Delilah cut my hair."
John Hess, Jason's father and Fultz's ex-husband, found his son's body in the home they shared on Lincoln Highway, in the Richland County portion of Crestline.
It was the end of a long road. John said Jason had been addicted to heroin for most of the last 15 years.
John had tried to revive Jason from an overdose a couple of weeks earlier. The incident was among the worst experiences of John's life. In some ways, it was harder than finding Jason dead.
"I did two tours in Vietnam; I've seen a lot of stuff," John said. "You can't describe it (finding his son in that state). I literally had to breathe life into him. I told him not to do that to me no more."
Jason seemed to want to comply with his father's request. His next overdose happened at a hotel a couple of days before his death.
"We had him for two days," John said.
The last night
John said he thinks Jason's fatal overdose wasn't an accident.
"I think he was just tired," John said.
John seemed tired, too, when talking to a News Journal reporter.
"He's going to do it (die of a heroin overdose) no matter what," John said. "When he does, I can say I did everything I could."
John said he believes Jason hinted at suicide.
"He said, 'I'm going to make it right tonight,'" John said. "I almost knew what he was going to do."
That night, Jason asked his dad if he could use his vehicle, ostensibly to pick up a prescription at the hospital.
John said he knew his son wanted to make a drug run and turned him down. When John went to bed, he said he heard Jason leave in his vehicle.
John confronted Jason when he returned. Jason said he went out to get a pop.
John knew it was a lie.
The next morning, he found Jason.
"As soon as I looked at him, I knew he was gone," John said. "I sat back in the chair and said my goodbyes."
John said he appreciated the kindness of first responders. A paramedic was in tears, telling John he took his job to help people. A deputy said a prayer.
Mother's suicide a shock
Eleven hours later, Fultz was gone, too.
She left suicide notes for her daughters and grandchildren, as well as a more general letter.
Fultz's suicide shocked her family. She and John were married for about 15 years and remained on good terms.
"She was the last person on this Earth that I thought would kill herself," John said. "She was so strong."
Fultz signed the note to her daughters, "Love, Momma."
Amy Hess is one of the daughters. She is still trying to make sense of the loss.
Fultz lived in Chatfield in Crawford County. Amy said her mom took a pillow and blanket out to a cemetery behind her home, lay down behind a headstone and took a bottle of Valium.
"Please don't weep for me," Fultz wrote in one of her suicide notes. "I am ready for this rest."
The end of that note was chilling.
"Thanks, heroin, another victim," she wrote.
John said Jason had used heroin since he was 20. A college classmate introduced him to the drug.
Jason was in and out of court and the hospital over the next 15 years. John said his son never managed to stay clean for long.
"I tried for 15 years; I begged him," John said. "It just wasn't working."
Most recently, Jason worked a factory job and had a side job as a disc jockey.
"He worked all his life, but the drug dealer got all his money," John said.
Before he got addicted to heroin, Jason was a talented musician. His father said he played guitar and drums.
John said that changed when Jason started using drugs. He didn't play his instruments anymore.
Jason also didn't communicate much with his father, even though he stayed with John for the last three or four months of his life.
"He liked his dealer better than he liked me," John said.
Jason wasn't that way when he wasn't using, his sister said.
"He was one of the funniest people. He wanted everybody to be happy," Amy Hess said. "He couldn't stand to see any conflict."
Amy hopes her brother is at peace.
"He was just so tired," she said.
The days after Jason's death are a bit hazy.
"It seems like a real long time ago," John said. "The first three days, I was on autopilot."
Amy said she felt like a "zombie."
Jason is not the only member of the Hess family to struggle with addiction.
Those struggles make life rough for the caregivers.
"You get so conditioned every day, wondering if they're dead," Amy said.
With Jason, John said he got in the habit of knocking on the bathroom door if his son was in there too long.
"Even after he's gone, I find myself looking in the bathroom," John said.
John said he is satisfied he did what he could to help his son.
"I don't think anyone could have saved him," John said. "He was on a mission."
John is critical of the system and says there should be more of a focus on imprisoning dealers rather than addicts.
He said Jason was in and out of court and on probation a number of times.
"Instead of probation rotation, offer some help," John said. "In order to make a heroin addict quit, you'd have to put them in prison for life. They already have a life sentence because they're dealing with heroin.
"I don't have an answer, but let's find one."