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Mom launches war on drug that killed her son

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By Vicky Gits

The week before he took the six or seven Ecstasy tablets that killed him, Tony “Toaster” Trujillo, 16, had been invited to enroll in an Advanced Placement English class.

A sophomore at Columbine High School, Tony Trujillo was a handsome kid with scores of friends and an irresistible sense of humor. Everyone knew him as “Toaster,” a variation on an earlier nickname, “the Tonester.”

Toaster dyed his reddish hair black, pierced his lips and grew bangs that covered his face, but he was described as a straight arrow who hated smoking and alcohol. He had dreams of being a writer and of competing in the Ultimate Fighting Challenge, a mixed martial arts championship.

When Toaster died at the home of two newfound friends at 1:06 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 20, the 5-foot-6 teenager weighed 127 pounds and was wearing a pair of Denver Nuggets pajama bottoms. He ingested the drug about 10:30 p.m. and reportedly started sweating and suffering seizures within a half-hour. No one called 911 until about 1 a.m., when it was too late. The death was ruled accidental.

Toaster had recently purchased a jar of Ecstasy tablets, which can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000. Unbeknownst to his friends and family, he had been cultivating a taste for the party drug. Worn down after five months of low-profile grief, his mother, Melissa Lopez, who is still subject to daily bouts of weeping, decided to tell his story.

“I want other kids and definitely the parents to know there are no warning signs,” Lopez said. “You find out the hard way. I don’t want anyone else to experience this and go through what I’m going through. It’s a thousand times worse than I imagined. It is pain beyond pain.”

People don’t realize that Ecstasy can be a dangerous drug, Lopez said. “Kids think if you don’t drink too much water, then you’ll be OK,” said Lopez, referring to the Boulder County case of Brittney Chambers, who died of water intoxication in 2001 after taking Ecstasy. The drug is known to cause extreme thirst.

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA or methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. Toaster died of MDMA toxicity, according to the Denver County medical examiner’s office. No other drugs apparently were involved.

In high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, sometimes resulting in liver, kidney and cardiovascular system failure and death, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (www.ondcp.gov/drugfact/club).

Users also risk increases in heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tension, teeth-clenching nausea, blurred vision, faintness and chills or sweating. Psychological dependence and anxiety can occur immediately after ingesting the drug, as well as weeks after.

‘I’m never going to not miss him’

“If I didn’t have the two girls, I don’t know if I could still be here,” Lopez said. “And it’s never going to go away. I’m never going to not miss him.”

Lopez lives in Shadow Ridge with her husband and two girls ages 5 and 11.

More than 700 people turned out for Toaster’s funeral.

“After the services, there is the pain. The further you get away, the more painful it is. I’m not letting Toaster die in vain. That’s why I’m (telling his story),” Lopez said.

She has done a lot of research, but answers are elusive. Would she do anything differently?

“That’s kind of the problem,” Lopez said. “Unless your child displays underlying symptoms of drug use, depression or failing grades ee I didn’t have any of that. Toaster was extremely responsible. I never had the school calling me. The kids say he started (using Ecstasy) in November. In two months it took his life.

“We talked about pain pills and alcohol. We talked about everything else he needed to know. I talked to him about everything. I was honest about the mistakes I had made and told him, ‘Please don’t make the same mistakes I did.’ I thought I was getting through to him.”

She tries to cope by keeping an account on myspace.com so she can visit teenagers’ websites, search for signs of drug use and e-mail them warnings such as, “Please tell me you’re not looking for Ecstasy. That killed my son. It is not a safe drug.”

Lopez urges parents to monitor their children’s websites for indicators such as pictures of drug paraphernalia, pills and code words. She opens her computer and quickly locates photos of kids with telltale dilated pupils, a sign of Ecstasy use.

Lopez organized a demonstration on the steps of the state Capitol on June 17 and contacted all the local TV stations to publicize her cause.

Drug is popular at raves, concerts

In 1996, a University of Michigan survey of nearly 18,000 students revealed 6 percent of 12th-graders had tried Ecstasy. Prevalence fell to 3.6 percent in 1998 and peaked at 9 percent in 2001. Then it declined to 3 percent in 2005, rising to 4.1 percent in 2006.

The Michigan study notes that the spread of new drugs is intensified by teens’ widespread use of chat rooms on the Internet.

Jim Shires of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said alcohol and marijuana are more widely used than Ecstasy. But he said Ecstasy is still popular at parties, raves and concerts.

“It may not have been popular four or five years ago. Now it is gaining in popularity, especially among 16- to 22-year-olds,” Shires said.

“Ecstasy is a street drug. There is no known medical use for it. It is illegal to have. The big thing with street drugs is, many times it’s laced with something else. You really don’t know what you are buying. There is no label of the ingredients. That’s what’s scary.”

Shires said the most common misconception is that Ecstasy is not addictive.

“They think it’s not dangerous or addictive, and it is. You take one. You feel great. You take three, and the next thing you know you are hooked on it. It takes more and more to get the same feeling.”

Not a typical teen

Toaster and his mom were unusually close and communicated constantly. Toaster wasn’t known for the usual moody behavior sometimes associated with the teen years.

“Some teens are mouthy,” Lopez said. “He never once back-talked me. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was kind to his siblings.”

His friends agree.

“He was a sweetie,” said Alexis Cason, 15, one of his best friends. “All the girls loved him. He always joked about everything. He could make you feel better.”

She remembers that Toaster always wore tight black pants that rode down on the back side.

“Everyone was always telling him to pull up his pants. But he didn’t care,” Cason said. “People might think of him as a rebel, but he was a pretty good kid.”

His other best friend, Amanda Tevis, spent a lot of time with Toaster.

“We hung out every single day,” she said.

Toaster liked hanging out with his friends. He loved MMA, and he knew every person in the Ultimate Fighting Challenge.

“He hated smoking pot,” Tevis said. “He thought it was the stupidest thing. He didn’t drink and was fine just hanging out.”

Toaster had a personality that attracted people. He never lacked for friends or felt bullied or teased, Cason said. He hadn’t been through an ugly breakup, a bad grade or a disappointment that could have sent him into a tailspin leading to suicide, she said.

“He was a really smart kid who always had things figured out. Everyone knew him at school,” said Tevis, 16, a junior at Columbine High School.

Toaster was always sending text messages, but his cell phone was broken the night he died, which may explain why he didn’t call for help.

‘A stupid mistake’

“I don’t think it ever crossed his mind that he would ever die of it,” Tevis said. “If you have a bad (experience), it wears off after a few hours. I just think it was a stupid mistake.”

“He shouldn’t have taken that many. He should have been more cautious. He should have been with people who knew more about it.”

The teens speculate that when Toaster took the pills, he rapidly became incoherent and incapable of communicating. Someone called his girlfriend about 9 o’clock and told her he had taken Ecstasy, which upset her. He had promised her he wasn’t going to do Ecstasy anymore.

The girlfriend, Christina Tubblefield, had been dating Toaster for about two months. They met in September after he started sending her messages on her myspace account. A junior at Columbine High who has a summer job at a Subway restaurant, Tubblefield starts to cry when she talks about Toaster.

They had plans to sneak out of the friends’ houses where they were staying that Saturday night and get together. Instead, she got a phone call that Toaster was sick.

“They said he was maybe sick to his stomach. They didn’t tell me he was having seizures,” Tubblefield said. “Around 11:30, they gave him the phone. I had the idea that something had gone wrong. Fifteen minutes later they said Toaster didn’t make it.”

Toaster was in a bedroom of a private home in Denver County with two boys he had met the week before. Toaster’s mom had met the boys once in November, and Toaster had spent the night at the house once before.

The first time Toaster spent the night, his mother called to check that an adult was present. But the second time she didn’t, she told the Courier.

A parent was in the home the night Toaster died. But the boys tried to deal with the emergency on their own, fearing they would get in trouble. They cut off Toaster’s shirt because he was sweating and tried to massage him. They hoped he would sleep it off.

But he never got up. The father finally was informed. Tubblefield found out about 3 a.m. The ambulance was called, and the coroner made a visit to Toaster’s mother and family.

The official time of death was 1:06 a.m., based on the medical examiner’s report. But the police report said the ambulance was summoned at 1:06, and when the detective arrived at 1:33 a.m., the boy had apparently been dead for some time. Toaster’s companions stated the boy had taken “seven or eight” Ecstasy pills.

According to Detective Jode Sprague’s report, the father at the home had last seen his son, Toaster and another boy in the downstairs family room about 10 p.m. He didn’t notice any odd behavior at the time, and he went to bed.

The next day, the father found two bags containing 103 pills, along with the cell phone, under the bed where Toaster had been found. A follow-up investigation revealed Toaster had taken seven pills between 10:30 and 11 o’clock.

Tubblefield believes Toaster’s death was a horrible accident.

“He would never do this on purpose. That’s why we know it’s a mistake. He thought you could die only if you took 30. You never expect that.”

The experience has taught her a lesson about certain kinds of “fun.”

“It’s not worth it ee . You don’t get over it. It’s worse now than a few days after it happened.”