LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) — Photos of people whose lives were taken by Fentanyl are now on a billboard on Lynchburg Highway to spread awareness of the deadly drug.
The billboard was funded by 4 Them We Fight, a non-profit group that has sponsored a national awareness campaign on the dangers of Fentanyl poisoning.
The group has been facilitating billboards across the country since April of last year and is the creator of "The Billboard Project" a Facebook group that has 2.8k members.
"When we have a billboard available we post the information on our group page and allow families the opportunity to submit a donation to help cover the cost of the billboard and in turn we honor their angel by putting their photo on the billboard," Adrienne Sautter, co-founder and co-president of 4 Them We Fight said.
4 Them We Fight has done a total of 211 visual PSAs in 22 states since the project began which also includes mobile billboards that ran in seven different states.
The youngest one on the sign is Jacob Robertson, who was just 15 years old when he passed.
His mom, Jessica Diacont said it's a bittersweet feeling to see her child's photo up there.
"Sad, but I'm proud. He was my son," said Diacont, holding back tears.
She found her son unconscious in March of 2021, after he took a pill he thought was Percocet.
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"I performed CPR on him. It was awful. My six year old daughter saw everything so it was very hard knowing that your son is laying there gray and you couldn't do anything about it, just tried my best," said Diacont.
She said she remembers her son as a good kid and mama's boy.
"He loved his family. He loved his friends. He was working on trying to get his first car. He loved baseball. He was just a fun kid. He had a whole life," she said.
Zachary Shifflett is the older brother of Austin Harlow who was 21 when he passed. He said the billboard means a lot to him because he doesn't think it's an issue talked about enough.
"That makes me so happy because before this I've never seen anything like this," said Shifflett.
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His girlfriend, Carly Puente, was the one to find Harlow.
"I have saved a lot of people's lives when they OD," said Puente. "But he looked totally different. He was purple, his lips, he was cold. I gave him CPR and then I screamed for his daddy," she shared.
Shifflett said that they had to make the difficult decision to take him off life support.
"We sat there with him and watched as his heart slowly faded out to nothing," he said.
Puente said he was the love of her life.
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"He was amazing. He was an amazing person. Very loving and caring," she added.
Something the group hopes people will take away from this is that it only takes one pill.
"The one pill can kill is true. The coroner told me that my Keen was dead within three seconds of taking this pill," said Debra Friske, whose son, Keen Friske died at age 23 after taking what he thought was Percoset. She found him in his room in February of 2022.
"We knew right away. He was cold as ice. His body was purple and black in different areas," said Friske.
She said he had a passion for sports and would always be there for people.
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"His passion was football. He wanted to be a professional football player. He would do anything for anybody and you know most of these kids that's their nature it seems like. They're kind-hearted, they get taken advantage of," she shared.
They also want people to know that it can happen anywhere to anyone.
"It doesn't matter if your family has money or if they don't, poor, you know, whatever, it gets anybody," said Shifflett and Carly Puente, Austin Harlow's girlfriend.
This group, V.A. Moms, has taken their mission to Richmond.
"We ended up getting invited to talk to the Attorney General and we ended up talking to the First Lady. We ended up advocating with her in the General Assembly," said Faythe Silveira, whose niece Paula Moreira passed at just 18 years old.
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These families have the support of lawmakers like Delegate Wendell Walker who is very concerned about the Fentanyl epidemic.
"In 2022, over 2,000 cases of overdoses from a very poisonous drug that we're trying to fight from a legislative stand point," said Walker.
Earlier this year, lawmakers in Virginia voted to label Fentanyl as a weapon of terrorism.
These families are vowing to continue to fight until no one else has to lose a loved one to Fentanyl.
"If I can save one child that's my goal. Just one," said Diacont.
Friske said this group saved her.
"I've come upon this group of beautiful women and I feel like they've saved me because when this happens, you just want to die along with them," she told us. "I'm going to speak of his voice everyday until I take my last breath."