The four children woke up and were about to start getting ready for school when they found their parents, Brian and Courtney Halye, unresponsive and cold in their bedroom.
Indeed, they were dead, and Montgomery County, Ohio, Coroner's Office Director Ken Betz told the Dayton Daily News that the “preliminary indication is probable accidental drug overdose.” Authorities think the culprit may be heroin that was mixed with fentanyl — a deadly combination that has claimed countless lives across the country.
In a second 911 call Thursday from the home in southwestern Ohio, another child, a 13-year-old, tried to answer a dispatcher's questions as his siblings could be heard wailing in the background.
“Are they breathing?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don't think so,” the boy responded.
“Have they been feeling ill?” a medic asked.
“No, they were just fine,” he replied. He called out to his sisters, “Guys, did you see anything? What was wrong with them?”
“They said that my stepdad's face was pale and there was black lines all over his face,” the boy then said.
“Are they warm or cold to the touch?” the medic said.
“They were very cold,” he responded.
“Do you guys have gas appliances?” the medic asked.
“What is a gas appliance?” he replied.
When authorities arrived, the boy could be heard directing them to his parents' bedroom at their home in Centerville, not far from Dayton: “My parents are upstairs to the left — the last door to the left.”
The boy continued talking to the dispatcher, telling her that he had stepped outside. When asked whether he was cold, he replied, “A little bit; I'm fine.”
He could be heard sniffling as the recording cut out.
As with much of the United States, Ohio is in the throes of a ruthless opioid epidemic that shows no signs of abating.
Children have become innocent victims; some have seen their parents shoot up and overdose, occasionally with fatal consequences. Others have unwittingly and unwillingly faced overdoses themselves.
In September 2016, a chilling photograph distributed by the authorities captured the innocence lost on a 4-year-old’s face in East Liverpool, Ohio, where a man and woman were seen slumped over after overdosing in a vehicle, the boy still strapped into his car seat in the back. A week later and 600 miles away, at a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass., a hysterical toddler was captured on a cellphone video as she tried to wake her mother after an apparent drug overdose.
The video showed the toddler, dressed in pink-and-purple “Frozen” pajamas, pulling her mother’s fingers, then sitting down beside her and shaking her mother’s face.
In October, a 7-year-old girl in McKeesport, Pa., told her school bus driver that she hadn’t been able to wake the adults in her house for days, and that their bodies were beginning to change colors. She had been caring for three other children in the home — ages 5, 3 and 9 months — and had gotten herself back and forth to school, police said. Her parents were dead.
Then, a couple in Washington state made news when authorities said they had been injecting their young children with heroin, reportedly calling it “feel good medicine.”
Synthetic opioids, including heroin and its deadlier cousin, fentanyl, are the main drivers of overdose deaths across the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Ohio Department of Health reports that the number of opioid-related deaths in the state skyrocketed from 296 in 2003 to 2,590 in 2015 — a 775 percent jump over a 12-year period. These numbers include deaths involving prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl, which is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times as potent.
Centerville police spokesman John Davis said Brian and Courtney Halye were the city's fifth and sixth fatal overdose victims this year. Last year, there were just five.
“It doesn't matter who you are or where you are — this epidemic knows no boundaries,” Davis told The Washington Post, adding that the Centerville case illustrates that.
Davis said the couple's deaths appeared to be drug-related because drug paraphernalia was found at the scene and that it “meets all the criteria” for a heroin-fentanyl overdose. But authorities are awaiting the toxicology results, he said.
Davis said the danger is that, in many cases, drug dealers have no idea what they are selling — and users have no idea what they are buying.
Brian Halye, a 36-year-old pilot for Spirit Airlines, married Courtney in 2013, according to his obituary. Each had two children from previous relationships, police said.
Spirit Airlines said in a statement that Halye had worked for the company for more than nine years and had flown his final flight March 10.
“Our hearts go out to the family, friends, and colleagues of Captain Halye,” Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry said in a statement.
Berry said that Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration regulations require airlines to conduct tests for pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and dispatchers, including “random and reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing.” If someone in one of these “safety-sensitive positions” tests positive, that person would be “immediately removed from their position,” he said.
Another spokesman said the company would not be providing any further comment.
Courtney Halye, 34, was described in her obituary as “a kind loving generous soul.”
“She had a smile that lit up a room which made her very much loved by all her family and friends,” it read. “Courtney was a wonderful nurturing mother to two beautiful children.”
The Dayton Daily News reported that Courtney Halye apparently had a history that involved drugs. In 2007, Jacob Castor, her then-husband and father of her children, died of a drug overdose, the newspaper reported, citing the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.
In 2009 she was convicted of felony drug possession, although the case was later expunged, according to the Dayton Daily News.
In January of 2016, Nancy Casey, Courtney Halye’s mother, contacted Centerville police and said she felt her daughter threatened to harm herself and was abusing narcotics.Casey told officers her daughter had been “hooked on drugs” on and off for about seven years. The mother suspected her daughter was high when talking with her that day, the report said.In that same report, which covered events of Jan. 5-6, 2016, Brian Halye contacted police after he had returned from Detroit, where he worked for Spirit Airlines as a pilot. Brian Halye told officers he had called and texted his wife, who had hung up on him and would not tell him where she was.Police used her cellphone to determine she was in east Dayton but did not immediately find her. When officers found her vehicle, Courtney Halye was not there.Later on Jan. 6, 2016, Brian Halye told police his wife had returned to their house but had locked him out. He worried that she was trying to get to two unloaded guns he kept inside, so he forced entry.Courtney Halye was holding both guns, the report said, and her husband took them from her just as officers arrived there.Police said that she appeared mentally unstable and possibly intoxicated or having a medical issue related to diabetes. The officer requested medics, who took her to the hospital for treatment.Brian Halye told officers that day his wife had battled heroin and cocaine addiction “for quite some time.”
Casey recently told NBC News that Courtney Halye had Type 1 diabetes and was on medication for depression; but she said she did not think her daughter and son-in-law had a persistent drug problem.
“I don't know if they decided they were going to party, or went and they got ahold of this bad stuff going around town,” Casey said. But she added that she had been concerned since she talked to them the day before the couple was found dead.
“I had this dreadful feeling all day,” she told NBC News. “Something was off with her and something was off with him.”