PRESCOTT VALLEY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The overdose deaths of two teenagers rocked Prescott Valley, leading to a newspaper-led campaign to bring down fentanyl dealers in the area.

Jake Morales and Gunner Bundrick, both 19, were best friends, and well-known sports stars in the community.

[SPECIAL SECTION: The Fentanyl Crisis]

After a night out in November, they took what their parents believe were painkillers or muscle-relaxers before bed and never woke up.

A third friend was with them and left the room because he thought his friends were snoring.

The teens were actually gurgling, struggling to breathe, and dying.

Terri and Ray Morales knew their son, Jake, was spending the night at his best friend's home.

"That morning, I thought [Gunner's mother] was calling to talk about the vacation we were all about to go on, but she was a wreck, hysterical, saying, 'The boys are blue,'" Terri said.

They raced to the Bundricks' home, and their hearts sank as they noticed the ambulances were still there.

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Jake and Gunner never made it to the hospital.

"A few of [the paramedics] started to huddle up and talk, and I knew they were putting a plan together to tell us," Ray said.

"They did everything they could, but it was too late. The fentanyl was too fast," Terri said.

"And the trace we found out Jake had was so small. That all it took to kill him? Like three little grains of salt," Ray said.

The family firmly believes Jake and Gunner had no idea the pills they took were laced with fentanyl.

"Everything I knew about fentanyl, I'd learned from Jake," his father said.

They say their son was deeply affected by the death of another community member from the drug over the summer.

[RELATED: The good, the bad and the ugly: The need for Fentanyl]

"He'd cite statistics about how dangerous it was, and warn other people about it," his mother said.

"It was shocking. It took a moment to realize what we'd heard," remembers Brian Bergner, the news and sports editor at the Prescott News Network.

Bergner covered Bundrick and Jake through their high school success and knows Bundrick's father, Brian, a well-known baseball coach at Bradshaw Mountain High School.

"We just couldn't believe these two kids with big futures were found dead in their homes," he said.

"Our publisher called and said, 'This fentanyl is killing our kids. Enough is enough,'" recalls Richard Haddad, the news director for Western News & Info.

[WATCH: "This is a call to action."]

The operation publishes 10 newspapers, including the Prescott Daily Courier, Prescott Valley Tribune and the Chino Valley Review.

[TIMELINE: Emergence of the opioid crisis]

The teens' deaths launched a campaign, which the papers called "Stop Fentanyl Now."

It started with an editorial and a promise, to both educate the public about the dangers of the deadly and potent opioid, and also expose suspected fentanyl dealers.

"We wanted to do something to catch people's attention. We borrowed the idea from something the Indianapolis Star did in 2015. We wanted to make sure people knew this isn't just regular news. This is a call to action," Haddad said.

They blew out the front page advertisements to devote more prime space to fentanyl coverage.

The publisher also donated $10,000 to Yavapai County's Silent Witness program and encouraged other businesses to do the same.

The money is used, in part, to reward tipsters who report dealers.

"They were our young people and our community's children. Most of us are parents. You can't put a price on that," Haddad said.

Several times, the paper has printed mugshots of suspected fentanyl dealers, above the fold on the front page.

"We made a promise. If you're a dealer and you get caught, you guarantee yourself on the front page," senior news editor Tim Wiederaenders said.

"People in our area read our paper and we have an impact. We can't control the drug war but we can bring the community attention to what this is," said reporter Max Efrein, who's been following the fentanyl-related cases through court.

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The newspaper staff said the special coverage has the attention of the community and is sparking conversations online, at dinner tables and in schools.

"Adults can tell kids what to do all day long, but it's when they hear it from their peers that it makes a bigger impact. That's what we're seeing now. Kids are talking to other kids about the problem and the dangers, and they're watching out for each other," said Nanci Hutson, who covers schools in the area.

Jake's family has spent the last few months in grief counseling.

"It's helped us let go of the 'what ifs' and things like that," Ray said.

"Hopefully they won't just be remembered for this. They did a lot of good. Unfortunately, what took their lives is what everyone's talking about," he added.

They've come up with several ways to memorialize and honor their son, in addition to wearing his ashes in lockets around their necks.

Ray's locket is a baseball, which he wears behind the plate as an umpire.

Fellow umpires sent money, which will be pooled to help families pay for Little League fees in Jake's honor.

They're printing sheets of stickers, which Little League players will stick on their helmets.

The family will travel to Boston in Jake's honor, to watch his Red Sox play on his birthday.

While the Bundricks are grieving privately, the two families plan to take an annual trip to the Country Thunder music festival and celebrate the lives of their sons together.

The Morales reached out to the third friend who was with them the night they died. They hugged him at the funeral, but say they haven't spoken with him since.

"If he ever needs anything, we're here for him. He loved those boys," she said.

They plan to keep speaking about the dangers of fentanyl.

"We're going to miss him every day for the rest of our lives. I don't want any other parent to have to feel that," Terri said.

Jared anchors the News at 8 on 3TV, and reports for both 3TV and CBS 5. He frequently contributes to the 3TV franchise series 3TV Originals. 

 


Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

 

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(6) comments

Shredder

You can’t F with fentanyl. Unpredictable drug. I wonder why these 2 guys felt the need to take “painkillers “ before going to bed?

Jaredfriedericksdad

Yeah what about my son Jared friederick who passed away in Prescott valley . On June 7th last year from the same drug. These two boys weren't any different than my son . My son was a good boy and had a future .I just wish they would mention him.

Shredder

Sorry for the loss of your son.

Dean

Until the wall it built there is nothing that will stop these murders. And most media will not support anything but free crossings of our borders.

MyOwnMind

good riddance. Two more users off the street.

Jaredfriedericksdad

Yeah you just don't know . I hope it's some one in your family next

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