Published 11:29 AM EDT Sep 11, 2018
On May 16, Angela Kennecke was working on a story about the opioid epidemic for TV station KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The story was about good Samaritan laws and drug overdoses. She spoke to three mothers whose children had died of overdoses.
After work, she got a call from her ex-husband: Her own daughter, Emily, had suffered what would be a fatal fentanyl overdose at 21.
"My world dropped out from under me," said Kennecke during an interview with USA TODAY. "The rug was pulled out from under me. I don’t know how I coped."
Kennecke, who had covered the opioid epidemic for years through her work as an investigative reporter, now felt its impact within her family. And she has chosen to share her story to help other parents and addicts.
"I just felt like I had an obligation to come forward and say this happened to me, this happened to my family, this could happen to you," she said. "This could happen to anyone."
More: The opioid crisis hits home. Mine.
Kennecke describes Emily, the oldest of four children, as gifted, creative and outgoing, enjoying sports, the arts and other pursuits.
"She really was just a simply amazing person," she said.
Kennecke started to worry when she noticed Emily had become fascinated with drug culture. She hung out with friends "I didn't approve of as much," Kennecke said. Then, she spotted changes in her appearance, and her absences from family events.
After learning one of Emily's friends had died of an overdose, Kennecke started calling addiction centers. On the day Emily died, Kennecke said she was working on letters as part of an intervention.
"I know about what you’re supposed to do and what you’re not supposed to do, and I was just walking this fine line with my own daughter trying to figure out what to do," Kennecke said.
Soon after she died, she received an anonymous letter from someone in her community. The writer talked about how addiction affected their family, too. That's when Kennecke decided to share Emily's story.
Both on air and in a piece on KELO-TV's website, Kennecke talked about her daughter's death to remind others the affects of the opioid epidemic could reach anyone.
She also started a fund, Emily's Hope, to help addicts find the resources they need to seek treatment.
"I’m just one little drop in the bucket," Kennecke said. "But if I can just rise to the top of that bucket and my voice is just a little bit louder, maybe something will happen that will help the next family from having to experience the kind of pain I can’t even put into words."
More: Colorado suing OxyContin maker over deceptive marketing
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.