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MORRIS, Alabama -- Darryl Burrell knew even before he frantically began CPR on his son Jeremy that he was already gone.

"He was blue," Darryl said of Jeremy's coloration. "But I tried and kept trying to get him back because that is what a dad does. But I knew, I knew."

That was the night of Oct. 9, 2011.

Jeremy was 29.

Even as Darryl worked on Jeremy's lifeless body, and even as his mother Wanda called 911 and his younger sister Jennifer waited terrified outside Jeremy's room, they all knew what had happened to their son and brother.

It had happened before.

Jeremy had overdosed on heroin.

He had done it three previous times, his parents said.

"The first time a friend found him in his car and brought him back with CPR," Darryl told me. "The other two times he was taken to emergency rooms in time," Wanda added.

"This was the fourth time. It was the last time," Darryl said as he paused to hold his emotions together remembering a night that was a decade in the making.

"Jeremy was 19 when his girlfriend told me he was addicted," Wanda said. "I was devastated. I had no clue, none at all."

Wanda and Darryl have racked their brains looking back, trying to figure out if they had missed something that might have warned them of what was coming.

"Jeremy was just a real good kid. He was popular in school; he played just about every sport and did well. He was active in church. He was kind hearted. He'd give you the shirt off his back," his mom said.

Darryl said he and Jeremy enjoyed what he called a typical father-son relationship.

"I coached him in ball. He and I loved to go hunting and fishing together. He was a joy to be with."

Both parents said there were no problems between Jeremy and Jennifer.

"They had a special relationship," Darryl said of his kids.

There was one fact in Jeremy's youth that his mom said did gnaw at him a little: his mother and biological father divorced when he was 2 and after that he rarely saw his dad.

"He used to wonder how someone could just leave their child. I could tell it bothered him," Wanda said.

The reason Wanda divorced Jeremy's father was his addiction to drugs. It has left her convinced that her son's addiction was not accidental.

"I think it has to have something to do with heredity," Wanda said. "His biological father died at 35 from complications from drug use. It's just seems to me that Jeremy got something from his biological father, a trait, something that played a role in what happened.

Darryl and Wanda married when Jeremy was 5. Darryl adopted Jeremy shortly after.

The Burrells tell me what is becoming a too familiar story about their son's addiction: He started with prescription pain killers, usually Lortab. From there he moved on to Oxycodone. From there he eventually moved to heroin.

Along the way he lost his dream job as a young railroad conductor. The railroad Jeremy worked for put him in rehab twice to try to help him save himself and his job. It didn't work. There were more rehabs, that didn't work. There were numerous arrests and jail time for carrying and possession of drugs. And there were plenty of car and truck wrecks from driving under the influence of drugs.

"I'm talking about wrecks where he flipped the vehicle, where it turned over," said Darryl. "Once Jeremy looked at the vehicle he wrecked, and it was just a mess, and he said he wondered how he wasn't killed. He wasn't the only one who wondered."

Some of the hardest times during the addiction years came when Jeremy didn't come home and his dad would go out searching for him."  

"I should have been a policeman. I got pretty good at searching," Darryl said. "You would search abandoned houses, sometimes abandoned apartments. Each time I would worry I wouldn't find him or I would find him and it would be too late."

I asked the Burrells about a popular perception among some that heroin addicts come only from inner-city neighborhoods and from poor families and most of the time they can be identified as clearly "on something."

They both nodded and shook their heads.

"Too many people think they can look at one person who might be wearing old clothes, or who looks messy or looks funny and they think 'he's on drugs.'  That same person sees a neat looking person, one who is clean and wearing nice clothes and say, 'no way they are an addict.' I'm here to tell you it doesn't work that way," said Darryl.

Wanda said her son always cared about his appearance, always tried to wear nice clothes. To prove it she showed me photos of Jeremy, photos that showed a clean, neat muscle man I would not guess was a heroin addict.

When they are not at their jobs, Darryl is a manager at a towing company and Wanda works at UAB, they devote their time working with families dealing with addiction. They work with The Church of the Highlands Small Group organization called "Living with the Consequences of a Loved Ones Addiction."

"It's become our passion to help those who are dealing with addiction, addictions of all types," said Darryl.

I asked the Burrells if I could see Jeremy's bedroom, the place where he died. They graciously agreed.

The room is a testament to Jeremy's love of University of Alabama football. It's wall-to-wall filled with Crimson Tide stuff.

"He loved Alabama football," his mom said.

I asked Darryl how he is able to cope with the memory of trying to bring Jeremy back to life that night. He thinks and chokes up just a little.

"I think the Lord was preparing us over those ten years for that night," Darryl said. "You know, Jeremy didn't want to be like he was. He would tell us how he wanted to be clean. He would tell us he loved us. We always, always told him we loved him.

"As hard as finding him in his room was that night, I thank God he was in his room and not in some cold, abandoned place in the dark," Darryl said lowering his head.

Wanda handed me a poem her son had written before his final overdose. I'll close with Jeremy's words:

"My life is like a puzzle, I try to find the reasons, I go through life from day to day, just changing like seasons.

I have stuff inside of me, I wish I could get out, but when I try to talk about it all I get is doubt.

Emotions run inside of me, trying to get out, when I sit and think about it all I do is shout.

Anger builds inside of me, I try to figure out, but all I do is cry.

I'm looking for a brand new start, a way to change the course, but I have to scream and yell so much all I get is hoarse.

I look through a tunnel trying to find a light, I look and look hard as I can but all I see is night.

I want so bad to change it, I need someone to teach, all I have to do is ask and it is in my reach.

There's things in life that stop you and push you off the track, but now isn't time to stop and think and try to bounce right back.

It's time to put all that behind and look forward to tomorrow, get rid of all the pressure, and all the pain and sorrow.

I think I've finally realized how to show you that I can, find the strength inside of me to start and be a man."

By Charles J. Dean | cdean@al.com AL.com

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on March 19, 2014 at 7:00 AM, updated March 19, 2014 at 7:26 AM

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