Pubdate: Wed, 23 Nov 2005
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Nancy Cambria
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Four years ago, at just 18, Katee Hessler faced the fight of a 
lifetime when she battled heroin addiction.

Katee, of Lake Saint Louis, didn't make it to adulthood, but her 
death was not from the drug. Shortly after her family nursed her 
through withdrawal, she was shot in the heart and killed in an 
attempted robbery.

Her family and friends said their grief was numbing. But not long 
after her death, they rallied and began the Katee Hessler Foundation.

The foundation believes that all teens, regardless of whether they 
come from the city, the suburbs or the country, are vulnerable to 
drugs and crime and that few understand the dangers of bad choices. 
It wants to ensure that teenagers, like Katee, find the help they 
need to stay safe and healthy. So far it has raised more than $40,000 
for St. Charles County agencies that help adolescents in crisis or 
fight violent crime.

Katee's friend Megan Malay, 25, said bad influences can quickly 
overwhelm teens.

"Some of that stuff can happen so fast," she said.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 30, 2001, Katee and a friend stopped in 
Kinloch after helping her friend's dad move to St. Louis. Her mom, 
Debbee Hessler, said they were visiting friends from drug-using days.

Three younger men prowling for someone to rob approached her car and 
shot her. At the trial, one of the defendants said they believed they 
were coming upon a drug deal where there might be lots of cash. Katee 
had no money or drugs.

"Katee wasn't perfect. She was like any naive teenager," Debbee 
Hessler said. "She thought she was invincible, and she wanted to help 
others like herself. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The foundation consists of the Hessler family as well as many of 
Katee's high school friends - some of them, like Malay, who have gone 
on from those tumultuous high school years to earn degrees, find 
spouses, buy homes and raise children of their own.

"It could have been any of us," Malay said at the Hesslers' current 
home in Josephville at a recent foundation meeting. Also at the 
meeting were Katee's parents, Debbee and Tom, her sister, Sarah, 26, 
and another friend, Sarah Arnold, 24.

"It changed a lot of lives," Debbee Hessler said.

The foundation raises most of its money through golf tournaments and 
donations. Its members have also discussed the impact of Katee's 
death in a teaching video about the consequences of teen violence and bullying.

This year it has donated instructional videos for adolescents on 
various teen issues to local organizations. Every spring, members 
conduct a gardening day in memory of Katee and other teens who have 
died. Once a year the group also hosts a day of fun with children and 
teens who are working through hard times.

The Crider Center for Mental Health in Wentzville recently received a 
$5,000 donation from the foundation as well as a set of educational 
videos that address ways teens can cope with bullying, drugs, 
sexuality and other issues.

"What they have done in the time since Katee's death has been 
phenomenal," said Annie Schulte, a spokeswoman for Crider. "They've 
taken a massive tragedy and turned it around to help youth."

Although members are still angry about how Katee died, they 
sympathize with Paul Keys, who drove the getaway car after Katee was 
shot. Keys was just a year older than Katee. At trial, he testified 
that he pulled over to the side of the road in shock after the shooting.

"He was so beside himself, he could not drive the car," Debbee 
Hessler said. The man who fired the gun, Roosevelt Fletcher Jr., then 
27, was a gang member and Keys' older cousin. Just like Katee, Keys 
wanted to fit in, Hessler said.

"Like Katee, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the 
young are influenced by their peers. You're influenced by people you 
look up to," she said. "He went along with them that night, and now 
he has to spend his time in jail."

There are several things foundation members have come to realize 
during meetings around the Hessler kitchen table. Foremost, parents 
need to realize that drugs of all kinds are available everywhere.

"It's right in our backyard," Malay said. "I was raised here, and I 
was in it. I didn't go looking for it at the time. I was surrounded by it."

The group agrees that parents should not be afraid to talk with kids 
and other adults. "Don't be embarrassed. Tell your kid you were silly 
in high school and you sometimes made stupid choices," Arnold said.

Malay said she can't imagine how her life would have turned out if it 
weren't for the foundation and the healthy connection she found with 
Katee's family and her other friends after Katee's death.

"I'd give anything to have Katee back, but I'm so glad we have this 
foundation," Malay said. "I'm so proud to tell people I'm a board 
member. It's like saying I'm a lottery winner."

For more information, call the Katee Hessler Foundation at 636-332-1104. 
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