Pubdate: Sun, 01 Oct 2006
Source: Daily Record, The (Parsippany, NJ)
Copyright: 2006 The Daily Record
Author: Abbott Koloff
Bookmark: (Heroin)


His parents appeared to do everything right. They kicked their son 
out of the house but did not abandon him. They gave him food and 
love, but not money to contribute to his drug habit.

Thomas Eugene Bennington, 23, had lived on the streets of New York 
City but had been living with his parents in Chatham Township for the 
past couple of years and lately seemed to be getting his life in order.

He even started to care about the way he looked, the clothes he wore, 
taking time to shave.He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and 
his parents said he finally seemed to be on medication that helped. 
He worked at a gas station and was learning basic auto repair. He was 
proud of his job.

It was close to being a success story, a tale of survival, but heroin 
doesn't give up its victims that easily.

His parents, Doug and Melinda Bennington, probably won't ever know 
why their son decided to pick up a bag of heroin a couple of weeks 
ago when he went to New York City. He purchased needles from a 
pharmacy, they said, but apparently never got to use them because no 
needle marks were found on his arms.

His parents believe he snorted heroin as he had done so many times in 
the past; they are still waiting for toxicology reports. This time he 
told a friend he was feeling a little sick on the train ride home 
from New York. He asked the friend not to let him nod off to sleep. 
He came home and told his mother he needed to get some rest.

"OK, see you tomorrow," his mother said.

That was the last time she talked to her son, who was found dead in 
an upstairs bathroom the next day.

The Benningtons wrote in their son's obituary that he died of 
"drug-related causes." They had been talking openly about their son's 
addiction for years and wanted people to know the choices he made 
finally killed him. They wanted to talk about those choices this past 
week, to help other parents understand how drugs killed their son.

"It's a story I've been telling for a long time," Melinda Bennington said.

Thomas Bennington is one of as many as 35 fatal drug overdoses in 
Morris County so far this year, shattering the 2002 record of 24 
deaths. Law enforcement officials this past week released a list of 
drug deaths with the names of 31 people confirmed dead as a result of 
drug overdoses so far this year. They say four more possible drug 
deaths, which would include Thom Bennington's, are pending toxicology.

The Benningtons say they always knew this day could come, even as 
they also say they just started to have some hope. They say Thom had 
a wild side.They say he told stories of drug dealing and getting into 
trouble with Colombian drug cartels, and they never were sure about 
what was true and what was fantasy.

They say he used to talk about dying young -- and even talked to 
friends about what kind of funeral he wanted.

"There was something about him that he didn't feel the love around 
him," Melinda Bennington said.

She says it may have had something to do with feeling abandoned by 
his biological father but says her son always considered her present 
husband, Doug, to be his real dad. They had a strong bond, she said. 
They have been together since Thom was a toddler and went on family 
vacations together.

Lost Birthdays

The Benningtons have three younger children, all honor students, and 
that's partly why they gave Thom an ultimatum more than five years 
ago. They told him he had to stop dealing drugs, that he had to go to 
school or to work. Or he had to leave the house. The young man who 
couldn't sit still as a child, who got caught lighting a joint on a 
school bus, who stole a family car when he was 16, who spent his 
16th, 17th and 18th birthdays in a drug treatment center, wasn't the 
kind of person who often considered consequences.

He took his mother's bank card to steal enough money to go to 
California. He lived on the streets of Philadelphia and then New York 
where a newspaper featured him in a story about a new group of young 
and homeless people who had cell phones. He and his friends told the 
paper that they didn't do drugs.

"They lied," Melinda said.

Doug Bennington, who works as a municipal bond salesman in Manhattan, 
sometimes took his son and his son's girlfriend out to lunch. Thom's 
parents brought him clothes. They told him they loved him. They 
didn't give him money.

"We wanted him to know we were there for him," Melinda said. "We did 
not enable him."

It was hard at times, because they knew their son might die on the 
streets. They knew he needed not only a drug rehab, but medical care 
for his bipolar disorder. He had been diagnosed as bipolar just 
before he turned 18 but didn't want to take medication, his parents 
said, perhaps because he had his drug habit to deal with his pain.

Then one day, after Thom had been living for years on the streets, 
the phone rang in the Bennington home in the middle of the night. 
Thom wanted to come home. He said something even more significant.

"He wanted to get help," Doug Bennington said. "I'll never know 
whether he bottomed out or whether he was afraid."

He told his siblings about being chased by Colombian drug cartels, 
but his parents say they don't know whether that's true. He went to a 
drug rehab and later attended his brother Geoffrey's high school 
graduation. His parents let him back into the house two years ago, 
not fully trusting that he was going to get better.

They say he never stopped drinking but that he stopped using drugs 
for about a year before he got caught using heroin late last year. He 
got caught using morphine earlier this year. Then things got better, 
and he was working at a job he seemed to enjoy, taking medication, 
overcoming what his parents characterized as social anxiety. He used 
to be afraid to answer the door to greet a pizza delivery person. 
Then one day he went out of his way to say hello to the parent of a 
friend at the supermarket.

His brother Geoffrey, in a eulogy delivered at Thom's funeral, talked 
about his brother's endearing ability to laugh at himself, while also 
lamenting that Thom never was able to take things seriously. A friend 
said in another eulogy that Thom was "so loved." His mother says he 
couldn't feel that love all the time. She says maybe he was getting 
too confident, and maybe he thought it wouldn't hurt to do a little 
heroin every now and then. For all the changes he made, for reasons 
he took to the grave, he didn't escape that trap.
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