Pubdate: Sun, 09 Jul 2006
Source: Daily Record, The (Parsippany, NJ)
Copyright: 2006 The Daily Record
Author: Navid Iqbal
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Family, Friends Recall Heroin Addict's Slide

HANOVER -- The death certificate for Holly Gillis will say she died 
on July 1 at the age of 21.

Her family and friends say she died about two years ago. The killer was heroin.

"She wasn't herself anymore," said Joan Gillis, Holly's 50-year-old 
mom. "Her passing started several years ago."

The Gillis home was filled with food and people last week. A large 
fruit and cheese platter sat in the middle of a coffee table. 
Crackers, muffins and blueberry cobbler were nearby.

Since Holly's death from an apparent overdose, neighbors and friends 
have been stopping by and sending over food, said Joan Gillis, a 
homemaker with two advanced degrees.

"When it gets quiet, it gets hard," said Holly's father, Philip, an 
engineer for Lucent Technologies.

Holly's death has been the talk of the town. Message boards -- both 
the kinds adults use, such as, and the kind 
teenagers use, such as -- have been filled with comments 
about Holly.

The messages also are about heroin at the two high schools that are a 
part of the regional school district. Police are investigating the 
death of a second former student to determine whether it also was 

If Holly's death has a purpose, her friends and family said, it is to 
uncover the drug problem in the Hanover-area high schools -- 
particularly with heroin.

Holly didn't have to be a martyr. She was full of promise, her friends said.

An abstract painting she made in the first grade still hangs in a 
frame by the stairwell in her Nemic Lane home.

A cluttered bookshelf in the living room has a row of handmade 
journals, which she made with her younger brothers.

She even started her own newspaper, The Whippany Press. She could 
have been a lawyer or a journalist, Philip said.

The troubles for Holly started not long after she turned 13. She 
weighed 98 pounds and felt fat, her friends said.

As she got older, she found fewer outlets to expend her emotions, 
energy and time.

Drugs and alcohol became ways to cope, "to numb the pain," Holly's 
friends said. She became addicted to heroin in high school, Joan said.

Her drug use was veiled by outstanding grades, a 1420 SAT score and 
other glimmers of brilliance.

In and out of rehab

When it was apparent, she was in and out of rehab. Her parents took 
her out of school and home-schooled her for a semester. Joan said she 
even removed the door to her daughter's room.

Nothing helped. Holly was always resilient, and it worked against 
her. She still found ways to get heroin.

"She always found some way to get a ride. She could turn on the charm 
when she needed to," said Preska Wachtelboran, a 21-year-old friend.

Holly would find ways to get to Newark or Irvington to get her fix. 
She'd drive the family's old 1988 Crown Victoria station wagon. She'd 
find a bus or she'd get a ride. Heroin was readily available. All she 
needed was money, which she got by stealing from her parents and friends.

"It got a lot harder to be her friend," said Sara Schoenleber, 21, of 
Whippany. "As long as I could remember, drugs always were a big part 
of her life. She really did try everything."

Holly's younger brother, Tom Gillis, spoke in well-cadenced 
sentences. But his voice became shaky, hesitant and softer when he 
talked about his sister.

Tom said he started snorting heroin at 15 while hanging out with his 
sister --"my best friend."

Drug abuse in school

He said he even snorted heroin the bathroom stalls of Whippany Park 
High School.

He eventually cleaned himself up, without therapy, just lots of 
reading. He finished his freshman year at the County College of 
Morris in June, and he said he was on the dean's list.

Tom said many of his peers begin using heroin because they don't see 
a substitute -- not just in terms of activities they can do, but in 
terms of what they envision themselves to be when they're older.

"These are great parents in these towns, they have religions, they 
have families, but they feel, 'This not the life I want,' and there's 
no alternative," Tom said.

"Drugs are not the problem. It's a symptom of these kids feeling horrible."

There was no definitive explanation for why this feeling has taken 
hold. Maybe it's always been there, Tom said, but heroin and drugs in 
general are an accessible alternative to the feeling.

It may take one's own will, rehabilitation or therapy for people to 
learn that heroin isn't the only alternative, Tom said.

Or it may take someone's death.

"I'm terrified of drugs right now," said Mick Ursitti, 18, of 
Whippany, a former Whippany Park student who now is a student at CCM 
who cleaned up through rehab. "I'm just so scared of them now."
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