On the stage, the audience in St. Charles watched Karen Dobner's face contort with pain and tears as the image of a white cross with her son Max's name flashed on the screen. He had crashed his car through the side of a home at 100 mph after smoking synthetic marijuana.
In the video of the news footage, they watched Doug Petit's flustered hands grasp at air and tremble, almost like trying to hug a ghost, as the police told him how they pulled his son Jonathan's body out of a Carol Stream retention pond.
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On the Norris Center speakers, a silent audience listened to the 911 tape of Mann Spitler trying to revive his daughter Manda from a heroin overdose with hearts that reached out to him as he sat with his head in his hands reliving his unsuccessful effort.
Parents in the crowd held each other's hands. Teenagers grimaced. The reality of the messages those three stories communicated set in: Drugs will not only ruin and take your life, but they will also devastate your loved ones forever.
Perhaps the messages about heroin and alcohol were not new for the teens in attendance at St. Charles East High School Wednesday night, but it may have been the first time they'd heard the synthetic marijuana they may still find on local gas station shelves could kill them the first time they try it.
Karen Dobner said Max, 19, seemed to be the perfect child until she received "the phone call that every parent dreads" this past June 14.
"They said my son had had an accident, and that he did not survive," Dobner recalled.
None of what they told her made sense. Max never got into trouble. He wouldn't leave the house wide open. He wouldn't drive at a reckless speed of 100 mph. And he certainly wouldn't slam his car through the side of a house into a room where a baby slept just minutes before. But he did.
"This human being who we all thought was as perfect as could be ... this is how he died," Dobner said.
Later she discovered Max had called his older brother just before the accident. He was freaking out about having tried synthetic marijuana. His heart raced. He was panicked. He'd taken a drug that could've been up to 500 times more potent than actual marijuana. So he did things a normally perfect person wouldn't do.
"I call it poison sprayed on leaves," Dobner said. "I'm here to tell you that if you're with anybody who has a severe reaction to a drug, call 911 because the next step is death."
Kane County's Juvenile Drug Court program organized the substance abuse forum as an opportunity for parents and local youth to learn about the dangers of drugs and local opportunities for help if they have a problem.