More than 200 people, including friends and family members affected by the suburban heroin epidemic, came together on Saturday morning for an awareness event and 5K walk in Lake Zurich.
The event was sponsored by Take a Stand, an awareness group formed earlier this year by five young women in Lake Zurich. Take A Stand donates all funds raised through events to the Jeremy Stom Remembrance Foundation.
Stom, a Stevenson High School graduate, died of a heroin overdose just before he would have turned 19 in 2009. His brother Jean, an Army veteran, also died of a drug overdose in 2010.
Their sister Sayra, 26 of Hawthorn Woods, talked about the difficulty of sharing stories of substance abuse.
"It's not something you want to share with everyone because you fear your family will be judged," Sayra said. "But no family is immune and no family deserves this," she said to supportive applause from the crowd.
"My brothers were not bad people. They made a bad choice that eventually cost them both their lives," she said.
Other speakers included representatives from the Lake County sheriff's office and an addiction counselor.
Friends and families gathered for the event, many wearing shirts in memory of lost loved ones as they tried to bring awareness to the growing problem in the suburbs.
"It affects everybody, not just people on the street," said Joni Lucarelli of Buffalo Grove, who along with her husband Steve wore shirts in memory of their son Chad, who died of a heroin overdose at age 23 in May 2011.
Another young man wore a shirt the read "I miss my friends" with the initials and dates of death for seven friends lost to heroin and drug abuse between 2005 and 2012.
The group then wrote the names of their lost or struggling loved ones on purple balloons and held a moment of silence before releasing the balloons in the air to the tunes of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
The emotional morning was capped off with a 5K walk around Lake Zurich while social service agencies from the area were on hand to distribute information.
Recovering addict Mike Mahoney, 28, said he struggled with heroin abuse on and off for nine years. Mahoney has now been clean for nine months and helps run Program House, a sober living home for eight men in Elgin.
"It's nothing short of a miracle that I'm standing here today," Mahoney said. "But, unfortunately a lot of us don't make it."