The pain was evident on her face and in her voice as Dorothy McIntosh-Shuemake talked about the daughter she’ll bury today at Woodside Cemetery.
For a young woman whose favorite color was “sparkle,” which matched her personality, the death of Alison “Allie” Shuemake has left her family and friends in darkness. Alison, 18, and her boyfriend, Luther Combs, 31, of Kentucky, were found dead Wednesday morning in their apartment in the 200 block of Park Street.
On that same day, Jeremy Glaze, 29, of Hamilton, and a woman were found slumped over on a front porch. Glaze was transported to the hospital where he died. The cause of death for all three is pending, according to the Butler County Coroner’s Office. The average age of the deceased: 26.
The Shuemakes were told that marijuana and opiates were found in Alison’s system. In her obituary that appeared in Friday’s Journal-News, it said she died of a heroin overdose, a bold statement her parents hope sends a message around Middletown, which is grappling with a heroin epidemic.
On Friday, Dorothy and her husband, Fred, a retired detective from the Middletown Division of Police, agreed to share their story in hopes of keeping other parents from walking the same journey. Their kitchen was a shrine to Alison, their only child together, as the counters were lined with family photos, academic certificates and her 2014 Marshall High School diploma.
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Alison attended Middletown High School, then finished at Marshall. She graduated last December, completing a trip that drugs nearly detoured.
“It had been such a struggle to get her there,” her mother said. When her daughter graduated, “there was hope for the future. Now she had that pass to the world.”
Now her parents are left with only memories and lots of questions about why their daughter — a talented singer, athlete and band member who worked two jobs — couldn’t beat the addictions that eventually killed her. They said Alison had been in rehab and appeared to be clean for the past several months.
Then she started using heroin again, a deadly mistake.
Her father said addicts, once they leave rehab, sometimes return to the same lifestyle.
“They feel really comfortable,” Fred Shuemake said of recovering addicts. “Then…” He snapped his fingers.
Drugs made Alison feel different, pain free, her mother said.
“She pushed away from her friends and the activities she loved so much and school she was so good at,” her mother said. “We tried everything. We exhausted every avenue. We tried counseling, we tried rehab. We have prayed so much I wonder if God is tired of listening.”
“She pretended she was happy. And she pretended she liked the smoking and the drinking, but it didn’t make her happy. She could see all the things she lost,” Dorothy McIntosh-Shuemake said. “Her doctors fought for her. Her counselors fought for her. We don’t think she meant to die. She felt invincible like 18-year-olds are supposed to feel.”
And now, ironically, her parents are the ones feeling the pain.
“I don’t want this to happen to another child or another mom and dad,” Dorothy said through tears. “There can’t be anything worse. We have suffered losses before. I didn’t know that I’d never hold my baby again. I didn’t know I wouldn’t hear her call me mom again.”
She paused, took a sip of water, and added: “My heart is broken forever. I don’t know how to get through this.”
She lowered her head and wiped away the tears: “I’m sorry.”
Allie and her parents had talked about the dangers associated with drugs, especially heroin. She knew the risks. The addiction was too strong.
Her mother said: “She just wanted to get high and feel good for a little bit. Or feel nothing.”
Now, the Shuemakes are understanding, they’re members in a fast-growing club: Parents who lose children to heroin.
Since Alison died last week, everywhere they go, they’re told another tale about a tragedy.
“Everybody knows somebody who has died,” Fred Shuemake said. “It’s incredible.”
Do they ever think about what they could have done, could have said, to keep their daughter alive?
“Every minute,” Dorothy said. “Every minute. I don’t know yet. I’m still begging for answers.”
“I’ve wracked my mind about that,” said the detective, who retired three years ago. “I don’t know what we could have done to change this.”
In the end, there was little, or nothing, the Shuemakes could have done. They raised her the best they could. She was an adult.
“She made a choice,” her mother said. “She was choosing to drink and smoke pot. We don’t think she chose to die, but she made choices that killed her. Allie had lots of family who loved her, interacted with her, supported her and cared for her. She had all the advantages a kid could want and this still happened.”