While authorities have not yet confirmed a cause of death, they suspect it was heroin-related because paraphernalia associated with the drug was discovered in his bedroom.
“I was blind-sided,” said classmate Cassandra Panzarella. “You don’t expect people you know to be going through this and you don’t expect it to be happening to your community.”
“What I remember is he was a good, caring guy that could make everybody laugh,” said Jonathan Humphreys. “We always had fun with him.”
In honor of their friend, Chris Merkes and Jonathan Humphreys created a Facebook group they call “Open Hearts, Open Eyes.”
“We’ve had so many deaths in our community and we decided we want to take action,” said Humphreys.
There have been seven confirmed heroin-related deaths in Naperville since January, 2011, several of them Neuqua students and many more have been arrested for drug use. Merkes and Humphreys say open hearts, open eyes is a movement towards stopping this heroin epidemic.
“We want to spread awareness, support, as well as prevention to create a safer, healthier, happier community,” said Humphreys.
The co-founders started the group shortly after Kacena passed away and within 24-hours, it grew to more than 3,000 members.
“I was going to be happy with like 400 or 500 people,” said Merkes. “When we created this, I had no idea that there were so many passionate people about stopping this.”
The group aspires to become a not-for-profit in the near future. And though their efforts won’t ever bring back their friend, they’re determined to share the voice of a younger generation, a voice they hope is heard throughout Naperville and around the world.
The group is open to the public and the co-founders encourage anyone to join in their cause. You can do so by searching “Open hearts, open eyes” on Facebook.
NCTV17's Kevin Machak Reports.