The 16-year-old Hamilton High School student who died Sunday morning from an apparent prescription drug overdose has been identified as Caden Fowler.
Fowler, a junior at the high school, was found dead at his home in The Arbors subdivision after emergency responders were called to the scene at 7:47 a.m. A second boy — a 15-year-old Hamilton High 10th-grade student — was transported by ambulance to Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and is recovering at a Missoula hospital.
According to Hamilton Police Chief Ryan Oster, the investigation is ongoing, so he didn’t want to make too much information available. He believes the teenage boys ingested prescription drugs, but is waiting for a toxicology report to confirm his suspicions.
“An overdose is what is apparent at this point,” he said. “We’ll be waiting on some lab work to come back and then investigate the circumstances.
“Our hearts go out to the families.”
An obituary for Caden Fowler, the son of Jeff and Brandi Fowler, noted that he “loved a good game of football, cooking with his mom and giving interior decorating advice.” He was “an aspiring graphic artist or would be selected in NFL draft” or become a rap artist. A celebration of his life is set for 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 8, at the Daly-Leach Chapel in Hamilton.
Brandi Fowler said that she’s been overwhelmed with the outreach and support from students and the community during this difficult time.
“This community is amazing,” she said. “I didn’t want to ask for help and a friend came and made me.”
She recalled Caden as the “light of my life,” a young man who was both funny and witty.
“Every picture of him shows the joy in his face,” she said between tears. “He was a good kid who just did something stupid. Caden didn’t want to die. He was just chasing a high and went too far. He had so many hopes and dreams.”
Brandi Fowler said she knows of many kids who buy pills off the street or get them through their parents’ medicine cabinets across Montana. She implores them to learn from her son’s death.
“I want to shock them and scare them to spare another mom from going through this horrible pain that’s not going to go away. It’s a void that you can’t fix,” she said. “It was an accident. He didn’t know what he was doing.”
Principal Dan Kimzey said students were visibly shaken this week, not just from Fowler’s death but also from a graphic posting on social media showing the scene as emergency officials responded. He said along with their two regular school counselors, other mental health professionals from schools throughout the Bitterroot Valley and Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital were at Hamilton High on Monday to help traumatized students.
“This particular incident, as terrible as it is, was really made much more challenging than most because of the social media blitz that started Sunday morning,” Kimzey said. “Basically, every kid who had spoken to counselors had seen photographs or some exposure through social media.”
Rumors popped up throughout the day, and the school spent a lot of time quelling them.
“It really made it a challenge for us to provide accurate information for the kids, and know what’s truly going on when there’s the constant rumor out there,” he said. “Mortality is really hard for teens in general. It’s an abstract concept, but for the brain to see something like that — it’s one thing to be provided with information, but to see it added a whole new level of grief.”
Overall, the implementation of the school’s overall crisis plan went well, Kimzey added. Counselors didn’t report any indicators or credible information of possible copycats, and Kimzey said they want students — and the Bitterroot community — to understand that prescription drug abuse isn’t just a problem in faraway, big cities like New York, but also here in Montana.
“If nothing else, this incident will bring that discussion to the forefront as a community, and not just for agencies that are in the business of helping kids, but for all agencies, from the judges on down,” Kimzey said. “A problem exists well beyond the school doors. It is a community problem that sneaks its way into schools because we have a lot of teens here.”
He’s reached out to high schools and secondary principals seeking information on what types of effective training students, parents and the community might undertake to prevent prescription drug abuse.
“We need to really get into the nuts and bolts, to let parents and staff get to know what we need to look out for,” Kimzey said.
Oster and Ravalli County Sheriff Steve Holton agreed that with tragedies like this, the entire community is devastated.
“It just hits home,” Holton said. “We’re sending prayers for the families involved and the other students. Something like this affects the whole community.”