COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. — Cynthia Wheeless called from the car. She had just picked up the last of her son's personal belongings.
"We got his phone," she said. "The texts I read were like, 'I love you, bro,' just checking on people."
That's just who Chase was, she said.
"All of his teachers that came to the funeral were like, 'I’ll remember that sweet gentle soul and that smile, he was always smiling,'” she recalled. "He loved everybody. He was just so sweet."
A screenshot from her phone proved it. One of the last texts she received from her son reads "mama I love you and thank you so much for everything you do for me. you're the best mama ever."
At the time Cynthia replied with a simple but true "I love you son."
She says the pandemic was hard for her social, happy kid.
“He was a big people person," she said, "so that was not good for him at all, to be isolated from everybody."
She says Chase turned to drugs, his addiction growing as he graduated from Harlem High School in Columbia County and left for Georgia College in Milledgeville.
“Chase was a good kid," Cynthia said. "He just he just went down the road you shouldn't go down, and there’s no coming back from it.”
After getting busted for buying drugs in Atlanta, Cynthia helped Chase check into Bridges of Hope rehabilitation center in Jackson County, Georgia.
“We had chase for eight months, I always say that," she said. "He was our Chase again, because he went to Bridges and he got clean.”
After, Chase moved to Florida to live at a sober living home. It's there that he relapsed and died of an overdose, becoming part of a heartbreaking trend.
“It was straight fentanyl," Cynthia said.
New data just released from the Georgia Department of Public Health shows fentanyl related overdose deaths in Georgia have increased 106% since the start of the pandemic.
The report also notes that between early February and mid-March 2022, at least 66 emergency department visits involved the use of cocaine, methamphetamine, crack, heroin, pain killers and cannabis products that were likely laced with fentanyl.
“It's in our area," Cynthia said. "That was one of the reasons chase wanted to get away, he just felt like he couldn’t stay in our area because it was so easily available to him.”
The GBI and Gwinnett County Sheriff's office just confiscated 125,000 doses worth of fentanyl.
A new national study found more than 2 million fentanyl-laced pills were seized by officials in the last quarter of 2021 alone.
“For the teenagers, don't try any drug," Cynthia pleaded. "Chase’s friends, I pointed to chase in the casket said, do not do this to your mother. I was a strict mom. We've got to crack down on the people selling these drugs. We've got to save these young kids.”
Cynthia continues to honor her son by raising money to pay the $800 a month rent for other kids at Bridges of Hope, the rehab facility that helped Chase.
Those who wish to donate can do so via the family's fund on Venmo, @WingsOfWheeless. You can follow the Wings of Wheeless Facebook page here.