NOPE candle light vigil at Hillsborough remembers those lost to addiction

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It’s dark outside as hundreds of people circle the flagpole on Hillsborough’s front lawn, unlit candles in hand. Uniformed police officers make their way around the circle, lighting candles as somber music plays over large speakers.

Hillsborough hosted the Hillsborough chapter of the Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE) Task Force’s annual Candle Light Vigil on Oct. 30, memorializing those who have died due to drug overdoses.

Hillsborough was chosen as the venue after NOPE task force member and alumna Cathy Valdes contacted Principal Gary Brady. “[We started this event] to remember those who have passed away from overdose and to give hope to those still struggling with addiction,” Valdes said.

The auditorium lobby was filled with pictures of people who passed, accompanied by notes from loved ones on displays. After viewing the memorial walls, attendants listened to speakers like former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor.

“The organization is really trying to get information out there and influence kids to stay away from alcohol and drug use,” Castor said. “I applaud the efforts of NOPE, especially in this day and age with the return of heroin. Hopefully, we will be able as a community to make a difference.”

Lynne Knowles, president of the NOPE Hillsborough chapter, gave a speech while pictures her daughter were displayed behind her; Knowles’ daughter Jamie Godette-Church died of a heroin overdose four years ago, at age 23.

“If you’re here tonight and you’ve lost someone, my heart is with you,” Knowles said in her speech. “There is hope and there is help for all of us who are suffering. Lift your voices up. Let it be a voice of change.”

Recovering addict Tom Wentz addressed the crowd, telling them about his struggles with drug addiction. “I could’ve easily been one of the statistics. I’ve seen a lot of tragedy over the years,” Wentz said. “I’ve seen people die with my own two eyes.”

Later in the year, NOPE will return to Hillsborough to give an anti-drug abuse presentation for students. “We’re just losing too many of our young people to these situations,” AP Mick Boddie said.

The vigil ended with the sound of chimes being played over the speakers. The lawn emptied slowly, the crowd fading out with the audio.

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