Grief, graphics, and gratitude: finding purpose after a child’s death

by Mick Rhodes |

On Saturday, Karie Krouse will host a gathering for her daughter Chloe Kreutzer’s family and friends on the occasion of the third anniversary of her death, at age 14, from an accidental fentanyl overdose.

It’s a terribly sad story, one which I attempted to do justice to in my three-part 2021 series, “Forever 15.” Back then fentanyl was all over the national and local news. The incredibly potent synthetic opioid — 100 times more powerful than morphine — was tearing through communities, leaving thousands of dead teens in its wake.

Chloe was one of those kids. A rising Claremont High School sophomore, she was by all accounts not a serious drug user. Just one pill — a counterfeit Percocet she got from a supposed friend — was all it took.

Fentanyl’s gruesome march has only picked up steam since, despite federal, state, and local government efforts to both stem the tide at our borders and city limits, and legislation aimed at increasing sentences for smugglers and dealers. The LA County Department of Public Health’s latest report at shows fentanyl surpassed methamphetamine as the leading cause of accidental overdose deaths in the county in 2022. Overdose deaths in the U.S. topped 112,000 in 2023, the highest total in our history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Krouse said she knows who supplied the pill that killed her daughter. The young woman — a 2021 Claremont High graduate — admitted to her that she gave Chloe the pill, she said. Perhaps worse, the LA County Sheriff’s Department investigated her death, and according to Krouse, its detectives also know who supplied the pill, but told her they do not have enough evidence to convince the district attorney to take the case.

“There’s nothing on Chloe’s phone,” Krouse told me Wednesday. “There’s no transaction of money that we could print out. There’s just nothing on paper that can be used to bring to the DA to try to do anything about it. And all this girl has to do is say, ‘I lied. I didn’t really give her that. I just said that.’ And it would be thrown out.”

Meanwhile, Chloe’s mother sees the young woman posting on social media to this day.

“It is really disturbing for me to see she’s uploading new photos, and she’s happy as hell,” Krouse said. “And I’m just living a nightmare of hell every single day. I don’t think it goes away when you lose a child.”

A graphic image created by Karie Krouse depicting her late daughter Chloe Kreutzer in a graduation cap and gown. Chloe, who died of a fentanyl overdose on June 1, 2021, at age 14, was to be among those taking part in Claremont High School’s 2024 commencement on June 13. Graphic/by Karie Krouse

Her suffering was most acute during the months following Chloe’s death. Krouse spent a great deal of time in isolation, most of it in her bed, relying on her mother to keep her day-to-day life together. Dredging up the story in therapy and with support groups “killed me all over again,” she said.

After LA County Sheriff’s Department Detective Rick Eguia told the Courier in 2021 that the agency’s investigation into the incident was “ongoing, very active and very fluid,” Krouse was unmoved: “The ongoing investigation won’t do anything to help bring my child back,” she said at the time. “Nothing can fix my broken heart from this loss. I can only hope that her story can help save someone else’s life.”

It was a horrific time. She was overwhelmed with grief.

“I thought I was completely alone in this,” she said. “It just made absolutely no sense.”

Then, slowly, she began to emerge.

She found some comfort in a host of Facebook support groups for people who lost loved ones to fentanyl. And, naturally, she began looking through photos of Chloe. Through experimentation — with no prior experience in graphic design — she discovered she had a knack for enhancing photos and making new images through apps on her iPhone. Before long she began making tribute graphics of “angels” lost to fentanyl for other grieving parents and loved ones. She’s since created thousands of graphics for people around the world, including a recent image of Chloe in a graduation cap and gown — which she would have been wearing at Claremont High’s June 13 commencement — that accompanies this story.

“So many of the moms will say that it’s kind of the only thing that gets them by at that point, because we’ll never get any new pictures; there will never be any new photos,” Krouse said. “So, to see your child almost in any sort of way brings you some sort of comfort.”

She’s now a member or moderator of about 25 Facebook support groups. She has contributed to memory walls, and to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s “Faces of Fentanylexhibit in Washington, D.C.

Her most recent project was a collaboration with her friends at Missouri fentanyl activist group “Enough is Enough.” They worked together on hundreds of posters of young people lost to fentanyl that will be placed in seats as part of the August 18 Dodgers vs. Cardinals Major League Baseball game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

“And that’s actually Chloe’s birthday weekend, where she’d be turning 18,” Krouse said.

It turns out helping people through their darkest days helped Krouse find her way out of hers.

“Before, my purpose in life really was Chloe,” Krouse said, pausing to hold back tears. “She was like, all my happiness and just everything to me. But she’s not here physically anymore. But she has still been my purpose, but in a completely changed way, because now every day I do probably at least 100 graphics. I’m doing thousands a week for all these parents.”

I asked how her grief had changed over the three years since Chloe’s death.

“I don’t think that goes away. But I think … it changes with you,” she said. “They kind of become a part of you spiritually and you see a lot of signs that hopefully they’re sending.”

Chloe led her to begin creating graphics, she said, through such signs.

“It’s so therapeutic to me,” Krouse said. “And it’s really rewarding because some people have never had a graphic before, or seen this photo of their child that’s all messed up look clear and beautiful again. And they’re so thankful. A lot of times they’re crying when they get the graphic. It’s really rewarding.”

She has created many thousands of graphics now. Too many. But the gratitude she receives from other parents and loved ones who are only beginning their own journeys of loss and grief has helped her immeasurably.

“And it’s important to me to honor all these other angels, because it’s not just about Chloe.”

Since her daughter’s death, Krouse has hosted annual gatherings on or around June 1 to give her, her family, and a group of Chloe’s friends — most of whom, like Chloe, were rising sophomores in June 2021 and are now preparing to graduate — an opportunity to remember her. On Saturday, this group will gather again. It’s a lovely ritual, held at a friend’s home in San Dimas. There’s a pool, oodles of snacks and drinks, and wall with dozens of photos of Chloe from throughout all the stages of her short life.

How she finds the courage and strength to host these things I will never know. I doubt I’d be able if I were in her shoes. She’s made of powerful stuff.

I asked Krouse what she wanted people to take away from reading this story.

“Just to be really aware and please talk to your kids, because almost all of these parents would think, ‘Not my kid,’” she said. “It’s not even like that anymore. All it takes is them having one friend that they trust and it’s too late. Even if you gave me three hours, I couldn’t even tell you all the ways I’ve heard of this happening. It’s just … so dangerous.”

Krouse also wants people to know that anyone can walk into Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center’s Emergency Room at any time, 365 days a year, and get a free dose of the lifesaving opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan, with no questions asked.

“I would suggest that everybody has [Narcan on hand] just in case, because obviously we would have never thought that this would happen to 14-year-old Chloe. Not in a million years would I think anything like this would happen, at this age especially.”


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