*WARNING*: This story contains graphic content not suitable for all readers
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — She looked so peaceful when she died, that her big brother thought she was asleep. But Isabella “Izzy” Blaettner had probably been dead for two days, alone in her car parked in a busy underground parking garage at Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Nine little pills were beside the 22-year-old as she lay ignored in her Hyundai Sonata. Later, her brother, Branden Blaettner, would find out the pills were fentanyl parading as oxycontin: the deadly little blue M 30 pills that have taken so many lives here and across the nation.
Blaettner called fentanyl “a storm that is brewing. It’s not going to let up and we need to stop it now.”
A phone call leads to a terrible discovery
A well-known performer here, Branden Blaettner said he knew his sister, who’d just graduated from PFW with a degree in psychology, liked to take pills and drink. She’d been in drug treatment in Auburn and planned to check herself in again.
The treatment center was the first place he checked when he got a call on April 20, 2021, from his father and stepmother to say they hadn’t heard from Izzy. Blaettner told his boss he was going to leave for a couple of hours because he was worried she was missing, and it was weighing on him.
Knowing that the rehab center in Auburn wouldn’t be able to tell him if she was there due to HIPAA laws, he drove up there himself to take a look and didn’t see her car. After he heard her phone had pinged at the sports complex at PFW, he checked there. The idea came to him that he should check the parking garages.
His little sister was in P2, the parking garage next to Walb Student Union.
“I drove all the way up and down and then headed to the underground. I thought the odds were low of finding her, but there was her car,” Blaettner recalled.
He quickly called his stepmother to tell her he’d found the car and then went to investigate and noticed someone was in the car.
“I thought, ‘Oh good, she’s here’ and so I went up to the door and knocked on it. She wasn’t waking up so I thought, ‘OK, I’ll try the door’. It was unlocked.”
“I opened the door and went to shake her awake and her entire body moved as one piece,” he said.
It wasn’t until after he called 911 that he started to sob. “I don’t know how I made it through that call,” Blaettner said.
Surrounded by cars, no one thought to check on her
The coroner said she’d likely been dead for two days, something that astounded Branden Blaettner because she was found on a Tuesday morning with cars parked next to hers. There had been cars parked around her for up to two days.
“Nobody thought to say anything. Nobody thought to check on her,” Blaettner said. But “in their defense, she did look like she was asleep, but still…”
Blaettner didn’t look at her face but said she looked very peaceful. “She was just slumped over like she fell asleep.”
For two months, while the family waited for the toxicology report, there were questions. Was it suicide? Was it an overdose? Did she have a heart attack? What was it?
At the scene, Blaettner got suspicious and told university police his family had found a Cash App transaction in her account.
“Drug dealers don’t use Cash App,” the detective told him.
“And I’m thinking, ‘yeah, they do’,” Blaettner said.
Blaettner felt like punching him in the face, he said. But overall, he said the interactions with Fort Wayne police and campus police were positive. After the call to his stepmother, Catholic priests came to help. Blaettner kept a grief pamphlet given to him by the Fort Wayne police for months.
Cash App payment found for $60
His sister, Bianca, contacted the owner of the Cash App account before Izzy was found on campus. The owner, who the family suspected was a drug dealer, told her he didn’t know anything.
“Well, she sent you money,” his sister continued. The man protested that all he sent her were weed vapes.
“The death certificate says accidental overdose. But in my mind, she was murdered,” Branden Blaettner said.
‘My sister was murdered’
“My sister was murdered and nobody will be held accountable for it. So that lane of closure is completely gone,” Branden Blaettner said.
Why his sister sought the solace of pills and wine is something he’s thought about.
“I think she felt too much, and because of that, she just needed some kind of outlet to shut her mind down,” Blaettner said. She had a great family and very supportive parents.
“I think it was just she felt too much. She always had a cause,” whether it was demonstrating during the Black Lives Matter protests downtown in May and June of 2020 or advocating for the disenfranchised.
“She took a lot of time working with the LGBTQ youth, especially trans. Her goal in life was to be a therapist, specializing in LGBT issues,” Blaettner said.
And she was looking toward the future. She was making arrangements to take a gap year, move to New Zealand and work as a bartender, before moving back to Fort Wayne to pursue a master’s degree.
“Any place there was a need, she was there,” Blaettner said.
Blaettner never goes anywhere without Narcan, the brand name for the nasal spray containing Naloxone that revives victims of opioid drug overdoses.
“I couldn’t save my sister, but maybe I can save somebody else,” he said.
He believes that if you think someone is using drugs, “be open about it. Tell them, ‘Hey, if you’re going to use, that’s fine, just be smart about it,” he said, adding parents suspecting their kids are using should put them into rehab.
Last year, 154 people died from a drug overdose in Allen County, according to statistics provided by Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department. The year before, when Izzy died, the number was 173. In 2013, when fentanyl first surfaced, fentanyl was found in 8% of drug overdose autopsy reports. Now it’s more than 75%.
Nationwide, the CDC reported 107,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021, a 15% increase from the year before. Drug overdose deaths from fentanyl more than tripled from 2016 to 2021. Data from 2022 is still pending.
For those who have lost loved ones to this scourge, Blaettner said it’s not worth beating yourself up.
“Don’t give yourself the woulda, coulda, shouldas, because that produces absolutely nothing but grief,” he said.
Izzy’s memorial service was held at Welch’s Ale House on her 23rd birthday on May 4, 2021. In his Fort Wayne home, her brother has many paintings, but none are more dear than a painting Izzy started and her Homestead high school teacher, Sarah Faith, finished.
Faith’s contribution was adding Izzy, walking down a narrow road, her arms outstretched for balance and a smile on her face. There are doors and windows and the sky surrounds her.
“This is only going to get worse,” Blaettner said of the epidemic. “You would think that drug dealers would not want to kill their customers. You would think they’d want to keep the money flowing in. It’s a bad business idea. I think that the government and law officials, running the full gamut, need to stop the use of fentanyl overall and all these other drugs that are popping up.”