Becky Savage found her sons Nick and Jack dead in her home on the same morning after they experimented with oxycodone.
Dana Hunsinger Benbow, email@example.com
GRANGER — There were chores to do that Sunday morning and Becky Savage had started them. She was plucking up pieces of clothes strewn about the house — a house full of four boys — to load a heap of laundry into the washing machine.
Becky headed to her son Jack’s room to gather what she could and to start rousting him awake. “It’s time to get up. Dad has things he wants you to help with,” she said to him. “Jack, it’s time to get up. He wants you and Nick to help him.”
Jack kept sleeping, the way 18-year-old boys will do. Becky looked at him lying there in bed so peacefully. She doesn’t remember much about that morning, so much of it is a blur, but she recalls this clearly.
“I remember looking at Jack and thinking, ‘He’s just such a beautiful kid. He looks like an angel sleeping,'” Becky said. “Little did I know what the prophecy of that thought would hold for me that day.”
‘I made eye contact with them’
Saturday had been busy. Jack and his older brother, Nick, 19, had gone that morning to the job they shared moving furniture for a motor home manufacturer.
After their shift, the two standout hockey players — Nick, the quiet rule follower and Jack, the silly one who always had a smile on his face — got haircuts. They had a big night ahead, lots of graduation parties to attend.
At home, freshly showered and dressed, they joined their mom to attend a few of those parties together. Their dad, Mike, had taken the two younger boys, Justin and Matthew, to the family’s lake house to fish.
Later that night, Becky hugged her two oldest boys as they headed to another party. “Be home at a reasonable hour,” she told them. Becky didn’t go. She had grocery shopping to do, then she went home to wait up for her sons.
Just like clock work, Nick and Jack sauntered in that night on time as they always did, a little after midnight. They checked in with their mom.
“I made eye contact with them,” Becky said. “We had a 2-story foyer and I remember them coming in and I was looking at them and they headed into the kitchen to make a snack.”
Becky turned her light off and went to bed. Their late night snack finished, Jack went to his room and Nick, along with a few friends, headed to the basement.
Chills through her body
The more Becky looked at Jack that next morning, the more her concern grew. This wasn’t the typical scenario of not being able to get a teenager up.
She walked to his bed and nudged him, then tugged at him. Nothing.
Becky screamed for Nick to come upstairs from the basement. “I need your help! Nick! Help!” She ran to grab her cell phone and called 911, then rushed back to get Jack out of bed. She laid him on the floor and started CPR.
While tending to Jack, she was still screaming for Nick. He was the oldest, the calm, collected one, even at 19. She needed him.
Paramedics rushed into Jack’s room and then one of them, just as quickly, left.
“Where are you going? Why are you leaving him?” Becky yelled as he rushed out of the room. “He’s a fighter. What are you doing?”
The next thing that happened is one of those bits and pieces Becky remembers from that terrible morning. It sent chills through her.
The paramedic who’d left Jack’s room returned. “We need a coroner,” he said.
“What?” Becky thought. “That doesn’t make sense.”
He hadn’t even been near Jack.
‘They experimented last night’
Becky had no idea, but at the same time she was calling 911 for Jack, those friends down in the basement had found Nick, just as Becky had found Jack — unresponsive.
The calls came in to dispatch, two different calls from the Savage house for two different young men.
“It was just a horrible, horrible morning,” Becky said, “that still doesn’t seem real.”
Becky didn’t even make a move for the basement when she realized what was going on. Her world was crashing in on her. Two of her boys not waking up? She didn’t want to see Nick like she was seeing Jack.
“I wanted to remember him the way I saw him the day before, the smile,” she said. “And he gave me a hug before they left to go to the graduation party.”
Just as the horror set in, her mind switched gears. What had happened in her house? Was there a gas leak? She couldn’t stop screaming. What happened?
One of her sons’ friends turned to Becky: “They experimented last night… with oxy.”
Oxycodone. Becky was a nurse. She needed someone to give them Narcan, a medication designed to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. She started asking the first responders if they had any.
They just looked at her. It was too late for Narcan.
Nick and Jack Savage were pronounced dead inside their home on June 14, 2015.
‘They just didn’t know’
It’s been four long years and Becky still thinks about it every single day. Someone showed up to that graduation party with a bottle of prescription pills in their pocket. Becky doesn’t want to know the details of who had them or what transpired that night.
“I haven’t asked,” she said. “Nothing will ever change the outcome of that night and I can’t beat myself up over details of wanting to know. I have to focus on things I can change.”
She does know that Nick and Jack drank alcohol that night, which she believes impaired their decision-making and prompted them to try the pills.
The Savage family story struck a nerve in the community. Parents were terrified. If this could happen to Nick and Jack — star athletes with good grades who went to church and volunteered — it could happen to any of their kids.
Some people have asked Becky how she has managed to not point fingers or place blame.
“It is hard. I don’t think any good comes from blaming people,” she said. “Nick and Jack ultimately took them. It was their choice. It was an uninformed decision. They just didn’t know. I mean… they just didn’t know.”
Mike and Becky had talked to their boys about everything, all the stuff that they thought they were supposed to talk to their kids about — drinking, drinking and driving, illicit drugs, sex.
“But prescription drugs were not even on our radar,” she said. “Four years ago we had no idea that kids were even doing that.”
Now, it’s the Savages’ mission to make sure teens and parents know what they did not.
So no one has to live the nightmare they did — losing two beautiful boys on the same day.
The four Savage brothers
“Well, they’re all so different,” Becky said, when she’s asked to describe each of her four boys.
The question brings a sweet smile to her face. She’s sitting in the kitchen of her Granger home, an incredible look of peace on the face of a mother who has endured so much.
Nick was born Nov. 28, 1995: “Nick, I would describe as, he always seemed to follow the rules, was very studious and quiet but still liked to go have fun with his friends. He was a good friend, but more of the line follower.”
Jack, May 25, 1997: “Jack was a firecracker from day one. He always, always had a smile on his face, like every picture I have it’s just this big cheerful smile. He was more adventurous. He was a good friend, just really got along with anybody he came into contact with.”
Justin, Feb. 17, 1999: “He is a very soft-hearted kid. He is a good listener. He is a good friend, very adventurous, loves sports, of course, hockey.”
Matthew, Sept. 5, 2003: “He rounds out the group. He complements everybody, all of them wrapped into one. So we kind of got a bonus there. I see a lot of Nick and Jack in Matthew, which is nice.”
All the brothers liked to fish at the lake home, where the family spent summers. They liked to go tubing and wake surfing, anything to do with a boat. They liked dirt bikes, anything outdoors.
And all the boys played hockey. Mike had grown up playing the sport and as soon as the boys were old enough, he started taking them to the Ice Box, a skating rink in South Bend.
They dug in and learned how to skate, then starting playing Mini Mites, a hockey league for little guys.
“They became rink rats,” Becky said.
When Nick and Jack were old enough to try out for travel teams, they did, and made the Irish Rovers club. The family was in Chicago every weekend for hockey and they would travel the Midwest for tournaments, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland.
Nick and Jack both played forward, both wings. Sometimes, Jack would skate in at center.
The best years of hockey for Mike and Becky came when their two oldest were on the Penn High Kingsmen club hockey team.Their birthdays had never fallen where they could be on the same team until then.
“It was so awesome to see them on the ice together,” Becky said.
Mike and Becky have that image etched in their minds, their two boys playing the sport they loved.
So does their coach, Ryan Geist. He still cannot believe Nick and Jack are gone.
Family photo from six to four
He was out working in his yard that fateful Sunday. About 11:30 a.m. or noon, his phone rang. One of the players on the Penn hockey team called Geist. He told Geist what had happened.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I slumped in my chair in disbelief.”
Geist had coached Nick all four years of high school and Jack for his first three. These were good boys, players who never had a bad word to say about anyone, who accepted everyone, no matter their ability. They were the first to jump in and break up a fight on the ice.
And they were good. Really good. Nick and Jack didn’t just play locally. They were on teams made up of the best hockey players in the state.
“It became pretty obvious pretty quickly they were two guys other teams said, ‘We need to pay attention to those two,” Geist said.
They played hard; they played aggressively. Off the ice, they were such good boys.
When Geist heard what had happened, he wanted to know the circumstances. He had always spent a lot of time talking to his teams about making good choices.
“That was the unbelievable part of it, I guess,” he said. “How would those two guys end up in that position? That tells you how really strong peer pressure can be.”
He felt so terrible for Mike and Becky, two of the best parents he’d ever met.
“I can’t imagine what they are going through,” he said, “a family photo going from six to four.”
‘Just 10 seconds’
Mike is quiet and doesn’t talk much publicly about his sons’ deaths. But in a Facebook video he says something, in tears, a heart-wrenching outpouring of emotion.
“I often think what I would give up to just have 10 seconds,” he said. “You’d give everything up for 10 seconds, just 10 seconds.”
Mike rushed home that Sunday in June from the lake house. He didn’t know what had happened, only that Becky had gotten in touch with a neighbor at the lake who told him there was an emergency at home.
As his car pulled up into the driveway, Becky saw him and ran to the door and opened it. She was standing there as Mike walked up.
“They’re gone,” she told him.
Mike collapsed to the ground.
“What I explain to kids is not only does that decision in that time affect you but it affects all your friends and your family,” Becky said. “We have a lifetime sentence now because of choices that Nick and Jack made. And they would never want that for us, I mean ever.”
And so, a year after Nick and Jack’s deaths, a year of focusing on family and Justin and Matthew, Mike and Becky made a decision. They would take Nick and Jack on a journey with them — to tell the world their story.
This was Nick and Jack’s story, after all.
Jack wore the No. 5 hockey jersey and Nick wore No. 25. Becky saw a photo of her four boys, Jack and Nick side by side making the number 525, and decided to name the foundation after that.
The 525 Foundation, a not-for-profit, brings awareness to the dangers of prescription drugs and the importance of disposing of unneeded medication. Becky speaks all over the country telling the story of that Sunday morning she found her two boys dead in her home.
Every single time, as she stands on stage, she looks into the audience and says to herself: “There is a Nick or Jack out there somewhere.”
In the three years since she began speaking publicly, she’s been blessed to hear so many stories of making a difference.
Parents tell her their teens are coming home to tell Nick and Jack’s story and starting crucial conversations. Teens are changing party plans, prom plans, graduation day plans.
As part of a drive started by the Savages, partnering with other organizations, their community has collected more than 6,000 pounds of pills. Becky has worked to install permanent pill drop boxes — called Drop 2 Stop — in local Martin’s supermarkets.
Justin and Matthew love to see the impact their two older brothers are making, even though their deaths are still so painful. So raw.
“We were a very, very tight… we are still a very tight family, but we are missing a big chunk of it. A big chunk of our heart is gone,” Becky said.
The family talks about Nick and Jack every single day and, as time goes on, they find themselves laughing about the memories of them, more than crying.
The Savages live in a different house than the one where Nick and Jack died. They could never go back there to sleep.
“That house had so many good memories in it,” Becky said. “It had the very worst in it, too.”
And yet that awful memory, she said, in her mind has a silver lining.
“To think that Nick and Jack’s life would end the way it did on June 14 of 2015, that’s not the way their story is going to end,” Becky said. “Their story is going to keep going and they are going to make a difference.”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words of advice from Becky Savage
— “Go home and clean out your medicine cabinets, dispose of unneeded medication.”
— “Have those conversations. Conversations save lives. If we plant that seed, maybe it will grow.”
— Create an exit plan you can execute if your teen ends up in a situation they want to get out of. For example, have a code word they text so you know it’s time to go pick them up, no questions asked.
— Encourage kids to have a friend on the same page. “We forget as parents how hard it is to go against the grain of peer pressure. Have a friend to do it with you.”
— “If your kids call you to pick them up, don’t get them in the car and give them the riot act and ground them from their phones for two months. You are going to be disappointed, of course, it’s normal. But your kid did the right thing and they are still alive for you to talk to them about it.”