ROANOKE, Va. - Theresa Henry wanted to come home.
She would call her mother and say, “Please get me home. I want to get home.”
Her mother, Patricia Mehrmann, spent weeks trying to coordinate how to get her 28-year-old daughter, who went by Tess, out of Las Vegas and back to Roanoke. Henry had gone to Las Vegas in February so she could go through a long-term treatment program for her opioid addiction. But the treatment didn’t work out.
Mehrmann told her daughter that all she wanted for Christmas was for her to get home.
But on Christmas Eve, Mehrmann received the kind of news she always knew was a possibility but hoped would never come. But she figured it would be a call about an overdose.
On Christmas Eve, a homeless man found her daughter’s unclothed body at the bottom of a trash bin in Las Vegas. She had been partially burned, plastic melted to her body, police said. She died of head trauma. Police are searching for her killer.
“What happened to my daughter, I’m beyond understanding why this happened to her in this way,” Mehrmann said. “How someone could do something like that to her?”
Henry had been wandering the streets since May after she abandoned treatment programs, her mother said.
Mehrmann said she kept her cell phone close so she wouldn’t miss any communications from her daughter. She always sent her reminders of how much she was loved and that her 2-year-old son couldn’t wait to see her again.
Henry assured her mother that she was a soldier, that she was tough and could hold her own in the streets. Mehrmann said her daughter never indicated to her that she was in any serious danger.
“She was the strongest soldier I ever knew,” Mehrmann said. “But I told her to be careful because even soldiers fall.”
Henry grew up in Roanoke, but went to high school at Cave Spring in Roanoke County. Mehrmann said she enrolled her daughter there because she was talented at basketball and wanted her to play on a good team.
Henry had been battling addiction since high school. Her mother said it started with cough syrup with codeine in it. Then she started experimenting with pills and other substances. Soon, she was hooked on heroin and methamphetamine.
Henry tried a treatment program in Galax, but it didn’t work out. Mehrmann and Henry’s father found the long-term program in Las Vegas that included transitional housing. After that program also didn’t work out, Henry went to another 30-day program, which she completed.
Everyone thought it was best that Henry come back to Roanoke to regroup and find a new treatment program. Getting her home also presented challenges. A bus ride would take days, and she would begin detoxing. They were trying to find a direct flight from Las Vegas to Roanoke.
“I’m just at a loss for the ending of her story,” Mehrmann said. “She didn’t get another chance to fight her way out of this disease with the support here.”
Mehrmann said if there is anything positive to come from what happened to her daughter, more people will talk about the struggle of addiction. She’s hopeful that as more people talk about what they’re going through or families talk about the loss of a loved one, the stigma will be reduced and more promising solutions to the opioid crisis will emerge.
She said her daughter knew people judged her for her addiction and looked down on her losing custody of her son.
“People like Tess, I see her as one of the strongest women I can ever imagine,” Mehrmann said. “Not just because of the struggles of living on the street, but because when you come from an addiction like that and are around people who look down on you because of your disease, she still walked among them and held her head high. There were so many times I was with her and I knew the smile on her face was not a real smile. I knew the comments people made caused her pain. But she would be silent and smile through it.”
Mehrmann expects her daughter to return home in the next few days for her funeral.
“She’s a beautiful person who suffered from a horrific disease,” Mehrmann said. “Addiction is not something people choose. People don’t want to shoot up and live in the streets and be hungry. That’s not a dream. It’s an addiction, a disease. And it’s one of the hardest diseases to fight.”