Those who cherished Branford native Scott Bottomley, who died tragically in 2016, have had their hearts broken, yet again. Just weeks before the first anniversary of his death, an act of vandalism smashed and ruined the granite seat of Bottomley's memorial bench. The bench had only recently been installed and dedicated at a Bottomley's favorite spot on the Stony Creek Trolley Trail.
Bottomley's mother, Judy Janiak, said she was contacted by police to notify her of the damage, which apparently took place on Sunday, September 3 and was later discovered. The vandalism included busting the granite bench in two and pulling out plantings at the site. Janiak said she intends to restore the bench, whatever the cost.
By the afternoon of September 5, family friend Melissa Nelson had joined in the effort to bring the bench back. Nelson initiated an online GoFundMe memorial campaign, "Bottomley's Bench." The campaign has quickly gained on its $3,000 goal. Visit the fundraising site here
Installed just over a month ago, the bench was a "labor of love" said Janiak. It was the result of months of effort beginning shortly after her son, 33, passed away on September 24, 2016. What made the bench and its setting so poignant and important to Janiak is that it not only honors the life of her son, but serves to remind those who knew him about what took his life – a drug overdose, following years of opiate addiction.
"If it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone," said Janiak.
In an effort to show support of the need to spread the word, Janiak took part in International Overdose Awareness Day in Branford on August 31, just days before the vandalism occurred. The small gathering on the town green, one of thousands held nationwide, was organized by All Things Recovery of Branford.
Back in November, 2016, Janiak sought and received permission from the Town of Branford and the Branford Land Trust to donate and install the bench at a small outlook on the Stony Creek Trolley Trail. A little over a month ago, family and friends gathered for a sunset dedication of the inscribed pink granite bench, anchored on one side by a large, natural boulder of the same stone.
"The bench was just beautiful -- it blended into the environment," said Janiak. "It was a favorite spot of his. It was a place of peace. I've heard people would go there and say they felt really good. I think people get inspiration from it."
A few weeks back, Janiak submitted a "thank-you" letter to local newspapers, recognizing the efforts of all involved to bring about the bench.
"Everyone was wonderful in helping us," said Janiak, who thanked Stony Creek Quarry's Rick Atkinson and Stacy Mancini for helping with design and granite selection, as well as thanking the Branford Land Trust, the Town of Branford, and Branford Public Works for assistance with installation.
In her letter, Janiak described her son, a Branford native, as "...a warm, vivacious, and caring human being with so much more to give this life. He was a college graduate with a degree in Nursing; and also a very gifted musician. A good friend to many and a loving son, brother and uncle," as well as "...a casualty of the terrible opiate epidemic that is going on in the United States today."
Bottomley had enjoyed a ten-year career at Yale-New Haven Hospital as a Registered Nurse before knee problems, which had required numerous surgeries beginning at age 11, caused him to go out on medical leave and undergo a final, unsuccessful surgery. Janiak said following that surgery, "...he was told there was nothing else they could do for him." He then left his work due to the disability. It was during that period, two years before his death, when his addiction issues began and progressed to heroin use. Janiak said her son had also sought and received treatment that was showing success; and that he was considering studying for his Masters of Nursing to become a nurse educator, when he relapsed and died from an overdose.
The dose which took Bottomley's life was subsequently determined to be "all Fentanyl," said Janiak.
Fifty times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, Fentanyl is causing an epidemic of overdose deaths in Connecticut and across the country. In April of 2016, Branford/Guilford State Representative Sean Scanlon (D, District 98) gathered local opioid abuse forums to warn of the issues and discuss solutions. He also shared some frightening statistics: overdose deaths rose by 27 percent statewide in 2015, claiming the lives of 723 people. Of those, 450 died from heroin and 107 from fentanyl. Scanlon compared those numbers to 2012 figures of 86 overdose deaths statewide and one death from fentanyl. Scanlon co-sponsored 2015 state law requiring prescriber education on prescription drug abuse; targeting "doctor shopping" for prescription drugs, and allowing pharmacists to prescribe anti-overdose drugs over the counter. In 2016, Scanlon wrote and sponsored legislation making Connecticut the second state in America to limit first-time opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply. Scanlon also spoke at the August 31 event on the Branford green. Janiak said she wished more people had come out to attend the event.
Knowing her son followed a path which began at prescribed opiates and eventually led to an overdose death, Janiak said more people need to recognize the dangers and that there is still a "stigma" attached to overdose deaths which needs to end.
"I think it's really important to share his story, especially with the stigma attached to it," she said. "At his funeral, we made of a point of saying, 'This can happen to anybody.' I think too many people try to hide it; and that's not helping anyone at all."
While Janiak is confident the bench memorializing her son's life will be restored, it's upsetting to know it won't be in time for the first anniversary of his passing later this month.
"There's no way it will be fixed by his anniversary," she said. "It's a thick piece of stone and you can tell someone kicked at it ... a couple of people have said somebody had to have a sledge hammer. I just can't believe anyone would do that. But it was a place where Scott visited often, and we're going to have it redone again."
Addiction/Substance Abuse Services are available from the State Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services website here or by calling (860) 418-7000.
Reporter's note: This article was updated to clarify when Bottomley's issues with opiate addiction began.