OLDENBURG, Ind. -- Josh Brabender was the middle child of his family. He was charming, his father said, and was the funniest person no matter what room he was in.
As a boy, Josh loved being in nature. His dad took him camping even when he was an infant, and his whole childhood revolved around exploring.
"He'd leave the house at 9 o'clock in the morning and play in the woods until five o' clock at night," dad Todd Brabender said. "We'd check on him, but he loved being outdoors."
That funny, charming child began to change when he started high school. Josh started experimenting with drugs, his dad said. Eventually, prescription pain pills led to heroin, taking Josh into the cycle of addiction.
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"He would work sometimes eight, nine, 12 months at a time -- clean, showed up for work every day," Todd Brabender said. "But then the relapse would come, and I could never explain why. In fact, Josh could never explain why."
His time in and out of rehab didn't work. On Jan. 2, at 1:37 a.m., Josh Brabender died, quietly and surrounded by family. Josh had overdosed 48 hours earlier.
At 24 years old, he left behind two sons, one of them not yet born.
"Heroin wrapped itself around his neck like a python," his dad said, "until it eventually strangled the life out of him."
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Todd Brabender, a religion instructor, wrote a letter to his eighth-grade students at Holy Family Church in Oldenburg, telling them about his son's life and death. The message is simple: By helping them get to know Josh -- then have them know the loss and pain caused by his death -- Todd Brabender hopes they'll think of his son and make the right decision.
"We want to get the message out and try to find some sort of silver lining in this tragedy," he said.
Read Todd Brabender's entire letter below: