CINCINNATI — Sunday evening in Stanberry Park, lit candles glowed brightly, each representing a life that was snuffed out too soon from opioid addiction.
The Mt. Washington Park filled with advocates, resource tables, family and survivors for a program called Light of Hope, aimed at providing education and hope.
A board with the photos of family members taken too soon, a booth teaching people how to use Narcan, counseling services and more were available for anyone interested in learning more about the high human cost of addiction in Cincinnati -- and how to fight to overcome it.
"It's heartbreaking, when I look up there and see all these faces," said Lauren Cutter, referring to the poster board of photos.
"She was the most beautiful woman in the world to me," Cutter said of her mother, Cindy McCormick, who died of an overdose in February. Cutter said she's working to find all the resources she can to both help her family through the loss and to help others before they lose someone too. "She was really loud when she entered the room. She loved her family, loved her children. She liked the Steelers."
For Cutter and her family, living through the stigma of addiction has been its own struggle as well.
"My mom died. I didn't want to share how she died," she said. "She died on February 6th of this year. But now I'm getting stronger. Able to tell people she died of addiction. I'm not ashamed of that."
Her mother became addicted to Percocet after a surgery in the summer of 2018 before dying of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl, Cutter said. She left behind Cutter, a 28-year-old son and a 10-year-old child. She would have celebrated her 50th birthday in August.
Her story is similar to many others across the Tri-State region, and events like Light of Hope work to break down the stigmas of addiction so loved ones don't have to feel shame after losing someone, and so conversations can begin.
Newtown police chief Tom Synan, with the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition said there's one key thing this event and many others want to provide those who attend looking for answers:
"Hope," he said. "There's a lot of times in this epidemic that you feel helpless, you feel hopeless. When you bring a community together and talk out in the open about these issues, it brings you hope that people can recover."
Patty Reed, organizer of the event, said she's driven by the constant heartbreak the opioid epidemic has inflicted on the Greater Cincinnati region.
"What drives me is that I got to the point in my life where if I had to say 'I'm sorry for your loss' one more time, I was just going to fall apart," Reed said. "I just got tired and decided I've got to do something...to raise awareness so people will reach out and say 'help, I need hope, is this even possible?' We're here to show people there is hope. Recovery is possible."
Cutter said, for her, it's important to share hope with those struggling with addiction, and to reconsider judging people who struggle with addiction every day.
"She didn't mean to hurt me," she said. "I know she didn't mean to hurt me or my family...she didn't mean to die."
Another event, where addiction resources will all be together in one place for those who need, will happen on Sept. 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hamilton County Justice Center.