CINCINNATI – With MaryAnn Landers dead and Wesley Landers in jail from a heroin overdose at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the grandparents of a 7-month-old girl and her sister are their new caretakers, police said.
The grandparents were in Cincinnati Friday, and Chief Tom Synan of the Hamilton County Heroin Task Force said he expected the grandparents had a tough road ahead – not just in caring for the young girls, but also in having to explain what their parents did.
"Within a second (the grandparents) are now the parents,” Synan said. “So, they're going through the whole process again and one day they'll have to explain to that child what happened to their family -- what happened to their parents -- and why they're raising them."
MaryAnn Landers was found dead of an overdose in her daughter's hospital room Thursday. Wesley also overdosed but survived and was charged with several drug and weapon crimes after police found a loaded gun and syringes in his pockets, they said.
"I don't think I'm necessarily shocked as much as I am heartbroken and frustrated," Synan said. "It is frustrating that this epidemic is so invasive that people are doing it wherever and whenever they need it. It's sad and it's frustrating that it happened in the location it did. It's sad that it happened in front of the child."
For the girls, there could also be risks down the line, according to Georgiene Getty of GLAD House, a certified mental health and prevention agency for children.
"What we know for certain is that people are much more likely to use if they have a genetic predisposition for [addiction] or if they're in that environment, and these kids have clearly had access to both,” Getty said.
Synan said he hoped Landers would be able to “overcome his demons and create a loving and structured situation.”
“If that can't happen, then my prayer for the family is that someone can raise that child in a loving and structured environment," he said.
These kinds of problems with parents struggling with heroin and using it in close proximity to their children are becoming increasingly common for first responders to see, according to Synan.
“You're not only dealing with the death that it's front of you -- you're now working a case -- but from the human side, from the compassionate side you're dealing with kids that don't have a parent anymore within an instant,” he said. “Often, they're so young that they can't even comprehend what's going on. You look at the future and know that their lives are changed forever.”
At GLAD House, it’s not unusual to see children who are in the care of their grandparents or other relatives after losing their parents, Getty said. The organization is trying to reach children before they ever try heroin – 13 is the average age of first use, she said – and “give them the toolbox they need to make the right decisions before it becomes an issue in their adolescence.”