Fort Worth

August 16, 2014

Heroin addict loses final battle in Fort Worth group home

Police believe the Aug. 10 deaths of Robyn Fulmer and her friend, Mandy Strother, are drug-related but are awaiting results of toxicology tests by the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office.

In recent years, Robyn Fulmer’s parents had watched their daughter go into drug rehab, only to be whisked back out a short time later.

“She begins to get the tools. She begins to talk about the forces of whatever the inner demons are that might help her get over it. Then the insurance says, ‘You’re fine, you’re done, get out,’ ” said her mother, Patty Shaw. “They’re right back to where they were.”

Insurance initially covered 30-day in-patient stays for Fulmer. Later it changed to about one-week stays — just long enough for Fulmer, a heroin addict, to go through withdrawal.

Each time, Fulmer, 24, emerged optimistic and hopeful. And each time, she eventually relapsed.

“Robyn wanted to quit. She tried. She told me, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be this way. I hate myself,’ ” said Shaw, a Terrell County resident. “She knew the pain she was giving people. She apologized to me. She said, ‘I am the way I am because of the drugs.’ ”

On Aug. 7, after her release from her latest rehab stay, Fulmer telephoned her father, Rich Fulmer, letting him know she was back at the Oxford House, a self-run group home for recovering addicts in Fort Worth. She was also considering moving back home with him to Wauconda, Ill.

“I want you to come home if you want to come home,” Rich Fulmer told his daughter. “Do what you need to do to win this battle.”

Three days later, she lost.

Police responding to a 911 call on the evening of Aug. 10 at the Oxford House found Fulmer and another resident of the group home, 40-year-old Mandy Strother, dead on a bathroom floor.

A resident had discovered the women’s bodies after becoming concerned that the shower had been running in the bathroom for an hour. The resident was able to unlock the door and found the women collapsed atop each other on the floor. A syringe lay nearby.

Homicide Sgt. Joe Loughman said investigators believe that both women’s deaths are drug-related but are awaiting toxicology test results by the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office for confirmation.

“The coroner told me in all of his years of doing this, he’s never seen two people overdose simultaneously,” Rich Fulmer said. “He suspects there was something in there that just took them instantly.”

Strother’s family declined to be interviewed.

Richard Fulmer said he and his ex-wife want to share Fulmer’s story in hopes of “saving some other parent’s baby.”

“Every time a child is putting a needle in their arm, it’s like they’re playing Russian roulette,” Rich Fulmer said. “Sooner or later, everybody is going to lose.”

‘I know she can beat this’

As a young child growing up in Illinois, Fulmer could be silly, her mother said, prone to wearing Sponge Bob slippers to school.

“She was a free spirit. She had a great sense of humor. She was just her own person,” her mother recalled.

She loved the Chicago Bears and Blackhawks. She enjoyed working at McDonald’s, and later Pizza Hut, because of the fast pace and getting to chat with the regulars.

“She just had a bubbly personality. She drew friends like a magnet. Everybody really loved her,” Shaw said.

But she began drinking and smoking pot in high school, and it later escalated to heroin use. Twice, Fulmer went to rehab in Illinois, only to fall back under the drug’s control. In the spring, she moved to North Texas, hoping for a new start.

“The whole reason we sent her out to Texas was to try to keep her away from her drug contacts here,” Rich Fulmer said.

At Right Step, a Euless treatment center, Rich Fulmer said a counselor was so impressed with his daughter’s determination that she lobbied for the girl to receive a “scholarship” that covered her stay for 30 days — far beyond what insurance was by then covering.

“She told me, ‘There is something in your daughter. There is a light inside of her. I know she can beat this. I will not give up on her,’ ” Fulmer said.

Fulmer completed rehab and moved into Oxford House West Creek.

“She did very well for the first 30 days but the first night ... where she didn’t have to come in for curfew, a friend she had met introduced her to meth,” Shaw said. “That put her right back down in a downright spiral.”

‘I relapsed’

Another stint in rehab ensued.

With no driver’s license, or car to get there, Rich Fulmer said his daughter couldn’t attend an outpatient treatment program while living in Texas but went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings with others at the Oxford House.

In late July, Rich Fulmer drove from Illinois to Texas, bringing along the family’s aging Australian Shepherd, Rocky, so that his daughter could spend one last weekend with her beloved dog.

“When I returned home, that same day, the dog’s breathing got so labored that we had to bring it to the vet, discovered she was full of cancer and had to put her down,” he said.

Rich Fulmer broke the news to his daughter July 27 over the phone.

“All she kept saying on the phone when I called to tell her that was she was so lucky to have me bring her down and she didn’t deserve me,” Rich Fulmer said.

The next day, his daughter called to say she’d had a relapse.

“I relapsed. I have got an hour to get out of the house. I’m not going to go on a binge. I’m going to go right back in. I’m learning from my mistakes,” Robyn Fulmer told her father.

It would mark her last time in rehab.

‘Precious waste of life’

For Shaw, the grief of losing her youngest daughter is overwhelming but not altogether surprising.

“I’ve been telling my boyfriend, ‘I’m going to bury my baby.’ For four years he said I’ve been saying that. ‘I’m going to bury my baby because I knew she wasn’t getting the help she needed,’ ” Shaw said.

Shaw said she believes there needs to be greater education in schools about the dangers of drugs.

“And that’s not in high school, that’s grade school,” Shaw said. “You need to start educating them in the early grades because the dealers know how to get to them — one time isn’t going to hurt. One time isn’t going to kill you.”

She and others would like to see insurance companies cover longer stays for those battling such serious addictions.

“They are treating crack heads and heroin addicts and meth users — the big boys — with a 30-day treatment program and shoving them back into society because that’s, quote, all the insurance companies are required to do,’” said Jesse Lolley, a family friend. “We’re middle class. We can’t afford $80,000 to send them to longer-term treatment centers.”

Rich Fulmer said he hopes other parents will heed his daughter’s story.

“This is such a precious waste of life. This was the best part of my day stolen from me, taken from me by a substance that I just wish we could uninvent. It is a disease,” Rich Fulmer said. “I just want her life to mean something. I want someone to stay closer to their child. When they think they’re smothering them, squeeze them even tighter. Make them aware that if you even try it — if you do it on a dare — you’re hooked.”

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