Hope DeHart should have hit rock bottom a year ago.
It should have come that day her methamphetamine use landed her in a motel room with sketchy strangers.
When she was shot in the head, then dumped like trash at the end of a dead-end road.
When she was taken by helicopter to a Fort Worth hospital to begin an extraordinary recovery that even doctors were not expecting.
But happy endings don’t come easy for drug addicts.
In the year since her shooting, DeHart, 19, still suffers from seizures. She’s smoking marijuana again. She’s had brief relapses with alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamine — a highly addictive drug that led her down a path of self-destruction.
Hope’s heard the questions and is quick to answer.
“Why? How in the hell? Why would I put that stuff in my body after everything … in my life that I’ve gone through. How in the hell could I smoke that s---?
“Because it’s that powerful,” she says.
‘I’ll try anything once’
Growing up on Fort Worth’s west side, Hope described her childhood as ordinary.
“I always lived in a nice house with my parents. My parents always made really good money ... I had a good life, I never knew what struggle was, ever,” she says.
She also learned from an early age about the dangers of drugs. Her parents, Paige and Randy DeHart, are recovering addicts who work as drug counselors.
She says there was nothing that steered her toward substance abuse, but by age 12, she was experimenting: drinking, smoking marijuana and popping pills.
When she accompanied her mother to some 12-step program meetings in her early teens, she made a commitment to become sober, basking in the attention she received at those meetings. She says she did stop for about 15 months before beginning again.
“I always listened to what they said so I could talk a good talk in those rooms,” Hope recalls. “I always knew you can’t make an addict want something that they don’t want. Especially recovery.”
Her downfall would come at age 17, when, while hanging out with a guy from Fort Worth’s south side and his older friend, she was introduced to meth.
“They both were doing it. They asked me if I wanted to do it. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll try anything once,’ Hope recalls. “And so I did it.
“And I loved it.”
‘Selling myself for dope and money’
Meth quickly sent Hope on a downward spiral.
Within days, she had moved out of her parents’ house and in with the guy with whom she had first used meth.
Though she returned home in a couple of weeks, the drug’s siren call soon had her hopping on a bus to the north side to visit a girlfriend who she knew was a meth user.
“The thing about meth is once you try it, it’s always going to sneak back up on you and tell you: ‘Come do me again. You know you want to,’ ” Hope says.
She did want to, and she was willing to do anything to get it. For the next year, she says, she lived on the streets of north Fort Worth.
“I was a prostitute walking the streets, selling myself for dope and money,” she says.
She lost close to 90 pounds, ditching food and sleep; staying high was all that mattered.
“I would go about 11 to 14 days without sleep, without eating,” she says. “I would call my mom, come home, eat and sleep for two days, then be back at it.”
She didn’t think twice about following the same road her parents had traveled, seduced by the carefree feeling that came with each high.
“I always just thought: ‘I just want to have fun. I’m young, I don’t care. Why should I?’”
Paige DeHart tried to get her daughter into rehab. She begged Hope to stay at home, once calling police after confronting her at a nearby drugstore where Hope was waiting for a ride.
“I’m up there just cussing her out, saying the ugliest things I could think of to say to her,” Hope recalls. “She ended up calling the police. The police told me …, ‘Go home or we’ll take you to jail.’ ”
Hope relented and went home that night, but in a fit of fury broke out a glass pane of a door, cutting a scar that she still bears. Hope’s mom called the police a second time.
“Those police came back and they put me in the back of their car and they prayed for me. They didn’t take me to jail,” Hope says. “That night, I went to sleep here and my mom prayed for me.
“But that didn’t keep me clean. That didn’t do it,” she says.
“… When you’re dealing with an addict that is walking the streets and is just strung out, and they’re dead set on getting high, there’s no stopping them,” Hope says. “They have to hit their own bottom. You can’t make them want it. They have to want it themselves.”
A rise and and another fall
For about nine months before the shooting, Hope managed to fend off meth for a while.
She started dating a new man. They moved in together and Hope found herself happy. She didn’t want, or need, meth.
But old temptations started to surface after she began working as a dancer at a north side bar.
“I started drinking a lot. When I started drinking a lot, there was a lot of men at the bar that would give me cocaine,” she says. “When I started doing the cocaine, I would start feeling the high that I would feel off of methamphetmine.
“I would start to remember that feeling and feel like, ‘Holy s---, this is kind of scaring me but I liked it kind of.’ I kind of felt like I’m playing with fire here but also that little demon inside of me liked that I was playing with fire.”
Hope made good money working as a dancer and soon began frequenting game rooms, filled with eight-liners and trouble. Hope ran into an old friend who soon introduced her to a man named Hernaldo “David” Gonzales.
Hopes says it was with Gonzales when she began using meth again. And it was Gonzales with whom she later went to a hotel near Lake Worth, to hang out with an escort whom he had just met through Facebook.
When loaded on meth, Hope says, she had no fear of strangers.
“I would meet people in a game room and take off and go hang out with them for days at a time. People that I had just met,” Hope says. “You don’t know who the hell they are. They could be someone that murdered their entire family and you don’t even know it.”
A near-death encounter
On Aug. 3, 2015, in Room 212 of Comfort Suites motel just off Loop 820, Gonzales and the escort, Joan “Mandy” Garcia, shot Hope in the head, police allege.
Motel surveillance cameras captured video of Gonzales walking with an “obvious body” — covered only partially by a white comforter — draped over his shoulder as he and Garcia made their way along a hallway toward the motel’s exit at 5:28 a.m. Aug. 3.
Police say the two thought that Hope was dead when they drove her to the end of a dead-end road next to the QuikTrip in the 3100 block of Golden Triangle Boulevard, just east of Interstate 35W, and dumped her body.
Hope doesn’t remember the shooting, only patchy glimpses of being loaded into a helicopter ambulance and later waking up in the hospital.
“I think that if I remembered, I would be haunted by those memories everyday. I think it would be like a ghost that I have to live with,” she says. “… I thank God every day that I don’t have to remember everything that happened. He remembers for me.”
When shown the suspects’ mug shots from the newspaper article about their arrests, Hope says that at first she didn’t recognize Garcia, a woman she’d only known three days.
“I recognized him,” she says of Gonzales, “and I was like, he’s my friend. Why would he do that? I couldn’t believe he would shoot me because I remember he was my friend.”
Gonzales and Garcia remain in Tarrant County Jail awaiting trial on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Hope says that although she doesn’t know what prompted her shooting, she is convinced that drugs played the central role and that she needed to stop.
“It took getting shot in the head to be able to pump my brakes,” she says.
‘What the hell did I do?’
Staying clean and sober would be short-lived. She returned home from a rehabilitation facility on Aug. 31, but within a month she had started drinking and smoking weed.
“I always thought medication was making her want to lay down,” Paige DeHart says. “I didn’t catch on to it.”
When her parents eventually found out she had relapsed, they were shocked and mad. But tough love, they say, wasn’t — and still isn’t — the answer.
“People say why don’t you just tell her she can’t live with you if she’s going to smoke weed. It’s like ‘because she’ll leave,’ ” Paige DeHart says. “I’m not going to do that because when she’s in that state of mind of just having a reaction to someone trying to tell her what to do, she’ll do stupid things.”
The DeHarts did make one short stand, refusing to pay for Hope’s medical insurance as long as she was smoking weed. Hope’s boyfriend at the time picked up the payments for a while, but when he stopped, Mom and Dad gave in.
“The rubber met the road and I realized I’m going to pay for the insurance because I want her to have the insurance.
“… Someone asked me, ‘Do you think she’ll die if you cut her off?’ ” Paige DeHart says. “I do. I’m afraid she would.”
Hope says that when she relapsed with meth and cocaine, the regret was immediate.
“It was miserable when I did,” she says. “I stayed up all night laying in bed, didn’t sleep at all. I just laid there, thinking, ‘What the hell did I do?’ I’m lucky I didn’t stroke out and die. I laid there all night, wondering, ‘Oh my God, I hope I’m not going to have a seizure. I hope that I’m not going to die.”
Paige DeHart says drug addicts must battle what’s known as “euphoric recall.”
“That’s the whole thing with addiction is you remember the drug being way better than it really was and you absolutely forget about the bad part,” Paige DeHart says. “That’s a neurological thing that happens to people’s brains that have this.”
When Hope uses anything more than marijuana, seizures that plagued her roughly once every five to seven weeks suddenly occur twice a day.
“That’s been a good deterrent,” Paige DeHart says.
‘Your life is your family’
As of Friday, Hope hadn’t had a seizure since May 25. She hasn’t used any serious drugs or drunk alcohol since April 18, when she last used meth.
She’s eliminated several friends who made it too easy for her to fall into old habits.
“What I’m realizing is the only people you really have in this life and the people that are going to be there for you in your life is your family,” she says.
It’s a start, she acknowledges, but not a guarantee.
“I can’t even sit here and tell you I’m never going to smoke again. Because it’s probably not true. … I’m probably going to smoke meth again because I’m a meth addict and it sucks and I hate it.
“If there was one thing in my life that I wish I could take back, I wish that I had never ever ever smoked that stuff because it’s ruined my … life. It’s taken away so many things.”
His daughter’s willingness to talk publicly about her drug addiction initially left Randy DeHart struggling with a “shame attack,” he acknowledges. He says he grew up in a family “where you want to make everything look wonderful.”
“We want to believe we lived in a perfect world. It’s all Leave It To Beaver and stuff. That even though she was shot in the head, everything’s wonderful now,” Randy DeHart says. “The truth is, it’s all just a process.”
Paige DeHart says she focuses on giving her daughter acceptance and love and being patient with the process that her daughter is undergoing. She says she is confident that God didn’t save Hope only to let her fail now.
“I feel like we’re out in the ocean right now. … There’s waves always coming and we’re just really getting good really at surfing, just being able to ride the waves and not let it drown you,” Paige DeHart says. “… I feel that I’m like her swimming coach out there.
“I don’t think we’re waiting to be rescued like I had hoped. But I have faith we’re going to get to the shore.”
To chronicle the struggles of drug addiction, Hope DeHart has agreed to share her story in a video diary published periodically at star-telegram.com.