Candles glow in Mitchell Park for those who died of drug overdoses

On Friday the 13th, Reese Dunne lost a friend to a drug overdose and as she mourned him she learned of other overdose deaths in Greenport and Southold.

On Sunday night, what started as an Instagram post on Friday about the deaths turned into a well-attended candlelight vigil in Mitchell Park in Greenport in honor of the six North Fork and Shelter Island residents who died of overdoses in just the past week.

“My thought was that if we didn’t grieve as a community we would forget those who died too quickly,” she said as a crowd gathered in the park in front of the carousel.

Overhead, a robins-egg blue sky began to darken as candles were passed around for people to light and hold. In the background, the lights atop the ferry to Shelter Island glowed brightly in the dark.

“The idea behind the Instagram post was that I didn’t want to just move on; I wanted people to remember,” Ms. Dunne, of Southold, said. “We are a small community mourning the loss of friends and co-workers.”

The vigil began with Rev. Peter Kelley of the First Presbyterian Church in Southold reading a poem, On the Death of a Beloved, by John O’Donohue, which begins: Though we need to weep your loss/You dwell in that safe place in our hearts/Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

When he finished reading the poem, Ms. Dunne called for six minutes of silence – a minute for each of those who died. Silence fell over the crowd as candles glowed in the falling darkness.

Photos by Jeremy Garretson

Police Chief Martin Flatley said Saturday that it is believed the six who died, and two who survived, all used cocaine laced with fentanyl. As of Sunday evening, no arrests had been made, although several people in the park said talk in the village is that one Greenport resident has been questioned about the source of the drug.

In the crowd hugging his friends, Sterling Smiley said his cousin was one of those who died. He choked up as he pointed out a nearby man. “He lost his brother,” he said.

As for what has been described as a “bad batch” of cocaine, Mr. Smiley said, “I don’t think anyone knew what was in it. They didn’t know it was poisonous.”

After the six minutes of silence, Rev. Kelley said his sermon this morning in church was centered on the theme “when life tumbles in, then what do we do?” He said moving on after a tragedy is the hardest thing in life and one that challenges faith.

Those challenges are well known to Sabrina Crenshaw, who was seated on a bench during the ceremony, listening carefully and speaking with friends who said hello. She was born and raised in Greenport and now lives in Shirley.

She lost two sons to heroin overdoses – Andrew, 33, in 2015, and Gerald, 36, in 2020.

“What got me through was faith in God, and my family and friends,” she said. “For Andrew, he didn’t use drugs. He was sitting with friends and someone said, ‘hey, try this.’ ”

“This is very dangerous stuff,” the man seated next to her said. “It’s known fentanyl is put in other stuff and now it’s in cocaine. But these people, they didn’t know. It’s so deadly.”