Ceremony held to dedicate bench built for teen overdose victim
Friends and family of a teen overdose victim gathered alongside members of a local church Tuesday evening to dedicate a small bench built to help people remember and recover from the heartbreak of drug addiction.
“The memorial is the combination of two things,” said Father Marc Dunaway of the St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Chugiak.
In May of 2017, the body of 19-year-old Zachariah Schneider was found on the site near South Birchwood Loop, a small gravel pullout that’s owned by the church. Police said he died of a drug overdose and had been left there by others. Two people were charged with tampering with evidence for allegeldy leaving Schneider on the ground alongside the road.
“One, of course, is this is where Zachariah’s body was found,” Dunaway explained to the two dozen people in attendance at the Tuesday ceremony. “It became a memorial site for his family and friends — his mom, his grandfather. At the same time, we had a young man in our church who wanted an Eagle Scout project to build a bench on church property.”
Dunaway said the two ideas were combined into one, and earlier this summer the bench and a small covered area were constructed by local college student Stephen Peyton.
“We kinda combined the two ideas,” Dunaway said.
The bench will include plaques recognizing the tragedy and giving people information about how to seek treatment for addiction. Dunaway said the new spot is meant to be a quiet place for reflection.
“It’s a great place to rest,” he said.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, parishioners and Schneider’s friends lit candles and joined in prayers led by Fr. Dunaway and Father Tom Frizelle.
“We’re all one group this evening,” Dunaway said.
The event was held on what would have been Schneider’s 21st birthday. His mother, Alaina Thiessen, brought a cake and balloons for the event.
“I try to focus on the happy memories,” she said.
Schneider’s brother, Christopher, agreed.
“It really should be more of a happy thing,” he said.
Christopher then led the small crowd in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for his brother.
But the wounds from Schneider’s death remain fresh, and his mother broke down when the song reached the line “happy birthday dear Zac…”
After the ceremony, Thiessen said the event was bittersweet but she’s hopeful the bench can serve as a beacon of hope for those struggling with addiction.
“I think it’s awesome this place is being turned into something more positive,” she said.
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call (907) 257-4274.