Rally pays tribute to young lives lost to fentanyl

“It’s poisoning our children”

The first annual Leavenworth Kansas Fentanyl Awareness Rally was held last weekend. Over 100 persons came out to support families that have lost their kids to Fentanyl.

Many teenagers attended the Fentanyl awareness rally. Among them were Cruz Burris’ friends who told Hispanic News how much they miss their friend and they are happy to see that area families are bringing awareness to this growing issue and the impact it has on teenagers.

Andy and Rhonda Burris lost their teenage son Cruz Burris (center) early this year. People came out to learn from him and other families that it only takes one pill that can kill a person.


The inaugural Leavenworth (KS) Fentanyl Awareness Rally and March was an event designed to send a clear, unified message: Fentanyl is here in our community, and it kills.

The event, which took place Sept. 16 in Leavenworth’s Haymarket Square, was organized by the Cruz 4 Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to remember the life of a local teen, including Cruz Burris, who died on Jan. 18 after taking what his parents believed to be Percocet supplied by a local drug dealer. Laced with a deadly amount of fentanyl, the high school freshman died instantly according to his family.

“Although our pain will never go away,” Cruz’s parents, Andy and Rhonda Burris, write on the foundation’s website, “(we) received a calling to use this tragedy and turn it to a positive direction by using our voices to educate parents and children of the real deadly effects of experimenting with illicit pills.”

The rally and march included speeches from local residents who had lost their children to fentanyl, as well as resources from The Guidance Center, an organization focused on battling youth drug addiction.

Both Andy and Rhonda Burris said they scheduled the rally to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15.

“The timing was perfect with Hispanic Heritage Month,” Andy told KC Hispanic News. “This is a very important event that may affect in a positive way the Hispanics in our community.”

Rhonda said she and other parents wanted to warn others about the dangers of fentanyl and the chaos it brings to the lives of everyone it touches.

“We just want to raise awareness about fentanyl,” Rhonda said. “I know it’s being picked up a lot more in the news. One time taking it will kill you. A lot of people don’t get a second chance, and that was the case for our son.”

The Burrises recalled speaking to Cruz about fentanyl as a gateway drug following underage drinking and smoking marijuana. Still, despite their warnings, Cruz’s experimentation ended up costing the young man his life.

Even when Rhonda says her son would “get rough” with her and his father, it was difficult to know what to do.

“I did call the police one time and they said they could take him to a juvenile center,” she recalled. “I didn’t want him taken there. I should have let the police take him so he could have understood the seriousness of what was going on. We never had the chance to get that done with him.”

Andy and Rhonda expressed frustration with local and federal governments for what they say is inaction in the face of a drug crisis.

“Where is our government wanting to protect our young from fentanyl?” Rhonda said. “According to the DEA and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI), the Mexican cartel owns the illegal drug supply in the U.S. It’s poisoning our children.”

The Burris family isn’t waiting for the government to step in and help – through their foundation, which they maintain in addition to working full time, they do what they can to help spread the message “one pill can kill.”

It’s a message that attendees at the rally heard loud and clear for themselves, including guest speaker James Hill, a recovering drug addict whose brother died of fentanyl poisoning at age 29.

“When fentanyl hit the streets, it hit hard,” Hill said. “Even after losing my brother, I thought I still wanted that life. I had two overdoses of my own. I didn’t know I was doing fentanyl I thought I was only doing heroin.” Hill ultimately decided to choose life, adding that being in recovery isn’t always easy, “but life is a lot better.”

Vanessa Jackson, who lost her teenage son Caleb to fentanyl on March 10, 2023, said her faith in God has given her hope in the future, and fentanyl can never take that away.

“I have faith that I’ll see Caleb again,” Jackson said. “I know he was a believer.”

Jackson said that she encourages parents to keep an eye on their teenager’s phone activity, adding that “it’s easier to get drugs through Snapchat than it is to order a pizza.”

And several of Cruz’s friends echoed the sentiments of the adults at the rally who mourned the loss of a loved one.

“It’s hard knowing Cruz won’t be with us again,” said Cole, one of Cruz’s friends, adding his advice to his peers would be to stay away from drugs altogether. “Don’t take pills or get into drugs. Stay away from all that.”

Another of Cruz’s friends, Cooper, said he attended the rally to pay tribute to anyone struggling with drug addiction.

“This is very special to all of us,” he said.

Andy Burris said that although the work of the foundation is never ending, he and Rhonda view it as their duty to keep Cruz’s memory alive and to help others avoid his fate.

“I’m going to sacrifice every moment I have to get the word out about this,” he said. “We will do everything we can to preserve his name.”

For more information, visit www.cruz4life.com.