Editor's Note: The family of Karina Rodriguez is now raising her two young children. Loved ones are collecting funds to support those efforts. Details follow this story.
THORNTON, Colo. — Inside a Thorton home, funeral flowers are fading and family members are forced to face a heartbreaking reality — a fentanyl poisoning has claimed the life of their loved one.
"Now that the funeral is done... it's almost harder," said Feliz Sanchez-Garcia.
Sanchez-Garcia breathed in deep with her sister, Mileiah Rodriguez, and mother, Debby Garcia, by her side.
This is the first time the family has spoken with a television journalist about the death of their loved one, 28-year-old Karina Rodriguez.
Commerce City Police said in February, Karina Rodriguez and her boyfriend were two of five people who died in a single apartment after using cocaine laced with fentanyl. Authorities said at the time, those involved, likely had no idea they were using a laced product.
"She was my baby, she was born on my birthday," Debby Garcia said through tears. "It's very difficult, especially the last few days. It's been very difficult."
Family members describe Rodriguez as a hard worker, loving daughter, sister and devoted mother of two children.
"That's one thing about my daughter, she worked hard and she made money and she took care of what she had to take care of," the mother said. "She loved her kids, they were her world."
Mileiah Rodriguez chimmed in, "We have her voice to show them [the children] and pictures to show them how much she [Karina] loved them and how much they meant to her,"
The three women, gathered on a couch inside the home, are surrounded by mementos and photos of Karina Rodriguez — the items provide comfort and strength on days when moving forward, seems hard.
Collectively, they all agreed, they never expected these circumstances to happen to their loved one.
"Our sister, she really didn't even drink," Mileiah Rodriguez said. "She didn't even want to leave her baby to go out for the first time for her friend's birthday."
Mileiah Rodriguez and Feliz Sanchez-Garcia said their sister had just returned from a dinner before she passed.
"It's not okay... one night she happens to be at home and do something that that she didn't characteristically do and five minutes later... she's gone. That's just not okay." Feliz Sanchez-Garcia said.
In recent days, the family has learned of others impacted by fentanyl poisonings and now they're committed to raising awareness about fentanyl's dangers.
"I hope that someday whatever they [the dealers] believe in, whatever belief system they have, that they have to face the lives that that they knowingly took away from families and from children," Feliz Sanchez-Garcia said.
"It's murder for profit, something has to be done," Debby Garcia said.
The women's calls for action come on the day Colorado lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan bill, aimed to increase penalties on fentanyl dealers.
Commerce City Police told Denver7 the investigation into the deaths of Karina Rodriguez and the four others, is ongoing. On Monday, Commerce City police chief Clint Nichols met with United States Attorney General Merrick Garland who offered resources to help with the investigation.
"He wanted a brief update on how the case was proceeding ...he expressed his genuine concern for the families and our community, as well as the Colorado community as it regards to fentanyl in our communities and how it's been disastrous," Nichols said. "He also offered us resources as it relates to actual investigation. Overall, it was a very productive meeting."
Nichols said after the tragedy involving Karina Rodriguez, he's placed an emphasis on educating the community.
"I would just reiterate to not only my community, but you know, anybody that would listen is, again, be very careful of illicit drug use nowadays. Something as simple as buying a bag of marijuana off the street corner could potentially be laced with something that could kill you. I would just warn everybody that you know, if there was ever a time to avoid drug use, it's right now." Nichols said.
While the solution to preventing more fentanyl-related deaths is ongoing, the family of Karina Rodriguez said their new reality is navigating grief and sharing their loved one's story.
"If it's going to save somebody then I want that to happen." Feliz Sanchez-Garcia said.
Family members are raising money to help support Karina Rodriguez's children as they grow. Donations can be made at any Wells-Fargo branch in the "Donations for Karina Rodriguez" account. Donations can also be made using Zelle to 720-220-1056