Opioid epidemic

Her sons’ deaths to fentanyl were dragged into DC’s hyper-partisan politics. Now Rebecca Kiessling wants Joe Biden to apologise

Rebecca Kiessling says it was ‘disgusting’ of the president to laugh after Marjorie Taylor Greene falsely blamed him for her sons’ fatal opioid overdose. She tells Bevan Hurley that the response reveals the true nature of the consoler-in-chief

Friday 03 March 2023 13:37 GMT
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Rebecca Kiessling, centre, has been caught up in the bitter partisan divide in Washington DC
Rebecca Kiessling, centre, has been caught up in the bitter partisan divide in Washington DC (Getty)

Rebecca Kiessling poured her heart out about the loss of her two sons Caleb and Kyler to a fentanyl overdose in July 2020 before the glare of the Homeland Security Select Committee on Tuesday.

Through tears, Ms Kiessling implored lawmakers to do more to halt the flow of drugs over the southern border and treat the opioid crisis with greater urgency.

Her comments were quickly seized on by Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who falsely suggested that the young men would still be alive if the Biden administration had secured the border with Mexico. Their tragic deaths had come seven months before Joe Biden assumed office.

Mr Biden then made light of the false accusation in comments to House Democrats at an event in Baltimore on Wednesday night.

“I’ve read she was very specific recently saying that a mom, a poor mother who lost two kids to fentanyl, that I killed her sons. Well, the interesting thing: that fentanyl they took came during the last administration,” the president said, before letting out a chuckle.

In an interview with The Independent on Thursday, Ms Kiessling called the president’s remarks “disgusting”.

“I think it shows his heart. He was speaking to a room full of Democrats, he figures he’s amongst friends, he can yuk it up. What kind of a person talks like that?” the Michigan-based pro-life activist said.

Ms Kiessling told The Independent that she had received an avalanche of hate mail and social media attacks since Tuesday’s select committee appearance attracted the attention of the national press.

Kyler Kiessling, 18, left, and brother Caleb, 20, died after taking fentanyl-laced Percocet pills in July 2020. Mother Rebecca Kiessling says their deaths were murder
Kyler Kiessling, 18, left, and brother Caleb, 20, died after taking fentanyl-laced Percocet pills in July 2020. Mother Rebecca Kiessling says their deaths were murder (Courtesy of Rebecca Kiessling)

“It was bad enough having to testify, and the House Democrats saying there was a lot of fear-mongering and xenophobia.

“Since then, people have been saying horrible things that my sons killed themselves to get away from me.

“That was bad enough as it is. And now the president mocks the death of my sons, just because some Congresswoman misspoke,” she said.

On 29 July 2020, Caleb Kiessling, 20, and his 18 year old brother Kyler, both from Rochester Hills, died from fentanyl poisoning along with Sophia Harris, 17, after taking what they thought were Percocet pills.

In September 2021, Lorenzo Brabo pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison.

On Tuesday, Ms Kiessling told the select committee that prior to her sons’ deaths, she didn’t even know what fentanyl was. She said Kyler, who had graduated from high school the day before his death, had written a paper weeks earlier advising other students tp stay away from drugs and alcohol.

Opioid-related overdoses more than doubled from 2010 to 2017, when 47,600 Americans overdosed, according to figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

There was another significant increase in 2020 with 68,630 reported deaths reported, and in 2021 fatal overdoses leapt again to 80,411.

US Customs and Border Protection officers display the haul from a seizure of fentanyl and methamphetamines at the border in Nogales, Arizona
US Customs and Border Protection officers display the haul from a seizure of fentanyl and methamphetamines at the border in Nogales, Arizona (Arizona Daily Star)

Ms Kiessling said successive administrations had failed to deal with the fentanyl crisis, and the issue has become bogged down in hyper-partisan politicking.

In a video posted to Facebook on Thursday, Ms Kiessling said Mr Biden had overseen a 22 per cent increase in fentanyl deaths.

“That represents tens of thousands of US citizens who died under your watch, an increase in tens of thousands. That represents double that number of the parents who are suffering.

“You’re going to keep laughing? About those who did die under your watch? Do we have to bring them in so you can look them in the eyes and laugh?”

In her testimony to the Homeland Security committee, she called for Congress and the White House to show the same urgency as they had about the Chinese spy balloon that was shot down over US airspace last month.

“We have a weather balloon from China going across the country. Nobody died, and everybody’s freaking out about it. But 100,000 die every year, and nothing’s being done,” she told lawmakers.

“You talk about welcoming those crossing our border and seeking protection. You’re welcoming drug dealers across our border. You're giving them protection. You're not protecting our children.”

Recalling her experience before the select committee, Ms Kiessling told The Independent that she felt that Democrats had been dismissive of her calls to strengthen the border with Mexico.

Joe Biden mocks Marjorie Taylor Greene after false fentanyl claims

Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the committee, had conflated the opioid issue with the Trump administration’s child separation policy, she told The Independent.

“I was thinking, they can be reunited. Hundreds of thousands of us have been separated from our children, and these are US citizens.”

Mr Biden has styled himself as the consoler-in-chief throughout his presidency. The 80-year-old often draws on the experience of losing his son Beau in 2015, and first wife Neilia and baby daughter Naomi in 1972, to offer solace to the American people during times of grief and loss.

But Ms Kiessling said she was shocked by the callousness of Mr Biden’s remarks and called on him to issue and apology.

“He owes an apology to all of the parents who’ve lost children to fentanyl.”

The Independent has contacted the White House press office for comment.

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