Some of the victims in drug addiction aren’t the users at all.

Rachel McCue was 22 when she pleaded guilty in 2014 to neglect of a dependent in the death of her 19-month-old son, Evan Jack McCue, after he was found unresponsive and severely injured. Her son was in the care of McCue’s drug dealer boyfriend, Thomas W. Gorski, then 30, at a home they shared in Columbus.

Investigators said Gorski’s Facebook account had numerous postings from Nov. 24 to Nov. 25, 2012, indicating Gorski was trying to sell drugs to people out of the home where he was watching Evan as McCue worked a fast-food job. When McCue returned, her son was not breathing and had suffered severe head injuries. He was pronounced dead Nov. 25 at Columbus Regional Hospital.

Gorski is serving a 28-year sentence on convictions of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury and attempted dealing in a narcotic drug.

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Five to six months into a stay at the Bartholomew County Jail after her arrest for neglect, McCue said she had her first sober thought.

“It was not a scream,” she said. “It was a whisper. It was, ‘Maybe your drug use has something to do with why you are in jail.'”

She was overwhelmed with grief over the death of her son, feeling remorse over the situation she and Evan had been in with Gorski and scared that the community would view her as a horrible monster.

At her sentencing, she remembered thinking she no longer had any control over her life.

“My entire future was in the hands of these men with folders with horrible information about my life,” she said.

During the sentencing, McCue admitted she had regularly used opiates, methamphetamine and marijuana from the time she met Gorski as a 14-year-old freshman at Columbus East High School until she was arrested in connection with her son’s death.

Then-Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann showed mercy to her, allowing an impromptu amended plea bargain which suspended a possible prison sentence and placed her on probation for five years with long-term monitoring and assistance to stay drug-free. She will have successfully completed that in five years this coming April.

“I believe you have the character, with the help of others, to come through this, have a life and serve others,” Heimann told her at the sentencing. “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have agreed to this (suspended sentence).”

Second chances

Five years later, McCue, has a new, drug-free life, including her November marriage to Austin Rohm, a pastor at Flintwood Wesleyan Church, her home church. She is working to finish a human services associate degree. Now going by Rachel Rohm, she hopes to work toward a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling.

Her husband describes her as beautiful, saying he tells her that every day.

The two met through the Flintwood church in the summer of 2016, but her future husband didn’t know her story then and only later was told about what had happened to her and to her son, and that she was in recovery.

He jokes that Rachel asked him out before he got the chance, the two sharing her love of sushi at a local restaurant.

By that time, he had learned some of her story and background in his role as a pastor.

“At that time, she didn’t share that part of her life a lot,” he said.

Rachel now speaks at gatherings whenever she is asked about what happened to her, and to her son. She talks about how faith in God and a relationship with Christ led to sobriety and has become the guide for everything she does now.

She said she usually starts out her talks by dissecting her life growing up in Columbus. That includes a frustration in being unable to express herself within her family and in school, and connecting with other teenagers whose lives revolved around drug abuse.

Her personal drug abuse began with marijuana and evolved into growing addictions with alcohol and then pain pills.

“By the time I was in high school, I was smoking weed every single day,” she said. “No one intervened. I think I did a pretty good job of staying under the radar. I was in school and got average/decent grades.”

But her drug use caught up with her as she entered Ivy Tech Community College after graduation. No one was monitoring whether she showed up at class or was doing her school work.

At 19, after spending more time partying than studying, she found herself pregnant by a guy who was not going to be in the picture in the future. And she was still living at home.

By age 20, she had delivered Evan, a healthy baby at 7 pounds, 10 ounces despite smoking marijuana throughout the pregnancy, and starting to realize her drug use was damaging her brain.

“I’m not saying choices aren’t a factor, because I’m definitely responsible for that,” she said. “I’m definitely responsible for my actions. But my decision-making skills were seriously impaired. There was a line in the sand, and I kept stepping over that.”

When Evan was about 8 months old, Gorski re-entered her life, now with two kids of his own. She decided to move in with him in Columbus and care for the children, while holding down a job, and continuing the drug use.

At the time, she was using methamphetamine, hydrocodone, pain pills, marijuana and alcohol, she said. Looking back on it, she said she is surprised she never overdosed.

At one point, Gorski fed her fentanyl like she was a dog, not letting her touch the drug but placing it in her mouth, she said.

“I thought, ‘We’ll see. Everyone’s OK. I’m fine,'” she said. “I fell into this illusion I could parent and use drugs. I was never in a state of mind to parent. I wish it were different. (Evan) deserved a lot better than that.”

Her family called Child Protective Services and the police to investigate the situation, and their home was checked for the children’s safety, she said.

Drug deals involving fentanyl patches and hydrocodone were happening out of their home and McCue later learned that Gorski would invite other people over to watch the kids so that he could go out and obtain drugs to sell.

“Within three months of the time I moved in, my son died,” she said. “If I had not been using (drugs), I would never have been in this situation.”

After her stay in jail, where she detoxed, her mother agreed to take her back into their home. Her mother’s home became a refuge. Rachel would not have been safe returning to the environment of her former friends.

“A lot of people don’t get that,” she said of people recovering from drug addiction who don’t have safe places to stay and can’t stay clean because of the people who surround them.

It took about six months of being clean before she felt her mind beginning to clear. She said anyone who tells you 30 days in rehab is enough is kidding themselves.

“You can’t do anything in 30 days,” she said.

She entered into several Community Corrections programs designed to turn her away from drug abuse, including attending Celebrate Recovery meetings, which she now attends weekly. She goes to various support groups to keep her on track.

Eventually, she realized that the process she was in was what she needed to go through.

“Everything they were saying about me, I did,” she said. “I needed to come to terms with that. I wasn’t a great mom or sister or friend or daughter or girlfriend. I was an addict. And a big part my addiction played into every part of my life.”

She went back to her church, got another job in the restaurant field and secluded herself in meetings, work and time at home.

She has grieved for her son while rebuilding relationships with her family, relationships that now are based on real friendships, not what the person can do for her at any given moment.

She is completing an internship at Community Downtown working with support groups. She works closely with other moms who are struggling to get out of an addictive cycle.

It has not been by her own power or by herself that she is now married and starting a new life.

“It’s the people the Lord puts in my life,” she said. “I have this strong foundation in faith now, in Celebrate Recovery, in my family,” she said.

She hopes she can have children again someday. Her husband echoes that thought, saying starting a family is something the couple agrees on 100 percent.

“I loved my son,” she said. “I loved being his mother. He brought me such joy. It will be tough, but it will be different this time.”

Pull Quote

“I fell into this illusion I could parent and use drugs. I was never in a state of mind to parent. I wish it were different. (Evan) deserved a lot better than that.”

– Rachel McCue, whose drug use contributed to the 2012 death of her son

About this series

The United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in history.

With alarming frequency, opioids — including prescription drugs, heroin and fentanyl — are killing Americans, including an increasing number in Bartholomew County.

The Republic is taking a yearlong look into the public health crisis that touches nearly every segment of our community and that crosses all socioeconomic lines.

Addicted & Dying, which began Sunday, will tell the harrowing stories of people with drug addictions and families who have lost loved ones. That includes the story of Rachel McCue, a young mother who moved in with her drug dealer boyfriend and suffered the loss of her 19-month-old son to abuse in the home, in today’s installment.

We will talk to doctors, addiction specialists, law enforcement officers and others on the front lines battling a problem that is ruining lives and putting mounting pressures on social service agencies, hospitals, the judicial system and the economy.

Beyond that, Addicted & Dying will explore solutions and a path forward — what treatments and approaches work, what communities can do and how to help people in need.

Got an idea for our project? Contact us as editorial@therepublic.com or call 812-379-5665.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.