MANKATO — The parents of 21-year-old Alex Ahl, who died in August after sucking on a patch containing the powerful narcotic fentanyl, want justice for their son.
Prosecutors have decided not to file charges in the case. So Barry and Patti Ahl say they plan to move forward themselves in a quest to hold responsible the people they believe played a part in his death.
It was Barry who last saw Alex alive, at about 12:30 a.m. Aug. 8 after a friend dropped him off from a gathering in another friend's garage. Barry came downstairs to check on him at about 7 a.m. after he didn’t hear any snoring. Alex Ahl was unresponsive on the couch in the family room and was declared dead at 7:13 a.m.
Police would learn where Ahl was the night before he died, who he was with and which drug killed him. But none of the witnesses said they saw Ahl receive the patch of fentanyl that a coroner said stopped his lungs.
“The concern was whether or not we’d be able to prove that to a jury of 12 people,” Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson said of the question of who gave Ahl the patch.
Barry and Patti Ahl said in a statement that they know what killed their son.
“Our belief is that he was given this drug by this drug dealer the night of August 7th,” they wrote.
There’s some space, though, between what Patti and Barry Ahl believe based on police reports and what prosecutors think they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
“It’s a very high standard and so we have to be particularly careful that you have the evidence you need to move forward,” Hanson said.
The decision not to charge a suspect contrasts with the charging of three people, two adults and a juvenile, for allegedly supplying drugs that killed two young Mankatoans earlier this year. Louis Nathan Folson, 22, and Chloe Leah Moses, 17, died in March after taking a synthetic drug.
The night of Aug. 7
According to a friend who was with Alex Ahl throughout that evening, the pair went to a mutual friend’s Mankato house at about 9:30 p.m., the police report shows.
Some of the six people in that garage were smoking marijuana and drinking beer, but Ahl’s friend said Ahl had only one or two beers during the night.
Police have some evidence Ahl had used a fentanyl patch at the gathering.
When Ahl and the friend left the group, the friend who drove him texted someone back at the gathering explaining they left because Ahl was “tired.”
The other friend replied: “Lame o with his patch” and the friend replied, “Yeah man, lol.”
At least two of the friends also agree who supplied the patches, which Ahl apparently sucked on to release the drug more quickly.
One of them, the one who drove Ahl home, said he was “100 percent sure” about who gave Ahl the patch. He said he didn’t see Ahl getting the patch but said he the alleged supplier had a “stack” of the patches.
The Free Press is not naming the person because he has not been arrested or charged with a crime.
Another person at the gathering said the same man offered her a fentanyl patch for $30 earlier that night. She said Ahl had no money on him, so she thinks Ahl was given the patch for free.
She remembers Ahl as “out of it” and “messed up” that night. She told Ahl he was stupid for using the patch. And she told him that he better not die, according to the report.
She had reason to be concerned. Fentanyl is a powerful drug, usually prescribed to people suffering from cancer, chronic nerve issues or in a hospice setting.
Ahl was dropped off at home at about 12:30 a.m.
Later that morning, investigators got a search warrant for the home and garage where Ahl and the group spent the previous night.
The potential crime scene was complicated by the entry of Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office deputies, who had arrived to arrest the host’s son on an unrelated probation violation. He was arrested and taken to jail, though no violation was filed with the court so law enforcement can’t say why he was arrested.
The investigators didn’t find any evidence of the fentanyl patches. They did find some methamphetamine residue in an empty pack of cigarettes, though no charges resulted.
Suspect read his rights
Police interviewed the alleged drug dealer 10 days after Ahl died. He told investigators he met Ahl for the first time that night but said he was blacked out most of time and his memory was foggy. At this, the suspect was read his Miranda warning, which was necessary if his statements were to be admissible in court.
The suspect invoked his right to an attorney, then suggested Ahl killed himself because he was giving him a hard time about what he was wearing.
Investigators said they told him that they couldn’t continue unless he waived his right to an attorney, which they said he did.
He later told them that he does not sell or give away drugs but admitted he had sedative-hypotic pills with the brand name of Klonopin with him that night.
When the investigator asked more questions about the Klonopin, the suspect again invoked his right to a lawyer and the interview ended.
Who is Alex Ahl?
Ahl graduated from Mankato East High School in 2011 and was involved in school activities, including football, Cougar's Broadcasting, yearbook staff, hockey stats, and various other groups. In his obituary he is described as a "dog" person and as an avid sports fan.
Interviews in the police report describe a young man stressing out about bills and taking medication to control his anxiety. Based on the number of pills that were left in the bottle, he wasn’t abusing the drug.
But Patti Ahl told investigators she wouldn’t be surprised if her son had been abusing the medication. The family had recently held an intervention with Alex about his drug use.
Police were clearly interested in Ahl’s frame of mind that night, though his friends told police he wasn’t suicidal.
A few days before Ahl died, he allegedly told the mother of a close friend that “nobody will miss me when I’m gone.” No one told Ahl’s family about the comment, according to the report.
The investigation also included a screen shot of a message posted on Ahl's Twitter page at 5:33 p.m. Aug. 7. It read “pull the (expletive) trigger.” Someone replied to the message saying that this was a quote from Ahl’s favorite movie and not a suicide reference.
Alex’s parents acknowledge he was “struggling with certain things” but say that he didn’t deserve to die.
“What we really want people to know is that we loved our son so very much and he made mistakes but he was an exceptional human being,” they wrote.
The final line in their statement seems to speak to the people who were with their son that night.
“We want everyone to know that not only do you have to take responsibility for your own actions but if you see someone who is in a bad way; it is your responsibility to get them to a place where they are safe as well!”