June 16 ē 12:57 PM

Mom's message abrutal reality check

Imlay woman's story a cautionary tale about drugs for parents, kids

July 07, 2010
IMLAY CITY — There is a bit of reality Karen Roggatz would like to pass along to young people and it's not too pretty.

Do drugs and you end up dead. Not high, not cool, not anything except in big trouble or dead.

Karen feels so strongly about it that she's put together a program she'd love to present at area schools. A music director at Family of Christ Lutheran Church and piano accompanist for Almont Community Schools' choir, Karen developed the program during her studies at Baker College in pursuit of a teaching degree.

"We had to do a persuasive speech and I wanted to persuade people to help fight drugs, to keep young people off of drugs."

The reason: Burying her smart, optimistic 25-year-old son Ryan, who on February 27 was found lying in the snow in front of his Washington Township home.

Ryan Mueller in happier times enjoying life.
"His grandfather hears a noise, went to check it out and found my son," Karen says, adding that his call to 911 was futile. "He never made it to the hospital. The autopsy revealed an overdose of heroin. Toxicology reports revealed a combination of alcohol and heroin."

If Ryan had a "heroin problem," he hid it well, Karen says. Her son was bright and ambitious—he'd already graduated from Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts and had registered for more classes at Macomb Community College to continue his studies.

"I understand that Ryan made a stupid choice. He graduated from the D.A.R.E. program in grade school, graduated with honors in high school," Karen says. "Why did he make that decision, I'll never know."

Ryan's decision to take a ride with a couple of friends to buy heroin in Detroit proved lethal. And Karen says from what she's learned, making the purchase wasn't easy.

"They went to one drug house and were told to go to another. The dealers told them the heroin was extra strong, to only do a little," she says. "When (one of Ryan's friends) saw how messed up my son was after doing this heroin he threw his purchase out the car window."

When police investigated Ryan's death, they learned that of the trio that went to Detroit, only one survived—the one who threw his purchase out the window.

"The detective took my son's phone and called the number of (the other friend)," Karen says. "His mom answered the phone and told them he died also. Evidently he died in his mother's bathroom puking up bile."

The survivor, Karen says, has changed his phone number and is evading police.

"At this point Ryan's family, friends, nor detectives know anything further about what happened," Karen says.

Regardless of the details, the reality remains: Ryan is still dead.

"The last picture that runs through my mind of Ryan is not the peaceful body lying in the casket," Karen says. "It is the body we saw at the hospital, his eyes partially opened and incubation tube still in his mouth. We couldn't touch him because everything was evidence."

That unsettling picture—and all the troubling question marks—are fuel for Karen's mission to shout from the rooftops the dangers of drugs.

"Parents should not go through what Ryan's family and friends are going through," she says. "Kids, you don't know what you are buying out there. Know that this could be you. It happens more and more frequently. You are not bulletproof."

Karen says anyone with doubts or questions is welcome to contact her at

"If peer pressure can be so great to encourage friends to make dangerous decisions, can it also be just as great to encourage friends to help keep each other safe and make wise decisions?" she asks, ever hopeful.

"I want to make a difference," she says. "I want to help."

Karen has lived in Imlay City for the past three years with her husband, Tim Roggatz. She has one surviving son, Daniel, age 27.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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