AMHERST — Logan’s parents drove all morning from out of state to reach his off-campus apartment that sunny afternoon at the start of UMass Amherst Family Weekend last October.
His father and stepmother arrived first, around lunchtime, hoping to surprise the UMass junior with a cheeseburger when he got out of class. But Logan wasn’t there. Or at his campus job. He didn’t answer the door and he didn’t answer text messages either. Finally, the couple persuaded a maintenance man to let them inside.
There, lying on the bathroom floor was the 20-year-old, a former star hockey player and scholarship student, a needle and a spoon nearby. Logan’s father instantly knew it was too late to save Logan — his son’s body was already cold — but he couldn’t comprehend how it could be true. He had no idea Logan was using heroin.
“Who do you think you know more than your son?” said Logan’s father, recalling his son as the kind of guy who remembered to send him a birthday card and gave great hugs. While Logan had been arrested for cocaine possession two years earlier, family members chalked it up to youthful indiscretion, an error unlikely to be repeated.
However, people on campus, including the UMass police, knew a darker side: Logan had been caught selling LSD and the club drug Molly almost a year before his death, an offense that normally would have led to Logan’s suspension and notification of his parents.
Police also seized a hypodermic needle, which is banned at UMass because it can be used for injecting drugs.
But they didn’t tell Logan’s parents. Instead, they offered him a chance to keep the offense secret, and to stay in school, by becoming a campus police informant.
Desperate to keep his parents in the dark, Logan said yes.
Now, his death is raising questions about whether the university did enough to help a student with a serious drug problem, whether it had any business making such an offer to a vulnerable undergraduate, and whether it has fully come to grips with the fact that the heroin epidemic has not spared the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts.
Campus police agreed not to seek criminal charges against Logan or notify his parents after he agreed to become a confidential informant, code named “CI-8,” something Logan called “an offer I can’t refuse” in a text message to a friend. In December 2012, Logan led police to another dealer — who was immediately arrested and suspended — while Logan remained a student in good standing.
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Police even refunded $700 they had seized from his room, which he immediately used to buy drugs, according to another text to a friend.
The medical examiner ruled that Logan died from “acute heroin poisoning,” but his death was never publicly described as an overdose, and the Globe is voluntarily using only his middle name to protect the family’s privacy. However, all people interviewed for this story were aware of his full name and background.
School officials say heroin remains a rarity at UMass, but Logan is at least the second UMass student to die from a heroin overdose in recent years, both at off-campus apartments.
The written substance abuse policy makes no specific reference to heroin — focusing mainly on alcohol and marijuana — though campus officials say it is covered under the rules forbidding possession of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Though UMass policy calls for parents to be notified the first time a student violates alcohol or drug rules, the confidential informant program creates a loophole to keep parents from finding out about drug charges. The program even allows police to use addicts as informers as long as they are “carefully supervised and controlled,” though UMass officials say they wouldn’t allow it.
“I was never informed,” said Logan’s mother, who was still driving to his apartment with a tray of homemade lasagna and other food last October when she got the news that her son was dead. “If I was informed, things would have been a lot different. I would have more than stepped in. I probably would have pulled him out of school and got him help or whatever he needed.”
Police said they never suspected Logan was a heroin user. Campus Police Chief John Horvath noted that officers found no heroin and that the needle they recovered could have been used for illegal drugs other than heroin.
He said Logan declined an offer from officers to get him into drug treatment. In fact, Horvath recalled, “His biggest concern was his parents finding out about his situation.”
Logan’s death was “a terrible loss for his family, friends, and the UMass Amherst community,” according to a university statement to the Globe, but officials said it did not provoke changes in the school’s substance-abuse policy or in the decades-old confidential informant program aside from adding a follow-up review to determine whether informants are still active.
“You’re always looking to move up the ladder and get an individual that is more of a threat to our community,” explained Horvath, which is exactly what happened in Logan’s case.
But Logan’s family and friends can’t help but feel he became collateral damage in UMass’s war on drugs. Text messages contained on Logan’s phone, obtained by the Globe from his family, show that he was racked by guilt at becoming a police “snitch,” and that he was trying — and failing — to give up heroin on his own during the last year of his life.
“I’m gonna have to tell my parents really soon I’m a heroin addict and that’s why I can’t come back here . . . and presumably go to rehab,” Logan texted to a friend on March 4, 2013, though he apparently never followed through; he couldn’t bear the thought of going through withdrawal.
On the night he died, Logan frantically texted his dealer who was driving from Hartford: “My veins are crying . . . is the traffic gonna be bad?”
The heroin subculture
The 61-officer UMass police force spends far more time chasing underage and excessive drinkers than heroin abusers, and for a good reason: they’re vastly more common. Nearly 300 students were arrested for liquor law violations in 2012, campus statistics show, and more than 600 students faced school discipline for alcohol abuse.
By comparison, Horvath and his chief deputy, Patrick Archbald, a 27-year veteran of the force, couldn’t remember the last heroin arrest at UMass. Before Logan’s overdose, the last heroin death came in 2008, when Darby Fassett overdosed at his off-campus home in Hadley — and school officials say no one has died on campus at least since the early 1990s.
“We see very little heroin on campus,” Horvath said, though he admitted “there may be an underlying heroin problem that we’re unaware of.”
In fact, current and former UMass students interviewed by the Globe say there is a small, but very real heroin scene on campus.
Heroin is “so accessible it’s ridiculous,” said Maddie Schnier, 22, a recovering addict and former UMass student who is now a residential detox technician at Solid Landing Behavioral Health in Cosa Mesa, Calif. “If someone needed heroin I would be like, ‘come for a drive with me. I’ll take you.’ ”
At first blush, Logan seemed an unlikely addict. A star hockey player in high school, he was a solid student and was aiming for a medical career.
He had come to UMass from out of state, facing twice the tuition of Massachusetts students. But his parents said he received a substantial chancellor’s scholarship from UMass as long as he maintained a 3.2 GPA. Through his first two years at school, Logan met that goal.
He also seemed well adjusted to friends and family, creating a list on his cellphone of “what I’m grateful for” in July 2013: “In school — Smart — Loving parents and family — Good friends — Beautiful girlfriend”
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That girlfriend, a UMass student, described Logan as “the freest spirit ever, seriously.”
But there were warning signs, such as his arrest in his home state in January 2012 for possessing a pen barrel that contained cocaine residue. Logan also was arrested on charges of leaving the scene of an accident in an apparent attempt to avoid an OUI arrest in May 2013. Even Logan’s list of things he’s grateful for ends with “finally being free from drug addiction.”
Other texts suggest that Logan had first tried heroin when he was a senior in high school and that, at one point, he had obtained his own supply of a treatment drug called suboxone in a failed effort to stop using heroin. But he reassured a friend in May 2013, “Honestly there’s nothing to worry about. I’m not getting high. I’m just not withdrawing.”
His parents say they had no idea about any of this. They were convinced he was on a great path to the future.
“I spoke to my son at 11:30 [the night before he died] . . . and he was in a good mood, saying ‘You think you have time to make me some lasagna?’ ” recalled his mother.
But, at almost exactly the same time, Logan was exchanging text messages with his dealer. His dealer was delayed by heavy traffic, and Logan was in agony.
“I know you’re hurting but you will very soon be in the loving comforting arms of Miss H,” the dealer texted him around 11:40 p.m. on Oct. 3, 2013.
‘A chance to help himself’
Though confidential informants are more commonly associated with city police departments, security personnel at many colleges have long recruited students to identify suspected drug offenders in their ranks.
Last year, the University of Alabama used informants to nab 61 students, mostly for marijuana offenses, while the Air Force Academy was roiled with controversy in 2012 when it became public that an informant had helped campus police arrest several football players.
At UMass, administrators approved the informant program, but leave it to Horvath’s officers to decide who to recruit — as long as the informants do not have a major criminal record or history of mental illness.
“The police do not inform other university departments about specific people working as confidential informants in order to protect their identity and the confidentiality of police investigations,” according to a UMass statement.
Not everyone approves. Chuck DiMare, the director of the Student Legal Services Office at UMass for almost 35 years, said he generally opposes the use of confidential informants on campus because the students are so easily threatened or manipulated, fearing they could be thrown out of school or charged criminally if they don’t become informants.
“It’s widespread on college campuses across the United States, and I think it’s inappropriate in most cases,” said DiMare who has long criticized the use of informants in minor cases such as marijuana possession.
He said informants may be acceptable in some hard-drug cases, though he declined to comment directly on Logan’s situation. Even then, he said students should always consult an attorney before agreeing to become an informant.
UMass police began investigating Logan in October 2012, when another confidential informant told detectives that Logan was selling MDMA, a party drug often referred to as Molly or ecstasy. A campus police officer and a Drug Enforcement Agency officer bought some Molly from him, but didn’t tell Logan that they were law enforcement officials.
A few weeks later, on Dec. 4, 2012, Logan received a text from a UMass police officer posing as a customer, asking if he still had “molly.” Logan responded that he was all out, so the officer asked, “Got any shrooms? Good night for trips.”
Eventually, Logan agreed to sell the undercover officer two tabs of LSD for $20, but as soon as Logan took the money, the police report shows, he was plunged into a world of trouble. The officer confronted Logan, but, rather than arrest him, police said that he “was offered a chance to help himself by giving information in regards to another drug dealer.”
Police gave Logan $80 and followed him to another dorm room where he bought LSD from another, bigger dealer, one who already had a police record. The alleged dealer and another student in the room were arrested on drug charges and immediately suspended from UMass.
Logan, by contrast, emerged unscathed. Police gave him back money they had seized from his room and allowed him to remain in his dormitory as if nothing had happened. He was relieved, incredulous, and, with cash in his pocket, unrepentant.
“Cops r giving me my . . . money back,” he texted a friend with whom he sometimes bought drugs.
“Sweeeeeeeeeeet,” came the reply.
“And we’re back in business,” Logan said.
Later, however, feelings of guilt seeped in. Four days after the bust, Logan wrote to a friend, saying, “Kinda hard to live with myself . . . that was honestly the worst day of my life.”
But when others in the campus drug scene later slammed Logan for being a “snitch,” he sometimes fought back.
“You’re just a really selfish [expletive]. Jail is a risk you have to be comfortable with when you’re in the business dude,” wrote one critic in May 2013.
“I don’t think you get the concept of 5 years in jail minimum,” Logan wrote back, “Or the concept of the $40,000 in scholarship money I’d have to pay back out of my pocket.”
Logan’s mother believes her son should never have faced that dilemma because of something the police found in his room the night Logan became an informant: the hypodermic needle.
“If you find a needle on my kid, you have to assume it’s heroin,” she said. “And if it’s heroin, you have to say something. You have to. Because that’s the drug that kills everybody.”
But Chief Horvath said the needle could have been used for a variety of drugs — it’s in the same category as “Ziploc baggies, rolling papers . . . it’s drug paraphernalia” — and no heroin was found in his room. Moreover, they say Logan denied having a drug problem and didn’t want help.
“There was no indication in the officers’ conversations with him that he had become a heroin user. They believed what he was telling them,” said Deputy Chief Archbald.
If Logan had not become an informant, he would have faced expulsion from his dorm and suspension from school under the UMass substance abuse policy, and, if the dean of students found he was guilty of the offenses, his parents would have been notified. He also could have been ordered to attend a drug education program.
Instead, Logan was enabled to keep his addiction a secret from his family. After briefly going cold turkey in the late spring of 2013, he was using again by the middle of July, his text messages show. Looking ahead to the fall at UMass, he texted one friend that his apartment would be the “shootup den.”
Logan got a text from his dealer at 8:44 p.m. on Oct. 3, 2013: “candy acquired.”
Logan expected to get his heroin, which would be in bags stamped “Tropicana,” before midnight, but as the clock ticked, Logan heard from his dealer that he had hit traffic. Logan wrote that he was hurting as his body cried out for a dose.
Finally, a few minutes after midnight, his dealer arrived outside his apartment where Logan lived alone. He quickly got his stuff, then went back inside and closed the door.
A few minutes later, Logan got another text from his dealer, asking him if he liked the high. “How much Tropicana did you drink?” read the text.
There was no response.
The next day, Logan’s girlfriend — worried because no one could reach him — was on her way to his apartment when an ambulance sped past. The ambulance was for Logan.
“I feel like my world ended that day,” said the girlfriend, who said she knew that Logan used drugs, but not that he was addicted to heroin.
Logan’s mother was en route to Amherst when she heard that the medical examiner would be removing her son’s body from his apartment. She pleaded in vain for them to wait until she could arrive.
Logan appeared to be shooting up while seated on the toilet when he collapsed, blocking the bathroom door with his body, according to his father. Yet, despite the drug paraphernalia around him, there was no public mention of a likely heroin overdose.
UMass released a statement mourning his passing. The local newspaper said simply that the cause of death was under investigation. Finally, the death certificate, released six months later, confirmed the overdose.
UMass officials stress that they do take the heroin epidemic seriously despite the lack of discussion about Logan’s death on campus, and they said that it wasn’t their place to make public the way he died.
They defend the confidential informant program but say they would certainly push to get help for anyone they believed was using heroin.
“No drug investigation is worth somebody’s life,” said Horvath.
But Logan’s mother said UMass should reconsider their policy of not informing parents when students become confidential informants — especially when there are indications the student may be using heroin. And she called on students to speak up if someone is using heroin.
Parents “are the only people that can be there 24/7 or will be there 24/7,” she said. “But these kids . . . it’s so uncool to rat someone out. If you feel that way, send an anonymous letter.”
In Logan’s case, he once texted a friend about wanting to go into rehab, but drew a skeptical response.
“You can do it without rehab,” the friend counseled.
A fellow user did tell Logan in February 2013 that he would be able to help him shake the addiction. But Logan had doubts about breaking the heroin habit alone:
“I appreciate it dude I just don’t think this is gonna end the way I’d like it to.”
The person who allegedly sold Logan the heroin that killed him — or at least the person whose cell number corresponds to the stream of texts to Logan that night — is still a student at UMass Amherst.
Logan’s mother did send the alleged dealer a text message a few weeks after Logan’s death letting him know that she was aware of what he did. “You will rot in hell,” she wrote.
Eric Bosco can be reached at email@example.com. Kayla Marchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was produced as a collaboration between the Globe and students in the UMass Journalism Department’s Investigative Journalism & The Web class.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Darby Fassett’s name.