What can happen in an hour?
That's what Karla Rupp thought when she dropped off her son Bo at a concert last September, an hour before it started.
But what happened in an hour cost Bo his life.
"Bo didn't know what could happen in an hour," Rupp said. "Dying wasn't part of the plan."
Rupp spoke for the first time publicly this week about the circumstances leading up to her son's death at a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting. Bo Rupp, then 15 and a sophomore at Westfield High School, made headlines back in September when he apparently ran in and out of traffic near his Virginia Run home on Pleasant Valley Road in Centreville, then sat down in the middle of the roadway and was struck by a neighbor's car. He died the next day.
Karla Rupp said that Bo brought his backpack to the concert that night. Nothing to be alarmed about inside, she thought, just some iced tea bottles.
What she didn't know was that inside the bottles was Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic drink. A few days before the concert, a store had sold it to her son and, she said, knowing he was underage, even brought the cans out to the car in a bag.
Four Loko and other spiked energy drinks were banned late last year after the Food and Drug Administration expressed concern over the effects. With 12 percent alcohol—equivalent to an entire bottle of wine—and enough caffeine to equal four cups of coffee, Four Loko earned a destructive reputation. The brand is still around, but without the caffeine now. Teens sometimes down these types of drinks in a few minutes in order to get drunk quickly; what's particularly scary for parents is that there is no strong odor like with other alcoholic drinks. In fact, people intoxicated from the beverage often have a false sense of sobriety.
Rupp, like many other parents, had no idea that a product like that even existed. But the ban came too late for Bo Rupp.
The staff at the concert quickly saw that Bo was drunk and called his parents. Just one hour after Karla Rupp dropped her son off, she had to come and pick him up again. Once she got home, she left Bo in the car for a few minutes, while she went inside the house to get her husband Johnny.
But when the two came back to the garage, Bo was gone. Frantic, they started searching. Karla called Bo while Johnny drove down Pleasant Valley Road. Unable to find him, Johnny drove back to the house.
"As Johnny put his hand on the front door, he heard the first sirens. He just knew," Rupp said. "He came in the house to tell me he thought something was up. But he made his first phone call to Bo."
Rupp then played Bo's voicemail message, as a hushed audience listened. In the background, sirens rang out clearly over his words.
"We drove toward the sirens, to the rec center, where my husband had come from minutes before, to find out our nightmare had come true. It can happen to you," Rupp told the audience. "It happened to us. We thought we had done everything right."
It was a message that resonated with the audience. While on most months there are not usually more then a dozen people attending the CAC meetings, nearly 40 people—many of them nervous parents—packed inside a meeting room at the Sully District Station. What hit hard for some parents was the fact that the Rupp family had appeared to do everything right. Bo Rupp was a well-liked kid, and his parents were vigilant.
"Growing up, our kids did not have computers in their room. They didn't have TVs in their room. The cell phones came later, but we were pretty strict about it. We knew his friends, we knew his activities. We knew their parents. I drove him to and from the concert, because I didn't want him driving with other kids. Because something might happen," Rupp said.
But after Rupp's speech, Sgt. Bill Fulton, a school resource supervisor, and MPO Lou Munoz, the school resource officer at Westfield High School, said that once a teen has his or her mind made up to try alcohol, there's not much that will stand in the way. Fulton declined to say if the store that sold alcohol to Bo Rupp would be prosecuted, saying only, "it's being taken care of."
Fulton and Munoz told the audience that they should monitor their teen's movements. If they carry water bottles, check to make sure it's actually water inside and not vodka. Watch for changes in behavior or friends. Check their email and social networking sites. Don't forget that the car, as much as a teen might protest otherwise, usually belongs to the parents. Parents should look in those cars to see if anything's inside, because teens are usually sloppy, Munoz said. He's seen many cars where kids just leave the beer cans or traces of marijuana inside.
"When I was a teenager, kids drank beer. You could smell it a mile away. The kids now, their methods are to put vodka in water bottles," Munoz said. "With Four Loko, you can't smell it. So when they come home at the end of the night, as long as they're kinda holding it together a little bit, you're not going to be able to notice it...So that's pretty scary."
Teens will do just about anything to get drunk or high once they put their minds to it, Fulton said. Even bath salts, since they're easy to get ahold of, are becoming a popular way to get high. He said that a lot of times, parents think they're monitoring situations, such as parties, but kids are sneaking around the back entrances with alcohol.
Karla Rupp now hopes that she can raise awareness among teens who might not fully understand what they're getting into by getting drunk or high. Thanks to a major donor, she'll soon be able to distribute wristbands at Westfield and other schools in the area printed with the simple message: "Think Twice."
"Now that our dream of raising our beautiful boy is over, I have a new dream. To make a difference in the lives of children and teens…for them to understand that one bad decision can cost them their lives," Rupp said. "I believe that by sharing our story, we may be able to make a difference."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Rupp's first name.