Pain into Purpose: Mother of man who died of apparent overdose in police custody starts addiction advocacy group

One mother’s pain of losing her son is now turning into purpose.
Naomi Vega is the mother of...
One mother’s pain of losing her son is now turning into purpose. Naomi Vega is the mother of Jesus Gutierrez, a 29-year-old who died in Tucson police custody last year of an apparent overdose. We’re hearing from her for the first time since his death—and how she aims to help others battling the same addiction.(eric prado)
Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 10:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s a place Naomi Vega never thought she’d go to visit her son. The cemetery.

Kneeling by his headstone at the South Lawn Cemetery feels surreal.

“Its hard. Some days are better than others,” said Vega. “I really took for granted that he would come back to me, like he always did.”

It’s been six months since her son Jesus ‘Junior’ Gutierrez died moments after police arrived at a midtown home. Tucson police officers were originally called to respond to a possible intruder, and said they found drug paraphernalia at the scene

Naomi Vega has had to face her grief in an unusual way. Mourning his loss while dealing with the death being in the public eye.

“People would look at my son and say he was a strain on society. And he wasn’t. Yeah, he had his illness, but he wasn’t a strain. He was my son.”

Gutierrez, struggled with addiction for years, entering the behavioral health system at 14. It’s not an issue unique to him. Vega joined several support groups after his passing and saw stories similar to her family’s.

“As I got connected with all of these support groups I said, ‘something has to happen’. Something has to give. We have to break that cycle. Which is why we’re taking it out of the darkness and into the light.”

That’s where the Enlighten Hope Project stems from. Vega, who’s worked in the behavioral health field for years, started the new advocacy group that provides certified peer support specialists to talk to and resources for those who may not know where to turn.

“I’m able to help people who don’t know. Because he had me, I knew the system, and I knew the rules and I know what they say. But what about the person over there? What about the person over there who doesn’t know?”

Vega is also starting a walk-through art gallery made up of photos of those lost to addiction. Due to the pandemic, it will be virtual for now, but one day she hopes to have it up in person. As a way to remembered those lost to addiction who should be remembered for who they were and not their choices.

“This is a dark stigmatized type of thing, but to get the awareness out there and collaborate with providers, law enforcement, what we can do to provide additional education so we can provide this step in service. Their life mattered and they’re not just the shell of their addiction.”

Vega is hosting their virtual vigil this Sunday. If you would like to be a part of it you can send a photo and description through their website forum. For details visit:

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