120 attend memorial for Hempfield teenager who died of drug overdose

Joe Napsha
| Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The mother of a Hempfield Area High School student who died last week of a drug overdose said during a gathering of family and friends near the high school on Saturday night that he should be remembered for the good he did for people in his short life, a life that was not consumed by drug use.

“(Drug use) doesn't define my son. My son was so much more than that. He's surely a gift to us all. He put everybody before himself,” Rachele Morelli of Hempfield said of her son, Jonathan Morelli, who was found dead in his home on Wednesday.

“My son, in his 18 years, packed in more life than I have in my 42 years,” Rachele Morelli said as more than 120 family and friends congregated in a parking lot across from the high school to remember the Hempfield Area senior.

The Westmoreland County deputy coroner investigating Jonathan Morelli's death found “evidence to indicate drug use,” Coroner Kenneth Bacha said. The coroner said he would not know which drug was involved until toxicology tests are complete.

Jonathan Morelli's death was the fifth drug overdose fatality in the county that the coroner's office has investigated since Tuesday.

Rachele Morelli said that while Jonathan had used heroin in the past, he had been in a drug rehabilitation program and “had been clean for the last 1 12 years.”

One of his friends, who declined to be identified, said Jonathan was not a drug addict and hated drug dealers.

Rachele Morelli speculated that her son turned to drugs to feel better because he suffered from depression and took medication for it. She said she did not know where her son would have obtained illegal drugs, but said the illegal drugs are everywhere.

Rachele Morelli said her late husband, Daniel G. Morelli, had a bipolar disorder and committed suicide when Jonathan was in fourth grade. A close friend of Jonathan's died in a car crash when he was in fifth grade.

Despite the emotional setbacks he suffered as a youngster, “my son loved life,” Rachele Morelli said.

“He was a great friend. He was loved by a lot of people,” said his cousin, Ryan Ligus of Greensburg, a junior at Greensburg Salem High School.

More than 800 people paid their respects in Leo M. Bacha Funeral Home in Southwest Greensburg, including friends and his teachers, some of whom taught him in elementary school. The limousine driver at the funeral on Saturday told her that he had never seen such a large group of people at a funeral, Morelli said.

“I can't imagine what our life will be without him,” his mother said.

Friends held candles and flashlights in the parking lot as Rachele Morelli spoke of her son's love of life. One friend drove to the gathering, which lasted for more than an hour, in a car inscribed with the phrases “Bud Light Platinum Have No Mercy Jon Morelli Is Thirsty” and “Rest in Peace Ride High” painted on the windows and hood.

They sang lyrics to his favorite song, “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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