Friday, May 31, 2013

Heroin And Heartbreak In A Small Town

Devan Cathlene Knapp

I live in a rural area of northwestern PA where crime is a rarity. The  murder rate is extremely low (like one every 10 years), burglaries and rapes are fortunately few and far between and I cannot recall a kidnapping ever happening in this area. Driving Under The Influence and Criminal Mischief comprise the bulk of criminal cases in this area. Our small town life and sense of security was shattered on January 11, 2013. A 19 year old girl from nearby Brookville, Devan Knapp, was reported missing by her mother.

Devan Knapp

Local law enforcement immediately released details and asked for the public's help in locating Miss Knapp. Earlier in the day that she disappeared Devan Knapp had purchased a brand new 2013 Toyota Scion. She left her home around 6 pm and told her mother she was going to show her new car off to friends. Around 11 pm the evening of January 11th she phoned her mother and told her she was watching movies with friends, it was the last time her family heard from  her. There was all kinds of speculation as to what could have happened to this young girl. Many people who really knew nothing about Devan Knapp were wondering if her new car was tied to her disappearance, was she maybe carjacked? Those who knew Devan Knapp thought something more sinister had happened to her, she had issues with substance abuse. She had recently been released from prison for her involvement in the beating of a drug dealer and was court ordered to enter a drug rehabilitation program a few days prior to her disappearance.

Everyone in the surrounding area was concerned and alarmed. Was there a kidnapper in our midst? Had someone traveling on Interstate 80 pulled off at the Brookville exit and somehow run across Devan Knapp and taken her? The Web Sleuths site was filled with information and posts from those who knew Devan or those close to her.

On the morning of January 15th the local police received a phone call about a white Toyota Scion that matched the description of Devan Knapp's car in the Fisher area of Clarion County, about 15 miles from where Devan was last seen in Brookville. Police and the district attorneys from both Clarion and Jefferson counties converged on the area. The car was located in a very remote area with few residences on the road, mostly hunting camps. Inside the car was the body of Devan Knapp with open bags of heroin scattered around and a needle in her hand. Her body was transported to Erie and an autopsy was performed by Dr. Eric Vey (because this is such a rural area there are not coroners who are qualified to do autopsies so it is standard procedure to send a body to either the city of Pittsburgh or city of Erie for expert examination).

Almost two months  passed with  no word on what had happened to Devan Knapp. She was buried in 
St. Mary's Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Brookville, you can go HERE to see her burial site and memorial. On February 28th local police made some arrests in connection with the death of Devan Knapp and released the autopsy findings. She died of morphine toxicity (heroin turns to morphine when it enters the bloodstream). In the past few years there have been other drug related deaths but they weren't made  public and they didn't have the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Devan Knapp.

Shawn Ryan Carr
29 year old Shawn Ryan Carr was charged with several felonies in the death of Devan Knapp. He had spent the evening of January 11th and early morning hours of January 12th with Devan Knapp, injecting her with heroin. She developed difficulty breathing and he and another conspirator, Adonica Vigus, placed Miss Knapp in a cold shower and attempted to perform CPR on her. A few hours later Devan Knapp was dead. Shawn Carr placed her in her car and transported her to a remote area of Fisher where he  planted heroin and a needle to make it look like an overdose and left the scene. He was picked up by an acquaintance, Joel Tanner Stark, who then went with him to sell heroin in the nearby towns of Leeper and East Brady.

Joel Tanner Stark was charged in connection with the death of Devan Knapp too. His girlfriend, Adonica Vigus, who was present and witness to the whole thing was not charged. At Shawn Carr's preliminary hearing information came out that Shawn Carr was a long time drug dealer and user with an extensive criminal past. Joel Stark and Adonica Vigus also have criminal records. The judge at the preliminary hearing found there was enough evidence against Carr and Stark to proceed to trial and they are currently incarcerated awaiting their respective trials.

Several things about this case struck me. Obviously the biggest one was how close to home it was. Like so many others in our community I was truly unaware of how large the heroin problem is around here. Devan Knapp's death ripped the lid off the whole issue and now both Clarion and Jefferson county are conducting community awareness meetings and people are openly talking about the  problem. Reportedly several people were at the house where Devan Knapp was injected with heroin and died yet none of them were charged. I find it disturbing that people could watch a young girl struggle to breathe and die and do nothing about it. Most disturbing is the fact that Miss Adonica Vigus was not charged in this case, by her own admission she was the only person present that night who was sober and she made no attempt to call 9-1-1, transport Miss Knapp to hospital or even ask a neighbor for help. She also helped cover up the crime and did not come forward or admit to any knowledge of it until police questioned her. I feel that she should be held as accountable as her boyfriend Joel Stark.

The heartbreak of Devan Knapp's family has gone through is hard to put in to words. They lost a daughter and during a time when they needed privacy and time to grieve they were under public scrutiny. There were those who said they knew about Devan's problems and didn't get her help etc. And many people took to Facebook and posted horrible and vicious comments about Devan on the pages of local news media. Devan's family saw all of the comments which only exacerbated their pain, finally one night Devan's mother pleaded with people to stop with the ugly comments.

There has been fall out from this case for many of Devan's friends and associates. Some people who were close to her were investigated by law enforcement and some of them were arrested for crimes ranging from drug paraphernalia possession to bad checks. And in the months since Devan Knapp's death numerous arrests for drug dealing and possession have been made in both Clarion and Jefferson I find it interesting that suddenly law enforcement has the knowledge and resources to find local drug dealers and make actual arrests of those who have been operating in this area for some time. Maybe like me they were unaware of how big the drug problem in this area is or maybe Devan's death gave them a new resolve. Either way I am glad that they have put some of these dealers away.

Devan Knapp was described as "energetic, full of life, always happy" by those closest to her. She was beautiful with piercing blue eyes. She was kind, she helped the family of a young friend who committed suicide through the grieving process. She had a mother and sister who loved her. Former teachers described her as "bright and talented". She was destined for a long and productive life until someone gave her her first dose of heroin and started her down the path of drug addiction which ultimately cut her young life short.

So here in our small insulated world where bad things rarely happen life is different now, heroin came to our town and left a lot of us heartbroken.


  1. :( I lost my mom to drugs it's hard and I wish that family didn't have to go through it.