Blue clouds cover the wall of Sharon Murfin’s basement.
“Serenity” sweeps through the clouds in large black letters just above a photo of Murfin’s 1-year-old granddaughter, who died late last year from a likely fentanyl overdose.
First responders rushed 17-month-old Serenity Murfin-Marusic to the hospital Dec. 4 after callers reported the toddler wasn’t breathing at a home in northeast Spokane. She was declared brain dead three days later and taken off life support.
A drug screening done by the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office revealed fentanyl in the girl’s system, court documents show.
Police had been investigating her father, Frank R. Marusic, 31, conducting multiple drug buys with a confidential informant since early September.
Marusic was arrested Dec. 16 on suspicion of six drug charges. Seven new charges were added less than a month later, including second-degree murder, stemming from his daughter’s death.
When questioned by police, Marusic gave differing statements, according to court documents.
Marusic – along with his girlfriend, Teila Murfin; his daughter; and 4-year-old son – was living with friends after being homeless, Murfin said. The roommate told police that Marusic and his girlfriend dabbled with mexi-blues, a pill made to look like prescription narcotics that often contains large amounts of fentanyl.
Walking through grief
Murfin had been heavily involved in her grandchildren’s lives, hoping to provide stability while her daughter was in recovery from substance-abuse issues. The toddlers lived with her part time, but also spent time with their parents. Murfin said her daughter was trying to stay sober through a methadone clinic when Serenity died.
It had been a difficult few years, with Sharon Murfin fighting breast cancer and the COVID-19 pandemic making visits risky, she said. When Marusic and her daughter would come over, they wore masks to protect Murfin, something she now fears obscured their drug use. She had tried to encourage the couple to leave the grandchildren with her for their safety, but Marusic was controlling, she said.
When Serenity was taken to the hospital, Murfin stayed by her side until the end. After her death, she was given custody of her 4-year-old grandson.
The Murfin family’s adjustment has been difficult, with Serenity’s brother going to therapy to help him through the loss of not only his sister, but also his parents.
“It’s been trying,” Murfin said. “He lost his whole family.”
At first, Murfin was angry at Marusic and her daughter, she said.
“I blame everybody that was in that house, because they shouldn’t have been doing drugs,” she said.
She also blames police for not arresting Marusic after the series of drug buys.
“I believe that this could have been prevented had the police done their jobs,” Murfin said. “Then I would have known what was going on and I could have protected my grandkids.”
Spokane Police Cpl. Nick Briggs said shortly after Serenity’s death he could not offer more details about Marusic’s case, but noted it is “not abnormal” for undercover drug investigations to span several weeks or months before an arrest.
Drug investigations “are a lengthy, lengthy process,” Briggs said, and take resources the department sometimes has to stretch in order to cover the other ongoing investigations in the city.
Now, Murfin is supervising visits between her grandson and daughter, while she gets treatment and counseling. Finding a counselor for her young grandson was difficult. Finding a support group was nearly impossible.
It felt like people didn’t want to talk about fentanyl overdoses, she said.
‘All I have is memories’
Murfin, along with friend Kara Birge, recently founded a nonprofit, “Serenity: Family over Fentanyl, Let Our Voices Be Heard.”
They hope to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and how easy it is to overdose.
Murfin, who has been in recovery for the last 15 years after dealing with substance abuse herself, said it’s terrifying how little fentanyl it takes to overdose.
“I mean, it’s very little,” Murfin said. “You’re playing Russian roulette anytime you even try it.”
The drug is 50 to 100 times more potent that morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Through the nonprofit, Murfin hopes to encourage families to get lock boxes for their medications and talk to their children about drugs, especially fentanyl.
Many drugs, including nonregulated marijuana, have been found to be laced with fentanyl in recent months, making even experimenting with other drugs dangerous, Murfin said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Tuesday the Spokane area is one of 11 areas they plan to emphasize for drug crime prevention in light of skyrocketing fentanyl cases.
Seizures of the drug have increased 1,100% after federal drug enforcement officials seized 15,000 pounds of pure fentanyl in 2021, according to the DEA. Last month, a man was arrested with more than 20,000 pills of illicit opioids, largely fentanyl, according to court documents.
Drug deals commonly take place on social media applications like Snapchat and TikTok, the DEA said, something Murfin hopes one day to talk to students about. Having been addicted to drugs and also losing a loved one to an overdose, Murfin hopes children might listen to her lived experience more closely than just an informational presentation.
“We’ve been in the drug world, and we know that kids aren’t just going to listen to you,” Murfin said.
Despite his parents discussing drugs with him, a Coeur d’Alene teen overdosed in May on what he thought were prescription pills but turned out to be fentanyl.
Birge hopes to remind kids that “trying drugs, it’s not the time to try anything right now; nothing is safe.”
The nonprofit is just getting started, but the goal of making a difference has been a huge help to Murfin as she grieves.
“Going through this has changed my life,” Murfin said. “This is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. All I have is memories.”
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