Connected to nature and people, a heart too big for his own good, hard life.
“My son was a sweet, caring, funny, active, and mischievous child. As an adult, he was loving, generous, and had the biggest heart,” stated AJ’s mom, Maria. While growing up, he rode bikes, played tennis, went fishing, and liked to swim. He tried hard in school, but learning did not come easily for AJ. He could get frustrated or angry.
AJ was the one who woke everyone up at 6:00 AM to go fishing while they were on vacation, (which went over well!) He loved casting nets to catch bait and once got bit by a sea otter when trying to feed it. AJ’s mother remembers him at five years old, gathering coquina shells on Captiva Island in Florida, where his family vacationed for over 45 years. He called himself the “Chipichipi man,” a reference to what they call coquina shells in Columbia, where his father is from.
The official gravy maker and turkey carver at Thanksgiving and Christmas, AJ was also a skilled cook.. He loved to watch documentaries and movies and to listen to music. He was passionate about his involvement in Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
AJ loved his three sisters, Claudia, Veronica, and Patty, often playing pranks on them. They all hung out together, went to the beach, took the kids to the Zoo, and to see fireworks together.
AJ’s biggest love was his daughter, Jackie, now seven. He loved cooking lobster and filet mignon for her and taking her to Disney World, renaissance festivals, and other fairs. They attended storytime at the public library and went to parks near his apartment. He would let her paint his nails and chase her saying, “Here comes Harry,”, and acting like a monkey.
AJ had his own business–AJ’s Clean Steam. His business offered mold remediation, dry outs, and upholstery cleaning. He was aware of people’s financial situation and offered free services or discounts to those who needed them. He planned to expand his company and buy a home for himself and Jackie.
During active addiction, AJ would sometimes detach from others, get depressed and disinterested in things he usually enjoyed. His mom lived in constant fear that she would get “the call,” and felt like a failure as a mother. “Now that he has passed, “I feel such a void,” Maria said. “I spent so much time trying to save him, I feel a horrible emptiness in my life and heart. I miss him so much.” Like many parents, Maria felt like she wasn’t fair to her daughters when she was so desperately trying to save AJ.
The day prior to AJ’s death, Maria called the police and begged them to invoke the Baker Act, a Florida Mental Health Act, that allows for involuntary institutionalization and examination of people who are in danger. The police felt AJ didn’t meet the criteria and did nothing. He died the next day. Maria is now raising awareness of stigma and petitioning to change the criteria for the Baker Act, which may save the lives of others.
AJ’s mother, Maria Fonnegra, provided the information for this narrative.
August 7, 1978-June 3, 2020
Age 41-Lived with the disease of addiction 25+ years.