Beautiful, resilient, smart, loving, talented, thoughtful, funny, strong, son
Eli had a warm, compassionate heart, a beautiful smile, and welcoming eyes. He loved animals and music and was strong in his faith. Eli’s parents separated when he was three; by 10, his dad was no longer in the picture. His mom, Perla, kept him active and surrounded him with good role models. Eli loved his family, was close to his mom, and looked up to by his cousins. Perla said, “We talked every single day. He was a mama’s boy.”
An only child, Eli was an honor student. He enjoyed composing rap music and a week prior to his passing he recorded a song for his mom’s birthday. He was close to his stepsister, Genesis, and had a good relationship with his stepfather, Aldo. The year he passed away, Eli wrote Aldo a beautiful birthday letter.
“Around 11th grade is when it started,” his mom said. Eli’s grades declined, and his attitude changed. Perla took him to therapy. Eli was prescribed Xanax and within a few months, he was back on track. When he was taken off Xanax, he went downhill. He enrolled in an elite private military school, The Army Navy Academy. He excelled there, but it was too expensive to maintain.
Eli finished high school at 18, about the time his mom discovered he was taking Xanax, but not a prescription. “The addiction took over his life, his mind, everything,” Perla said. He willingly went to treatment several times but couldn’t maintain sobriety. “I am proud he never gave up,” she said.
Eli talked about a family and a future. He planned to attend college, majoring in business. He envisioned living in London and starting a clothing line. He had a strong desire to sponsor missions and help build churches.
About a year before he died, he revealed to his mom that he had been emotionally and sexually abused by paternal family members before he was 10. His depression, insomnia, anxiety and addiction now made sense; he had been carrying trauma on his own. “Eli came to know the Lord at a deeper level,” Perla stated. He said “The Bible says to forgive, so I am.”
The night prior to his death, Eli and Perla talked on the phone about having breakfast and going to church the next day. Perla sensed something was off. She prayed for him to feel God’s presence in whatever he was going through. They texted and the last thing she said was, “Angels are there with you.” Eli was found on his knees by the bed, Bible nearby, hands folded in prayer. The unsent text on his phone said, “Okay Mama, I love you. Tomorrow let’s read our Bibles while we have coffee.”
Earlier texts revealed Eli ordered 15 pills for delivery from Snapchat. Fourteen were found, and one was missing. Tests revealed all 15 contained lethal doses of fentanyl. Eli passed away from drug-induced poisoning found in counterfeit pills.
“My son is with me every day; he is my motivation,” Perla said. She founded Project Eli, a non-profit, focusing on fentanyl/drug awareness, education, and prevention, and she talks to leaders and officials nationwide. She is also on the executive board of VOID – Victims of Illicit Drugs. “I really didn’t think this was the way it was going to end. My baby didn’t deserve to die. I know he’s looking down from above, cheering me on.”
Daniel’s mother, Perla Mendoza, provided the information for this narrative.
December 24, 1999-September 16, 2020
Age 20-Lived with the disease of addiction for two and a half years.