Fun, easy-going, compassionate friend
The second of four boys that included his brothers Ryan, Jacob, and Joshua, Joseph was a friend to everyone, especially those not accepted by others. He was creative and spent time sketching, making funny movies, and drawing intricate robots and imaginary creatures. Joe loved doing anything outdoors; hiking, fishing, camping, and exploring the woods were his favorites. He was great with animals and often brought home baby bunnies, birds that fell out of their nests, and especially snakes. His mom, Dee, said he was a “great snake wrangler.”
Joseph was very proud of his football team. He was the starting center and played all four years of high school for the Virginia Disciples. In his senior year, his team was undefeated, won the regionals, and traveled to Florida where they won nationals. Quite an achievement and a great way to end his high school football career.
Often having two jobs, Joe was a hard worker and always had a way of making any job fun. At the time he passed away, he was trying to find his place in the work world, deciding what was a good fit for him.
Joe always took out time to listen to friends when they were struggling. Several of them told his family that Joe was there for them when they were dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts. “He didn’t always have the answers,” his mom said, “but he was always willing to listen and be there as a friend.” She remembers his corny jokes and how he would crack himself up and giggle when he told them. She treasured talking with Joe about music and how they would lean in and share earbuds to listen to a new song.
His mom remembers wondering why Joe couldn’t just stop at a few drinks but had to drink until he passed out. She didn’t understand at the time he was struggling with addiction and exactly what that meant. After Joe and his best friend passed away from drug overdoses within 84 hours of each other, his mom began learning all she could. “It wasn’t until I educated myself that I understood Joe had an addiction,” she said. “The first thing I did was start an awareness campaign.”
Dee learned that a lot of families suffer in silence, hiding their loved one’s addiction from others because of shame and stigma. She resolved not to cover up Joe’s substance use disorder, instead putting his cause of death predominantly in his obituary. She also interviewed for newspaper articles and started Culpepper Overdose Awareness, which provides community education and resources for those affected by the disease of addiction. “I now know that addiction is a health problem, not a moral issue,” Dee said. ‘To this day, I’m learning all I can and sharing that knowledge.”
Joseph’s mother, Dee Fleming, provided the information for this narrative
August 11, 1994-October 13, 2017
Age 23-Lived with the disease of addiction 2 years.