BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) – A young man who had just turned 18 was found dead at a northwest Bakersfield park.
Anthony Spence, a student at Vista West High School, was found dead early Saturday morning at Polo Community Park on Noriega Road. His family told Eyewitness News on Tuesday that his death was related to drugs and alcohol, but substance abuse was not in keeping with the good kid they knew him to be.
"He was very social. He was raised in church," Joe Devers, Spence's grandfather, said.
Spence came from a tight-knit family, and lived and breathed football.
"The Cowboys, that was his bread-and-butter," Brian Angulo, Spence's uncle, said.
Family kept him grounded.
"He always told you, 'I love you.' He gave us a hug all the time," Angulo said.
Around age 16, Angulo said Spence started experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
Angulo spoke to Spence about quitting drugs several times, and he could see Spence took those talks seriously.
"I knew he could be better. He wanted to be better. He said it dozens of times, when we had these conversations," Angulo said.
On Friday, Jan. 4, Spence and his friends went to Polo Park where they often drank and did drugs. Spence's family believes the combination of alcohol, fentanyl, and Xanax killed him.
According to family, his friends left him at the park, and one returned with a blanket that she covered him with. No one called 911.
"They left my boy in the park to die," Devers said of the teenagers who were with Spence Friday night. "They just left him there to die."
Police found his body early Saturday morning.
"If someone had just taken him home – we wouldn't be talking right now," Angulo said.
Spence's family believes his death could have been prevented.
"People need to know, if they have a family member, especially teenagers, they know are doing this kind of thing, they really need to be bullish about it and get up in their business and know where they are 24 hours a day," Devers said.
The Kern High School District released the following statement on Spence’s death:
“The KHSD community and Vista West High School are grieving the loss of Vista West student, Anthony Spence. We are devoting considerable efforts to helping our students and staff deal with this loss and we extend our sincere sympathies to the family. Grief counselors are on campus today and their services are available to all students and staff during this difficult time.”