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    Wednesday, October 05, 2022

    Parents struggle with details of Griswold teen’s final days

    Griswold — Bob and Sherry Roark, who have spent the past 10 days trying to absorb that their 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, died of an apparent heroin overdose in a Groton motel room, gathered pictures to display at a memorial service Wednesday.

    [naviga:img class="img-responsive" src="/Assets/img/roark-olivia.JPG" alt="Olivia Roark"/]

    Olivia Roark with her mother, Sherry Roark, at Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London on Mother’s Day 2014. Courtesy of Bob and Sherry Roark

    A collage contained pictures of a smiling Olivia from babyhood to her teen years, playing with dolls, hugging her grandparents or, more recently, using her cellphone to take selfies.

    “This was her,” Sherry Roark said, pointing to a framed photo of a young Marilyn Monroe lookalike on the center island in the kitchen of the family’s Cape Cod-style home.

    The Olivia the parents want the community to remember was a blonde, blue-eyed sweetheart who was involved with church, worked at the local senior center, loved vacationing with her family and seemed to care more about others than herself.

    “One day she walked down the stairs with a bag of clothes,” her father said. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘It’s picture day at school and my friend doesn’t have any clothes to wear.’”

    On vacation, Olivia would worry about getting her friends a gift before she got anything for herself, her father said.

    “If a friend was having a bad day, she’d say, ‘I need to go be with her,’” he said.

    But for the past couple of years, something had been bothering Olivia, her parents said.

    Maybe it was Bob Roark’s involvement in the Kleen Energy plant explosion in Middletown in 2010.

    Five of his friends were killed, and Bob Roark, who worked as a crane operator, said the accident burned the lenses out of both of his eyes and left him with other health problems.

    Or maybe it was the death, that same year, of his mother, from cancer.

    Olivia adored her grandmother.

    The teen started acting out and mouthing off to her parents.

    She was arrested at age 15 for taking her mother’s car. She ran away from home that same year and was located after police issued a Silver Alert.

    She had trouble concentrating at school but had been flourishing since she started attending the Griswold Alternative School, which has smaller classes, her parents said.

    She started drinking and smoking marijuana. She had been caught using cocaine, though her father said he never knew his daughter to try heroin.

    The family was working with a counselor, who said Olivia was not an addict, Bob Roark said.

    She was subject to biweekly toxicology screenings as a condition of her juvenile probation, he said, and for the past year, the only thing she tested positive for was marijuana.

    Olivia had gone on a week’s vacation to Aruba with the family in April without showing any signs of withdrawal, he said.

    Olivia left home on Monday, May 24, coming home once in the middle of the night to retrieve some belongings.

    The parents contacted police while maintaining some communication with their daughter via text messages.

    Six days later, Bob Roark got the phone call.

    A Groton Town Police detective, using Olivia’s cellphone to locate her next of kin, had called the number listed for “Dad.”

    The teen had been found unresponsive on the floor of Room 106 of the Flagship Inn & Suites on the Gold Star Highway in Groton.

    She was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

    In the days that followed, the Roarks would learn that their daughter had joined up with Ramon “BI” Gomez of New London, who police said arranged for her to work as a prostitute and stay in the hotel room with two other women who also were working as prostitutes.

    The daughter who had seemed to have normal teenage problems and who longed for independence, her parents said, had found herself in way over her head.

    Her parents said they had been texting with her until that Friday, when, according to police, Gomez arranged to have a friend pick up Olivia at an undisclosed location and bring her to the Groton motel.

    “Where are you, Liv?” her mother asked in one text. “I’m chillin,” was the response.

    That didn’t sound like Olivia, who usually would offer up information when asked, her parents said.

    “We asked if she was coming home,” her father said. “She said yes.”

    “We asked if she was safe,” her mother said. “She said yes.”

    Groton Town Police have said their investigation of Olivia Roark’s death is continuing and there may be more arrests.

    Her parents want to know how their daughter ended up in that hotel room, where they said police told them it appeared she had snorted a lethal dose of heroin.

    They said they think Olivia met Gomez, who had a lengthy criminal record that includes sale of narcotics, through a friend in Norwich.

    The Roarks say Gomez, who is being held in lieu of $250,000 on charges of promotion of prostitution and violation of probation, should remain incarcerated.

    “There’s no way this guy should be on the street,” Bob Roark said. “He raked her in and groomed her and fed her to the wolves.”

    “I want people to understand the type of person she was,” Sherry Roark said. “She was vibrant and loving and trusting.”

    A celebration of Olivia’s life will be held at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at Preston City Congregational Church in Preston.

    On Thursday, the community will remember Olivia and others at a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park in Jewett City.

    According to the community organization Griswold PRIDE, the vigil will be “an opportunity for the community to express solidarity and sorrow for the personal losses caused by the opioid crisis affecting our region.”

    k.florin@theday.com