Thirteen people have been charged following a drug raid that centered on an area of northeastern Berks County that has been plagued by heroin.
Two of the suspects were arrested Monday morning at Brandywine Heights Area High School in Longswamp Township, including a 17-year-old junior who had heroin in her possession at the time she was apprehended, said Berks County District Attorney John Adams in a news conference following the raid.
Ten of 13 suspects are age 21 or under, authorities said.
"The growing trend that we are seeing in Pennsylvania has indicated that the heroin epidemic that were are referring to is really an epidemic of young people who are getting themselves involved in this drug, which is probably the most addictive drug that is on the streets today," said Capt. Dante Orlandi, Pennsylvania State Police.
Five recent deaths in the Topton area have been attributed to heroin overdoses, said Orlandi, noting that all of the victims were age 23 or under.
"This problem has caused quite a community impact in Topton," Adams said. "We're all well aware of the overdose deaths that have occurred in this area."
Twelve of the suspects were charged Monday with possession, possession with the intent to deliver, and delivery of heroin, cocaine and marijuana. They were identified as:
Jesse Strain, 47, Topton
Carl Ritzman, 45, Temple
Dylan Lesher, 21, Mertztown
Cameron Grace, 18, Topton
Brett Brugger, 19, Topton
Alexis Miller, 19, Kempton
Heather Gulick, 21, Kutztown
Ross Brugger, 20, Topton
Michael Moll, 26, Mertztown
Logan Fenstermacher, 20, Topton
Ashley Hettrick, 19, Mertztown
Authorities did not release the name of the 17-year-old girl because of her age.
"These individuals are low-level drug dealers, but clearly are a major contributing factor to the problems facing the northeast area of Berks County," Adams said. "Each one of these heroin dealers had the potential of delivering a fatal dose of heroin."
The 13th suspect, Stephanie Oswald (not pictured), was charged with heroin possession, said Adams, who anticipates more arrests being made as the joint-investigation by the district attorney's office and the Pennsylvania State Police continues.
The investigation, Adams said, involved a number of undercover drug buys that ranged in price from $30 to $170.
"We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," Adams said. "We need to have programs in place for prevention and education, treatment and also enforcement. Today's piece is the enforcement piece."
“Action must also be taken in the General Assembly," said Pennsylvania Sen. Judy Schwank, a Berks County Democrat, in a statement released after the drug raid. "There are legislative options before us to consider. If they need to be improved or changed, we should do that."
Meantime, residents of the Topton area had quite a lot to say in response to the raid early Monday morning.
"Wow. I lived here for 20 some years and I did not realize it was that bad," said Bruce Yoder, of Topton.
"This is a shock to a lot of people not thinking there is that many," said Ron Reimert, of Topton.
The arrests came just weeks after several young people overdosed and died in the small tight-knit community.
"I think it is a shame that other kids had to die until they finally stepped up and did something," said Derek Beitler.
Although community members said they are relieved, many still believe the war on drugs is not over yet.
"I think the town needs to look into maybe having its own police force," said Beitler.
"You have to keep after it. It is not going to go away overnight," said Yoder.
"They will do what they need to do to clean it up. I hope," said Randall Brandt, of Topton.