Beloved Mother Slain by Colorado Counterfeit Drug Trade

Picture of Ashley Romero, with her son and dogs.

Ashley Romero, with her son and dogs.

32-year-old Grand Junction resident Ashley Romero was the cherished eldest daughter of her close-knit Colorado family. Her parents, grandparents, and five younger siblings surrounded Ashley and her eight-year-old son with love.

Ashley’s tough exterior belied a warm heart and a brilliant, 1,000 watt smile. Despite bouts of severe pain from chronic pancreatitis, she made friends everywhere she went and helped feed the homeless in Grand Junction on Sundays. “She’d start talking with someone when we walked into a convenience store and would leave with a new friend,” her mother, Andrea Thomas said. Ashley didn’t judge: she accepted people as they were. “When she looked at you, she did not see the clothes you had on or anything like that. She just looked at the person. She just looked at them for them.”

Ashley died on June 11, 2018 after taking half of an oxycodone pill. The pill was fake and actually made with fentanyl. Local police, who had seen similar deaths in the area, referred her case to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

As a result, the Department of Justice indicted a group of Colorado residents on charges related to distributing counterfeit controlled substances that resulted in serious bodily injury of one Colorado resident and the death of another. The drug trafficking ring allegedly acquired thousands of counterfeit pills a month in Mexico, smuggling them over the border and home to Colorado. Federal prosecutors believe the ring may be responsible for other fatal overdoses in western Colorado.

Although justice cannot console Ashley’s devastated family, Andrea Thomas has been glad about the prosecutions: “Had the police not found what they did and if the DEA had not already had an open investigation going, my daughter would have just been another overdose and book closed,” she told PSM. ‘When those DEA agents walked in and let us know that five people [had been] indicted [on federal charges] and several more on state charges, it was phenomenal.”

After Ashley’s demise, Andrea Thomas co-founded the Voices for Awareness Foundation with D’Ann Hopkins, who lost a brother to suicide in 2018. The organization works to bring awareness of the dangers of illicit drugs, drug addiction, self-harm, and suicide to the residents of Grand Junction, and across the whole country. In the summer of 2019, Voices for Awareness hosted a free conference to educate Mesa County residents about the epidemic that stole Ashley from her family and friends. “I just keep on going,” Thomas told us. “Something good will come of my daughter’s life. Her life will make a difference. This is not all in vain.”

Voices for Awareness Foundation logo

Voices for Awareness brings awareness of the dangers of
illicit drugs, drug addiction, self-harm, and suicide to Grand Junction
residents and across the country .

Update: On April 20, 2021, a federal jury convicted Bruce Holder, who sold tens of thousands of counterfeit pills made with fentanyl in western Colorado, of distributing fentanyl and counterfeit substances that killed a Carbondale man in 2017. Holder also sold the pills that killed  Ashley Romero.

Ashley's mother, Andrea Thomas, told Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel, "The ultimate goal here is to save other people and now that’s going to happen...My daughter could have just been another overdose, book closed. Instead we’ve been able to reach out with the help of the DEA even into Washington (D.C.).”

To learn more about Bruce Holder's prosecution, watch "Counterfeiting Charges Stick" or do a deep dive into the indictment and  jury's Instructions.

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