Picayune billboard features local drug overdose victims

A new billboard in Picayune is not selling a product. It’s selling awareness.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 5:27 PM CDT
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PICAYUNE, Miss. (WLOX) - A new billboard in Picayune is not selling a product.

It’s selling awareness.

The imagery is meant to be frightening. For the families of the featured overdose victims, it’s hard to see, but they say it’s necessary to help keep people away from drugs.

“It’s got to be stopped,” said L.J. Smith, father of overdose victim Willie Darnell Smith. “If this don’t do it, maybe we’ll come up with something else one day that will help. But for right now, the only thing we’ve got is that billboard and the good Lord on our side.”

The Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers have other billboards, but this is the first “Overdose” message.

Featured on the billboard are Willie Darnell Smith, Juanita Mitchell, Lana Craft and Keirsten Fisher.

There could have been many more, and it was put in Pearl River County for a reason.

The CDC reports that from 2017 to 2021, Pearl River County experienced a 119% increase in fatal overdose deaths.

Wilfred A. Severin Jr. is the father of Keirsten Fisher.

“I hope and I pray that that billboard up there saves a bunch of lives,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t mind her picture being up there on that billboard.”

That picture is the way he wants her to be remembered.

“I couldn’t stop staring at it when I first came up here this morning,” Severin said. " Her up there. ... That’s the way I knew her with a big ol’ smile on her face.”

The ceremony to roll out the Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers billboard on Thursday brought together family members as well as law enforcement and drug recovery experts.

Susie Ann Smith is the mother of Juanita Mitchell, who died at age 28 and had three children.

“They need to get out there and do something to stop this,” she said. “This is not right. It’s happening every day.”

Charlene Smith Towns, mother of Willie Smith, wants to be clear that victims are not bad people.

“I just feel like the person who sells the drugs is the criminal because if I don’t sell it to you, you can’t use it,” she said.

Towns hopes this effort will make parents more aware.

“Even if you can’t protect them and the things that they do, you can alert them and maybe save a few lives,” she said.

The project was made possible by a grant through the Coast Electric Community Trust through “Operation Round Up” funds.

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