Benjamin Francis Rivell, 28, of West Chester and later Philadelphia, a computer analyst and Air Force veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, died Tuesday, March 20, of an accidental drug overdose in Kensington.

Benjamin Francis Rivell
Courtesy of the family
Benjamin Francis Rivell

Mr. Rivell was found unresponsive in an unnumbered house on East Hilton Street. The backpack containing his personal belongings was missing. He was identified through his fingerprints. After an autopsy, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office ruled the cause of death to be drug intoxication. The results of toxicology tests were pending.

His parents, William Howard Rivell and Laura Dean Douglas Rivell, said they wanted to go public with the story of their son's death so that others could learn from their experience.

"We're not going to hide from this," his father said. "He had everything going for him, and then this happened."

His mother said: "A part of me wants the public to know, because these deaths are becoming all too common. We want to break the silence, we want to break the stigma.

"We really feel people need to talk about this, if being honest and open is going to save a young person's life. Ben was open. He knew he had an addiction problem. He fought fiercely with a lot of help from the Caron Foundation, and he would want the story to be told to help."

Born in Chester County Hospital, Mr. Rivell grew up in Kennett Square, and attended Greenwood Elementary and Kennett Middle School. He graduated from St. Mark's High School in Wilmington, in 2007.

He enrolled in West Chester University to pursue a bachelor of science degree, but withdrew in 2008 to join the Air Force. Before enlisting, he had been serving with the Air National Guard. "He said he needed a break," his father said. "Some of the courses were hard."

Mr. Rivell was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2010, he served as a computer operator at Air Base Balad, Iraq, before being honorably discharged.

Mr. Rivell played rugby while at West Chester University and with the Schuylkill Rugby Club. His father said Mr. Rivell's addiction may have started out as the need for painkillers when he was injured while playing the sport.

"He had some shoulder pain, he got using these 30-day opioids, and he couldn't stop. Opioids are too expensive, so he started doing heroin," his father said.

Mr. Rivell was under the care of a health-care professional and taking Vivitrol, a drug that blocks opioid receptors in the brain, and "that really worked," his father said.

In July 2016, Mr. Rivell went for addiction treatment to the Caron Center in Reading. "That really helped," his father said. "The physicians were amazing. I have no axes to grind."

William Rivell said that from all outward appearances,  his son was thriving. In 2014, he graduated from West Chester University with a bachelor of science degree in computer science. For four years, he had been employed as an information technology security analyst by the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science. While working, he also was pursuing a graduate degree at Penn in computer science.

"People liked him, he was full of life and energy," his father said. "He was a very caring, loyal son. When I was going through some things, he was right there for me."

His mother said, he had "an incredible smile and charm that could light up a room."

But beneath the surface, though, Mr. Rivell was actively battling his addiction, his father said.

The Friday before his Tuesday death, Mr. Rivell had just bought his first home, a fully renovated rowhouse in Point Breeze. "The Realtor had worked out a deal on some last-minute items. We were moving him in. It's amazing how good the house was – and is," his father said.

Something caused Mr. Rivell to relapse. "Maybe it was the stress (of buying a home)," his father said.

When not at work, Mr. Rivell enjoyed playing the guitar, making music with his friends, hunting, and playing rugby, football, and lacrosse.  He also enjoyed "sailing the Chesapeake Bay, a good roaring bonfire, and spending time with his family and friends," his relatives wrote in an appreciation.

Besides his parents, Mr. Rivell is survived by a sister, Grace; brother Douglas; his paternal grandmother, JoAn Rivell; and a large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins.

A viewing and visitation will be held at DellaVecchia, Reilly, Smith & Boyd Funeral Home, 410 N. Church St., West Chester, from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, with a prayer service at 8. A second viewing will be held at the funeral home starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 29, with a funeral service at 10 a.m. Interment will be private.

Contributions in Mr. Rivell's memory may be made to the Scholarship Fund with the Caron Foundation.