To Honor Daughter’s Wish, Man Makes Film About Her Addiction

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mike Ortoll’s daughter had been missing for a few days when she called.

That day in August 2020, Christine Ortoll did not tell her father that she was being trafficked and given a supply of drugs, which Ortoll said found out later. Instead, Christine only asked that he one day take her to the Fairy Pools at Scotland’s Isle of Skye.

“She said she would be safe there,” Ortoll said. “She then hung up.”

Five days later, he found her and took her home. But he was never able to take her to the Fairy Pools.

Christine died of a fentanyl overdose on Nov. 2, 2020. She was 26.

The family discovered more than 50 journals that chronicled her years-long battle with addiction. One entry said that she hoped her struggle would inspire others to stay away from drugs and get help if they are addicts.

Ortoll decided to fulfill that wish by producing a documentary based on the journals.

“One Second at a Time: Battling the Monster of Addiction” premieres at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at the Tampa Theatre and will be available via streaming services in the coming months.

The film features reenactments and interviews with Christine’s friends and family, as well as an addiction psychiatrist and a 12-step treatment provider.

But her journals are the crux of the story.

“We shot this through her eyes,” Ortoll said. “It’s raw and it’s real. Christine did not want to be defined by her disease. She wanted to be remembered for helping others.”

Her story, Ortoll said, also shows the need to counsel the trauma that leads addicts to self-medicate.

“We didn’t realize how much trauma she had,” he said. “There was divorce trauma from when she was 5 and then other traumas built up” due to her addiction, including the trafficking. “Looking back perhaps we could have done more. That’s why we’re doing this. I’m sharing as a father who lost my daughter to this monster.”

This is the second documentary that he has made in support of drug and mental health counseling. He also produced “Safety Net,” about Florida State University’s recovery program known as LIFT, which stands for Living Intentionally, Finding Togetherness.

Due to Ortoll’s $100,000 donation to his alma mater and advocacy, over the last 18 months the Florida State program has grown from a handful of student engagements to more than 1,100, he said.

Christine wanted to go to college, but neither she nor her family felt that was a safe option because most campuses lack a quality substance abuse counseling program.

The “Safety Net” documentary will next be shared with thousands of colleges to inspire them to create programs like Florida State’s.

“She would be proud of what we are doing,” Mike Ortoll said. “We are giving others an opportunity.”

Before addiction, his daughter was “the most perfect little girl,” he said. “She was always smiling and was beautiful inside and out. She was a competitive gymnast and a high-end soccer player. Then, when she was around 12 or 13, you could tell she was going through changes.”

She began drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. Next came Xanax. By senior year at Carrollwood Day School, “she’d moved on to opiates,” Ortoll said. “She could have gone on and been a scholarship athlete. This disease doesn’t discriminate. It can hit anybody — high income, low income, white, Black. It doesn’t matter.”

Christine fought for sobriety, going to more than 20 treatment centers over a decade, her father said. She’d been drug and alcohol free for three years when she relapsed and returned to a treatment center from which she was lured to a house to be human trafficked.

“The traffickers put a mole in the treatment center,” Ortoll said. “She told my daughter that if she ever wanted to have a good time to let her know.”

The days she was missing in August 2020 were hard on her family.

“That was super harrowing for her dad,” the documentary’s director Tim Searfoss said. “What she was really asking was for her dad to take her out of that place. And then she hung up the phone without saying where she was.”

Family and friends went on social media to ask for help in finding Christine and, according to Ortoll, a few days later, the woman who lured her there came forward with the location in a Punta Gorda neighborhood.

Ortoll said that he demanded that the traffickers release Christine.

She voluntarily went to a 30-day treatment center in Knoxville, Tenn., but later returned to drugs and overdosed.

“The monster that is addiction feeds on that trauma and pain,” Ortoll said. “She was in so much pain.”

In November, on the two-year anniversary of Christine’s death, Ortoll visited the blue and green series of Fairy Pools, which local lore says were infused with magic healing powers when an island chief married a fairy princess. There, with documentary cameras rolling, Ortoll released his favorite picture of Christine into the water.

“She floated down the waterfalls and down the Fairy Pools,” he said. “It was absolutely gorgeous. For me, that was cathartic because I was able to take her in spirit.”