Nathan Wylie was just 3 years old when he started calling his father’s sister his "Big Bad Aunt Penny."
The title seemingly came out of nowhere, a funny nickname blurted out by a little boy prone to wise cracks, and he stuck with it when the moniker garnered laughs.
Ten years later, the title has taken on new weight, as his "Big Bad Aunt Penny" fights for answers to learn how — and why — her nephew died April 1 in a suspected heroin overdose at just 13 years old.
"The Lord knows what our life is going to be like, and he knows when he’s going to take us from this Earth, so the only way I can find comfort and peace in this... is God implanted that in Nathan. He knew, once something happened, I was going to become his voice. And that’s what I’m going to do,” Penny Jo Bilbrey, 50, told InsideEdition.com.
Last Tuesday, Nathan’s father, Robert Wylie, and a co-worker discovered the teen unconscious at a mechanic’s lot in Dayton, Ohio. The pair carried him to a fire station next door and allegedly indicated that Nathan had gotten into his father’s drugs, according to reports.
Medics administered four milligrams of Narcan, but Nathan remained unresponsive and was rushed to a nearby hospital.
Nathan’s father was arrested after his son's suspected overdose on previous drug warrants. He is currently in custody at Montgomery County Jail and expected to appear in court next week.
It could take up to eight weeks for the toxicology report to be completed to determine what Nathan accessed, officials said.
Bilbrey said she learned of her nephew’s suspected overdose on social media.
"We all found out that way, what had happened," she said. "The hell I had to go through to even find out where he was. And then a social worker told me, 'It’s a grim situation.’ I wasn’t allowed to stay with him; I had to keep coming back to the hospital every day, so that’s what I did."
She said she went to the hospital every day to be by Nathan’s side, determined to spend time with the nephew she had lost track of three years ago. He died Saturday.
"I told Nathan as I stroked his hair, I apologized — I feel guilty. I feel a ton of guilt," she said. "People want to know 'where the family was at, where was the family?' My brother didn't want to be found. That’s what addiction does; it takes people from their families."
She’d come to learn that her brother and his children were living 25 minutes away from her Xenia home, but it was a world apart in an area of Dayton she described as unsafe and severely affected by the heroin epidemic.
Bilbrey said that in 2008, she had custody of Nathan and his brother, but Wylie was able to get his children back. In the years that Wylie had lost contact with his family, Bilbrey said she’s learn Nathan had been forced to grow up quickly to take care of himself and his little brother.
"Circumstances made him have to be a survivor and street-smart," she said of Nathan. “He was a protector.”
But she questioned who was protecting him, saying that neither Nathan nor his brother had been enrolled in school for the last three months.
"Children’s services had been called... You can just take your child out of school, and nobody is concerned? So many people did an injustice to both boys."
According to reports, cops had found drug paraphernalia in the Wylie home in February 2016, after obtaining a photo a child who lived there sent to a relative of a bag of white power and a razor blade on a plate.
At the time, Wylie and his girlfriend were arrested for child endangerment, possession of drug paraphernalia and drug abuse instruments.
And in December, police reportedly said they found Wylie with a needle, syringe, heroin and crack cocaine during a traffic stop of his girlfriend. He had been charged with possession of heroin, possession of cocaine and advertising and possessing in that case, online records show. That case is pending in court.
"There are a lot of people who knew those boys over the last couple of years and they knew what was happening and did nothing," Bilbrey said. "But I’m going to get answers. I’m going to be Nathan’s voice and no stone is going to go unturned."
She noted other relatives are now watching over Nathan’s little brother, who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his protector.
"He’s shut down," Bilbrey said. "They were best friends. Children should not have to go through this."
Officials with Dayton police told InsideEdition.com that the incident was under investigation and could not confirm any specific details of the case.
Children’s Services told InsideEdition.com that the agency had an open case with the Wylie family at the time of Nathan's death, and has taken steps to ensure the safety of his sibling, but declined to provide further details due to confidentiality.
Bilbrey has spent the days since her nephew’s death planning his funeral and fundraising to afford a burial and a headstone — expenses she never imagined she’d one day incur.
“I’ve been in survival mode," she said. "It’s a nightmare to be living through. I’m so furious, but I’m focused on what needs to be done. It’s just not fair."
She’s taken solace in making sure Nathan is not forgotten, she said, coming up with a plan to help other children in similar situations.
"I was just sitting here, trying to make sense of everything — if you can — and it just came to my heart, and even the name, 'Nathan’s Place,'" she said. "I want to start a center and it’s going to be for children who have been affected by heroin. There are so many of them. That’s not something children should have in common, but they need to know they’re not alone. These kids have to grow up a lot faster than they should. They don’t get to be kids. They need a place to come in and be children."
It’s a daunting task that Bilbrey said she needs to accomplish — for Nathan, for his brother and for all other children suffering as a result of addiction.
"These two boys are not the only ones who live that life. Addiction is a real problem,” she said. “It is prominent in our area."
On average, seven Montgomery County residents a day were treated for overdoses by emergency departments in 2016, according to a public health report obtained by the Dayton Daily News.
The numbers show the grip drugs, and in large part, heroin, has on the community, the News wrote.
“I know what people think — 'This would never affect by family.' Wrong," Bilbrey said. "Do your research, this is affecting so many.
"Do I even know where to get started on Nathan’s Center? No," she continued. "But I have faith that it’s going to come together. Through Nathan’s short life, we can help others. Nathan was full of laughter, he was a protector and he was a good kid. He just loved life and his heart was so big. I think under all that roughness and toughness, he was a gentle soul. He just wasn’t given a fair chance."