How 'Tall Girl' 's Ava Michelle Is Carrying on Her Late Brother's Legacy 1 Year After His Accidental Death

The actress opens up about the pain of losing her brother Devan to accidental fentanyl poisoning and why she wants to raise awareness about the issue

ava michelle

Ava Michelle is opening up about the tragic loss she suffered last year: in February 2021, her 23-year-old brother Devan died of fentanyl poisoning.

"It was very unexpected and obviously an accident," says the actress, 19. "It's still hard to share, but I think it's important."

The family declines to detail the circumstances of Devan's death, but Michelle wants to raise more awareness about the dangers of accidental deaths caused by the powerful opioid, often found laced into other drugs.

"More young people have died from fentanyl poisoning in the past couple years than COVID," she says. "We really need to be talking about this so much more than we are. This is something I'm super passionate about and I'm actually going to be starting my own foundation [for awareness] on it."

In December, Michelle and her mother Jeanette Cota launched a clothing line inspired by Devan called Identified.

"The night before he died he was talking about this line that we all wanted to do together, and he named it the night before he passed," says Michelle. "He was sitting there talking about how much we struggle to find our identity in this world, because society really just makes it difficult for us. They think we can be put in boxes, but we're all different, and we're all human, and so we all should just be identified as human.

She continues: "This was something that really meant a lot to him. So my mom and I made it happen, and it launched Christmas Day, and we're just really excited about it. It has a great meaning, and a lot of him in it as well, which I think is really special, and something that he definitely would want us to continue. So hopefully something beautiful can come out of something not so beautiful."

For much more on Ava Michelle, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

ava michelle

The Tall Girl 2 star and Dance Moms alum says she and Devan had a great relationship and that she looked up to him.

"One of the most beautiful things about my brother was that he always wanted to do good, and to never judge people," she says. "I feel like he was the most least judgmental person I ever met. I think there's a lot that I had to learn from him."

Michelle, her mom and Devan's other loved ones continue to celebrate his memory — especially on July 4th.

"The 4th of July was his birthday, and the fireworks are all for him," she jokes. "He always thought they were."

In addition to her involvement with Identified, Michelle is in the midst of promotion for Tall Girl 2. She says the storylines in both films and her character Jodi's highs and lows continue to hit very close to home.

"It's literally my life," she says. "I feel like Jodi and I are on the same emotional journey," says Michelle. Filming the new movie, costarring Sabrina Carpenter and Griffin Gluck, was "awesome" because she got to combine all of her talents for one project.

"I was acting, dancing and singing," she says. "I would be on set and then go to dance rehearsals. It was the best."

Tall Girl 2 is streaming on Netflix Feb. 11.

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