Path toward a better life takes a tragic turn
A month before her suicide, Julie Starks’s life was making a turn for the better. She just had become engaged to her boyfriend, Matthew Bice.
“She was happy about it,” her mother, Kathy Parrish, said. “She was excited.”
Starks had been at Larned State Hospital from June to September for mental health issues. The engagement was a good way to end September, Parrish said.
Starks was upbeat and optimistic days later at a birthday party for her teenage daughter.
“It reassured everybody,” Parrish said. “It made us all feel better.”
Parrish knew her daughter hadn’t had a perfect life. There had been run-ins with the law and problems with addiction that Parrish worried were wearing Starks down.
“Life was presenting huge challenges and she finally, I think, just hid under the drugs,” she said. “Which was sad. “The last few years I had really seen, even her thinking skills, everything was going downhill with the drugs and alcohol.”
Despite her struggles, Starks was known to her friends and family as a creative, intelligent, and caring individual, Parrish said.
“She was unbelievably artistic, very talented and a good musician,” she said. “She just had a lot, and too much piled on. She didn’t operate the way the rest of the world operated.”
Starks’s shot at a renewed life ground to a halt with a Dec. 4 arrest, when a Marion police officer reported she had kicked him several times. She was arrested on suspicion of battery of law enforcement, criminal deprivation of a vehicle, and disorderly conduct.
Thirty-six hours later she committed suicide by strangling herself with a pair of shoelaces.
Parrish now is seeking answers about her daughter’s final hours.
“Filling them in might show me a different picture,” she said. “That’s part of it. I have to try and be very open-minded about it because I don’t want to just go get somebody to get them. That’s not at all what I’m after.”
The facts that have come out so far raise more questions about how Starks was left with the means to harm herself.
Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry into the suicide remains ongoing and no new information is available.
Items like shoelaces that can be used as weapons normally are removed from inmates when they are processed, especially when the person has a history of mental health struggles.
Sheriff Rob Craft said Starks still hadn’t been booked into the jail 36 hours after her arrest because she was uncooperative. But Parrish said head jailer James Philpott told her Starks had calmed down by her second day in jail.
“He said that afternoon she had been more pleasant and joking around, more like old Julie,” Parrish said. “That was all afternoon, so he hadn’t worried about her.”
Philpott indicated Starks had been left alone a significant period of time, Parrish said.
“He said, yeah, it was a while,” she said. “Then he kind of stopped all of a sudden, like he realized he shouldn’t have said that.”
While not there at the time of the suicide, Craft said jail employees had told him it was only 15 to 20 minutes that Starks was alone. Other sources have alleged it could have been as long as 1½ hours she was alone.
Starks’s suicide points to a need for increased transparency at the jail, Parrish said.
“This is not the far-left speaking; this is not ‘de-fund the police’ speaking,” she said. “Somewhere in there is a middle ground where we want the police to be honest and treat people appropriately. When it doesn’t happen, it needs to be called out.”
Parrish hopes her daughter’s death can spark a positive change in the treatment of inmates by law enforcement.
Though not very active on either of her two Facebook pages, Marion Police Department was the only page Starks followed on one of her accounts.
Parrish hopes Starks’s death will help ease stigmas that surround addiction and mental health struggles. She is interested in starting a fund in Starks’s name for mental health research.
“Brain health should be just like heart health and respiratory health,” Parrish said. “It’s a part of your body and it can have problems just as much as any other part can.”
Last modified Dec. 17, 2020