In January, it will be two years since I started this blog. I’ve written a lot of posts but one from March 2014 that continues to stick with me was about the short life of Joshua Stulick. Today I’d like to revisit his story and share some of the results of that post.
I also now have a face to go with his name.
In the spring of 2013, I visited Sharon Baptist Church Cemetery in Forsyth County, Ga. to photograph someone’s grave for Find a Grave. As usual, I took pictures of other graves there with the intention of checking to see if I might post them on Find a Grave as well. And there were indeed some that had not been documented. This is something I do at almost every cemetery I visit.
Several months later, I got an e-mail from a woman named Jenn thanking me for photographing a grave and creating a memorial for Joshua Stulick. His name didn’t ring a bell, so I looked up his memorial and learned that he’d died in 1992 at the age of 19.
Thank you so very much for your post of a grave for Joshua Stulick. I have looked for so very long to find him. At last I have it because of you. There was no goodbye when he was tragically killed. Now at least I can visit. Thank you! It means a lot.
I soon learned that Joshua was murdered in a park in Staten Island, N.Y. in April 1992. His murder remained unsolved for many years.
According to The Staten Island Advance, one night Joshua went to a friend’s house for drinks after finishing his shift in the hospital cafeteria where he worked. Later, he and some other people went to Ingram Woods (a nearby park).
On April 28, 1992, Joshua’s body was found, covered in the park’s underbrush. He’d been fatally stabbed in the throat and wrapped in the interior lining of a car trunk.
Suspicion fell on Joshua’s co-worker, James Russell, already on probation for a felony assault conviction. In that case, Russell had plead guilty to a 1989 attack.
Police suspected that the trunk lining Joshua was found wrapped in belonged to Russell’s car, but no other evidence was found. Russell swore he knew nothing about what happened, was released and the case froze up.
In 2005, an anonymous witness came forward. Based on what she said, Russell was arrested and eventually charged with second degree murder. He initially plead not guilty.
In December 2007, Russell changed his story, claiming he and Stulick were drinking and doing drugs that day before heading for Ingram Park. He said they started to “fool around with knives that we each had, playing karate moves and lunging and sparring with each other.”
“Joshua lunged at me as I was swinging my arm with the knife, and I cut him,” Russell admitted. “To my horror, the knife cut into Joshua Stulick’s throat.”
He said he covered the body in Ingram Woods and fled, thinking “everyone would blame me no matter what I said.”
Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Rooney sent Russell to prison for a minimum of three and a half years up to a maximum seven years under an agreement by which Russell pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter. Had he been found guilty of second-degree murder, he might have faced a lifetime jail sentence. As part of the deal, he was not allowed to appeal his sentence.
Joshua’s mother, Kathleen Melchers, spoke at James Russell’s sentencing:
Your actions of cold violence not only took my son’s life, but to drag his body onto a car trunk liner and lay him on the ground behind a rock for two days until being found by someone walking a dog, is an act of sensitivity coming from a wicked heart and extreme lack of respect for the human body and soul.
As a mother of a son myself, I felt disbelief and anger when I read about Russell’s plea deal. Russell’s sentencing took place in 2007 so he’s probably out walking the streets again now.
While I didn’t know if anyone would contact me after I published the original blog post, that didn’t matter to me. I felt that I was meant to photograph Joshua’s grave for a reason and writing about him was simply something I had to do.
A few months later, I was surprised to find that Joshua’s mother, Kathleen (who goes by the name Kathy), had left a comment on the blog.
The longsuffering was a walk no person should have to go through but God had his hand on many people and assigned a God appointed team in Staten island, which I still count them all dear to my heart. The Team was truly assigned to Joshua’s case. The God I serve took care of the judgement, hurting hearts, and the ability to forgive. I will see him in heaven; no tears or hurts every again. I have learned to love others in a special way as I know that is what Joshua would want me to do.
I had worried about Kathleen in light of Russell’s incredibly light sentence. Enduring the violent death of your own child is something no parent should have to go through. But her words showed me that while her journey had been difficult, she had turned to God for healing and understanding. And found it.
Joshua’s godmother, Bonnie, left a comment this past August:
I came across this article today and could not believe someone cared that he did die so young. He was my godson and very precious little boy. Have been thinking of him because his birthday is coming up on September 10th, he would have been 42 this year. My only peace is that he is with our Lord and hopefully singing for the angels.
Joshua’s friend and fellow bandmate, Mike Arguelles, left a comment just a few months ago:
I went to Curtis High School with Josh and briefly played in a band with him, ( “Section 8” ) He was a good guy and his own person. I last spoke with him over the phone shortly before he was to move down South. The move never got to happen. I often think about Josh, ( he was a good friend to me ) how he got cheated his due time and my heart goes out to his family and fellow friends. May you rest in peace, Josh. See you on the other side, Brother.
Jenn, who originally contacted me about Joshua, recently sent me an email to share some of her memories of him. While it had been many years since his death, she continues to try to come to terms with it.
When I finally saw a photo of his grave…it hit me like a brick. It’s not that I didn’t know he was dead, but I suppose finally a more tangible look at it hit me very hard, for a very long time after that. I have never stopped grieving. And all I will ever have of him is that photo on your site. Not even of him, but of his grave.
He was beautiful. And despite his pitfalls (I know he was not a saint), he was kind. He cared more about what was best for me than what he wanted. That jacket they found at the park was one he used to give to me when I was cold.
I have to say that I have a wonderful family of my own. A husband and tree precious children, but this loss has never ceased to ache. To say my heart was broken is a gross understatement; it was shattered and that cannot be mended.
Kathy left another comment this past October and I responded by telling her I was planning on writing an update to my original blog post. I asked if she might send me a picture of Joshua. She doesn’t have a scanner but was able to photograph a paper picture of Joshua that she had. I was thrilled to finally see his face, to get a glimpse of the young man I’d written about.
Joshua’s story points me to a truth I’ve known for a while. A name and a date on a gravestone is just the tip of the iceberg of the life of the person it represents. Each person has their own unique story, has impacted the lives of others in some special way. Every life is special.
Even if it ends long before it should have.
Postscript 4/28/2022: Today marks the 30th anniversary of Joshua’s death. Since I wrote the update above, I have talked to Kathy on the phone about Joshua’s memory. People still leave messages with memories of Joshua and I treasure each one.