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.
Sarah White (Hinsinger) said:
I also have never forgotten Josh. Every time I pass those woods he pops into my head and I always wonder what truly happened. The story still doesn’t sound like Josh to me. He was a friend to me in high school and it was a shock when he was taken.
Kathleen Melchers said:
Thank you for writing this post regarding my sweet Joshua. It has been 25 years on April 27th and your kind words encourage me to know he is still being missed by friends he knew. May God Bless you. Joshua’s Mom forever until we meet in Heaven. Kathy Melchers
Laura McCracken said:
I can’t tell you how happy I am to have come across this blog. Every single April my heart weighs so heavy thinking about Josh. I was completely devastated when he was taken so brutally from this world. I miss him more than words can say. I often put his band’s cassette in a player and listen to it just so I can hear his voice. I wrote his family after … but to finally know where he was laid to rest gives me a small sense of closure. Josh had a beautiful heart, and a gentle soul. He was my friend & I loved him dearly. Thank you.
Mike Arguelles said:
I’d Iike to thank Traci Rylands for her blog & updating this post. It means a lot to those of us that knew Josh. It’s been 3 years since I first came across article. It does my heart good to see posts from Josh’s Mom & fellow friends, (Hello Miss Sarah! I hope you are well!) I just wanted to touch base & say: Mr. Josh, you are still missed. With many things as I get older, I wish I had appreciated the time we had more. Josh, I’ll keep you in my heart for the rest of my days. Rest peacefully Brother.
Mike, thank you so much for your kind words. I think about Josh around this time every year and re-read my posts. He touched so many lives, had such an impact. Every year more people he knew and loved leave comments. Although I never knew him in person, I feel like I do now through all of you. ❤️❤️❤️
Kathy Melchers said:
Tracy, Thank you so much for continuing this memorial of Joshua’s life. As his mother, please let Mike and Laura know I truly love hearing how Joshua was loved by those who knew him. You have my permission to share with those who go onto your site, my email address email@example.com. Please tell them all, I am forever thankful when I see that people have not forgotten him. I miss him on this side but I do know that I will see him when I get to heaven. The Lord is my strength and absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. This is my comfort on this side of heaven. May the Lord Bless all those who still remember Joshua and take the time to send sweet messages regarding him. May you receive many blessings in your life, knowing your work is fills a mothers heart with sweet memories. God Bless you all.
Kathy Melchers, Joshua’s mother forever.
Joe Seaton said:
To this day I still think of Josh and how bad I miss him, he was a true friend to me we went to the same church in Gwinnett county, Georgia he was the only one that would be a friend to me I was truly a dork in our youth group but that’s how Josh was he was a great hearted person it didn’t matter to him who I was when nobody else had anything to do with me. I remember when I got the news my heart fell to the floor I remember not sleeping for 2 nights because I greived so bad. Ms. Melcher I thought the world of, she was a very sweet mom and couldn’t ever imagine the pain she had gone through by losing her son. I wish I could have been there for her and Josh’s sister Deanna. If Ms Melcher and Deanna sees this I just want to say that I think about them and I love them and I love Josh like my brother and I can’t wait to see him again one day.
Hi, Joe! I’m so glad you stopped by to share your thoughts about Josh and how he impacted your life. His mother stops by sometimes to check the comments so I am sure she will see yours and perhaps respond. I am so glad that Josh was there for you when nobody else was. Those people are indeed special and rare in life. They live forever in our hearts and our memories.
Bonnie Ciesla said:
Thinking of you today.
Hi, Bonnie! On Wednesday, the anniversary of Josh’s death, I went to his grave and put some fresh flowers on it. I had not been there since 2013 when I first saw it. Your comment prompted me to go see him. Thank you for doing that.
Happy Birthday! You are missed so much!
Kathy Melchers said:
Thank you all for encouraging Joshua’s Mom. I am always blessed with knowing Joshua made an impact on so many people. Your words and showing your love for him is always a blessing to his family.
Much love to you, Kathy! Joshua’s been on my mind lately so it was a delight to see your comment.
Always remembering you.
Laura McCracken said:
Traci, I need to thank you. It’s been 30 years since I had to accept Josh’s death. I use the word accept because I had no choice but to do so. Two years ago I came across your blog and started corresponding with Josh’s mom Kathy. I am so grateful to you for connecting us. This week I was FINALLY able to visit his final resting place & lay flowers. Kathy met us & we were able to pray together (SO hard not to cry in front of her). She gave me beautiful pictures of him. He’s in such a lovely spot, under a giant tree. And it made my heart content to know that Josh is in such a peaceful place. Thank you Traci, for finally giving me a sense of closure. God bless 🙏❤️
Laura, I hardly know what to say. I cried when I read your comment. There are some days when I wonder if my blog makes any kind of difference in the world. All I have to do is read your words to know that yes, it does. I had no idea when I wrote about Josh how many people it would touch, that healing would take place and connections would be made over the next years. I am so happy to know that you’ve felt a sense of closure because of the post and meeting up with Kathy at his grave. I could not have dreamed of a better outcome. God bless you, Laura.
Mike Arguelles said:
It was your birthday this past 10th. Happy Birthday Brother. Still in my thoughts. Still in my heart.
You are missed.
Joey Seaton said:
Josh was my friend at church in Atlanta Gwinnett County when we were in teens group I really didn’t have many friends in that class but Josh actually became a good friend of mine when he came to that class after all these years I still don’t forget about him and his mom Kathy and his sister. I miss my friend even to this day . I know I’ll see him again one day. R.I.P. Josh my brother and my friend
Hi, Joey. I’m so glad you stopped by to leave a comment. Josh touched so many lives. The fact that folks still managed to find this post and share how much he meant to them. I truly believe you will indeed see him again. His life was too short but what a gift he had in making people feel special. — Traci
Kathy Melchers said:
What can I say but we miss you Josh. Today is the vigil at Staten Island for those who have gone on before us. You have been with the Lord in heaven since 1992, 30 years have passed and your sweet spirit is missed. I must let all those who send the e-mails regarding Josh, have been an encouragement that he was loved by many. Until I see him in heaven, I will love on his sister, and grandchildren, giving them a share of his kindness. We will see him one day and we will never be separated again. I miss you my sweet son and know you encourage me through memories and pictures of your love. We still have work to glorify the Lord and until that time we gather together with the Lord, please know you are loved and missed. Remember absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. To those who have not asked Jesus into their heart, our prayer is that you do. John 3:16 For whosever call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Joshua would love you to ask Jesus into your heart so you can see him again but most important you will be saved and be in the heavens when your time is over on Earth. Pressing on and sending the gospel threw your memories. Your mom always. Kathy Melchers
Hi, Kathy! I am so glad you stopped by. As you can see, people are still leaving message and memories about Josh. Even 30 years later, he is making an impact. His story is still touching lives. Thank you for all that you to keep sharing God’s love and His Gospel with the world. –Traci
Aunt Bonnie said:
I can’t believe yesterday would of been your 50th birthday, thinking of what your life would have been like now. Would it be filled with the beautiful art you loved creating or would you continued with your guitar and made beautiful music? I think and pray for you every day until we meet again.
Mike Arguelles said:
J- This past 10th was your birthday. You were in my thoughts. I wish for you a restful peace. Know that your family & friends have not forgotten & that you are loved.
Until we meet again Brother.