It’s a parent’s cruelest, most painful nightmare, the death of a child. It’s also a devastating loss no parent, celebrity or not, is immune to. Two years ago, The Young and the Restless star, Kristoff St. John, and world-champion boxer, Mia St. John, lost their oldest son, Julian, to suicide. The heartbroken parents made headlines when they shared their story on CBS This Morning and Entertainment Tonight. Recently, we had a chance to speak with the St. Johns about Julian’s controversial death. “Julian was in La Casa Rehabilitation Hospital for a short period of time. He was admitted there because of suicidal thoughts. He had a drug addiction and he was homeless. We were very close to Julian at this time… we couldn’t accept him into our homes because of some of the problems that he had,” Kristoff explains to Tinseltown Mom.
Sadly, while in the care of the facility Julian took his own life. The St. Johns share why they decided to go public with their story. “… we want to help as many people as we can. That is exactly what I promised my son I would do, if I lost him,” Mia says. “… At the end of the day, we want to bring to light the atrocities that have happened at La Casa. Not just my son—and yes I am partial because he’s my son—but there have been, as far as I know, documented, seven deaths there in the last, I believe, twenty years… fifteen years. They need to be held responsible…” Kristoff adds.
While raising awareness, the St. Johns are also leading the charge in a trial this winter against the La Casa Psychiatric Health Facility, whom the parents accuse of aiding in the wrongful death of their son. Famed criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos is representing the family in the lawsuit against the nurses and staff at the mental health facility. Their son was thought to be on suicide watch after a failed suicide attempt, however the parents claim Julian was not adequately being monitored. “…wrongful death, gross negligence, adult dependent abuse at the hands of the La Casa Rehabilitation Hospital and its employees, which is owned by a very large corporation named Telecare. Telecare owns, I believe it’s, between 50 and 60 facilities like this one. Some are out-patient, some are in-patient. La Casa is in-patient. I believe there are four units. My son was in a lockdown unit. He escaped from this lockdown unit before he tried to commit suicide the first time,” Kristoff bemoans.
“He was addicted to meth and even though I took care of him in my home, I could not stop the addiction,” Kristoff explains as to why he put him in the facility. LA County Department of Mental Health placed him in La Casa, but Kristoff explains he was taken out shortly thereafter. “…I didn’t like how they operated. I felt they were neglectful. He got out and went back on meth. The family became very upset with me, claiming that I was just being overprotective. So LA County Department of MH (Mental Health) convinced me to put him back in, despite my suspicions. They claimed that changes had been made and the place was much better now.”
After he was admitted back into the facility, Julian attempted to end his own life. “So the first time he tried to commit suicide, they did put him on a suicide watch. They took him off after a period of time. Now I’m not gonna’ go into every detail but what I will tell you is that he tried to commit suicide with a plastic bag. And little did we know that the plastic bags, after he attempted, were all over the unit. Large trash cans, small trash cans, inside of the patients’ rooms, in the lunchrooms, in the offices. They were everywhere. And they were supposed to be taken out. The head of the facility said, indeed, they would be. And so… they didn’t watch him. And… when he tried a second time no one was there to check on him every fifteen minutes. Correction. Someone was there. They just didn’t do their job…”
Facing reality that you’ve outlived your child is an experience parents should not have to go through, but even harsher is first hearing the news. The distraught parents share how the La Casa facility revealed Julian’s death to them. “By the phone four hours after he passed, while I was driving! No remorse, cold as ice,” Mia laments. “Admission of guilt upfront would’ve meant a complete breakdown, meltdown of the system they do business with every single day,” Kristoff adds. “They were actually doing the reverse. They were very cold. They—I’m sure they were in some state of shock themselves—I think. But I don’t know why because they’ve had deaths there before. This is not an uncommon thing there. If my son was the only one, then I think we’d be looking at this differently. …but.. no apology, formal or personal. No accountability.”
The former couple discovered their son suffered from mental health issues at the age of two, at least from Mia’s recollection. “…he was so attached to me, more than most children. I thought it was because he was my first and I was very protective of him. He also seemed sad often, like he was always in deep thought.” Kristoff shares his memory, “…The age I did notice that something wasn’t quite right. He was very quiet and anesthetized… …I injured myself in front of him. And… It wasn’t bad. But, it was enough that I should’ve gone to the hospital. He just stared at me. He was very quiet. He must’ve been about six years old… I think it was around six. I questioned him about it later and he said he didn’t know. As if the lights are on and no one’s home. Kind of, sometimes, depression. When a child is quiet there’s generally a depression. He was very angry at times, which all kids go through, but he was rageful. He was not violent to many classmates… He got rageful with his sister. It was a bit more than just a brotherly, sisterly or sibling rivalry. … I thought it was just kids playing around or doing whatever they’re doing. My dad used to tell me this, ‘You’ll grow out of it. You’ll grow out of it.’ And that’s what I thought. I thought my kid would grow out of it. Little did I know he’d get worse as time went on…”
Kristoff goes on to say that when Julian was in sixth or seventh grade one of his teachers thought he had some sort of learning disability. “…Whether in his opinion could’ve been ADHD, ADD–I mean, it’s pretty drastic for a teacher to come forward and say this to a parent and not be a licensed physician, or… therapist, psychiatrist… So his mother and I thought long and hard about the suggestion this teacher made to get him tested at CSUN. The results did come back… a pretty extensive test…”
“What may appear like laziness, might very well be mental health issues. Lack of enthusiasm, social activities, emotion, excessive sleeping, alcohol or drug abuse, unusually irritable…,” Mia reveals when asked about warning signs parents should consider when it comes to mental health.
Kristoff goes on to share that as time went on not only was Julian diagnosed with ADD, but later on a level of autism, and he was put on various medications, including Adderall, which he began selling at school and giving to his friends. It wasn’t until many misdiagnoses later, and at the age of 17, that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Kristoff and Mia have used their celebrity status to open people’s eyes to the serious reality of mental health problems. Sadly, too many people, adults and children alike, are walking around with untreated and undiagnosed mental health problems, which is why the St. John’s are lobbying for more awareness. “Mental health advocacy is now a mission of mine,” Kristoff passionately emphasizes. “Mental health awareness is something that needs to be spread globally much more than it already has. More measures need to be taken. More understanding. Education. One out of four individuals have some kind of mental illness in this country. That could be you. That could be me, a family member, an employee if you’re an employer. Your employer. Your local banker. There are millions of people that are suffering from a disease that most people don’t recognize as a disease. So that is why I have gone public.”
“Mental health is crucial to our ‘physical’ health and overall happiness. These so-called ‘mental health’ facilities are getting contracts through government entities with our taxpayer money and yet, they are not being held accountable. Instead, they are protected by our government,” Mia expounds. “LA County Department of mental health contracts with Telecare Corp aka La Casa Mental Health, where my son lost his life. My son wasn’t the first either, there have been numerous deaths and violations against this facility, yet they are still operating, business as usual. They neglected my son—surveillance proves this—then falsified the records. When will we, as a society, start making mental health a priority!?”
It’s been two years since the St. Johns lost their eldest son and naturally they want their efforts and pleas to make some sort of impact. “Change comes ever so slowly, as we know,” Kristoff intensely remarks. “Very rarely does change come overnight. Battles are fought for years… decades to create some change…” Mia adds, “…My son didn’t kill himself, schizophrenia did. He wanted desperately to live. He had a gallery coming up for his art that he was so excited about. Thanksgiving was 4 days away and I was coming to get him in 3 days; he was excited. …I miss every part of that beautiful soul every day, every second, of my life,” Mia continues. “He was such a compassionate child, always helping those in need, so I turned his art studio in Palm Springs into a free art center for all those still suffering. We take in the homeless, addicts, anyone suffering from mental health issues. The center is named ‘Stone Art,’ which was the name he chose for the studio, www.miastjohnfoundation.org. I will never recover from the loss of my only son, all I can do is continue the fight for those still suffering and be here for my daughter. I look forward to the day I see my son again, therefore I don’t fear death. I have my beautiful daughter here in this realm and on the other side, I have my angel waiting for me.”
Julian, as described by both of his parents, was a truly gifted artist with wonderful qualities and a beautiful heart. Kristoff shares some fond memories. “Julian started his artwork at a very young age. As I recall, I think he was around four when he painted a very unusual picture that I believe he called ‘Black Frankenstein’ back then. It’s one of his most colorful, beautiful pictures. He redid that painting. His artwork was very important to him. He was also very into music…. His passion for sports… He loved basketball, I think, above and beyond any sport. …I put him through everything, soccer, baseball, basketball, football, bowling leagues… Very passionate about the few friendships he had. Loved his family deeply. Loved his little sister, Lola. It was uncanny how much time he tried to spend with her. There was a lot of stuff going on in his life. I think those are the core things that made Julian who he was. He had a beautiful mind. He was very loving. He had a real passion for life that he somehow gave up on.”
The St. Johns have started a Change.org petition to the LA County Department of Mental Health to stop contracting with Telecare, which runs the La Casa facility where their son committed suicide; you can view the petition in full by clicking the link here: http://chn.ge/2c06gpW.
For more information on how you or a loved one can get help for mental health problems please visit: MentalHealth.gov