23-year-old Lawrence native who died of a suspected fentanyl overdose wanted to leave a legacy of kindness ‘just because’

photo by: Contributed

The Lynch family, from left: Kara, Grace, James and Eric.

At 23 years old, James Lynch looked for a life of adventure, good food and spreading kindness, but that life was extinguished by what police suspect was an overdose on fentanyl just after Christmas.

James’ mother, Kara Lynch, was the first to discover that her son had died — when she found him in the bathroom of his Ottawa home. She told the Journal-World that James had visited for Christmas and was feeling upbeat, “like himself again,” but on Dec. 27, 2022, Kara found herself surrounded by police as they searched her deceased son’s Ottawa home, which he had moved to from Lawrence about a year and a half before.

“Later, we talked to the detective, and they said that they had found one blue pill with M30 on it,” Kara said.

The detective told her that they had found similar pills at three other overdoses recently, though those had not been fatal. Kara said after researching the type of pill they found, she believed that James thought he was taking the painkiller OxyContin, not fentanyl, which can be fatal in even trace amounts.

The Ottawa Police Department sent out a news release after James’ death; it didn’t name him, but Kara said she knew it was about James. The release reported the death of a 23-year-old Lawrence man and said evidence of fentanyl was found at the scene.

photo by: Contributed

James Patrick Woodham Lynch wearing his “Kindness, Just Because” shirt

Friends of the family asked Kara if she was mad about the police releasing the information, but she said no.

“I really wasn’t because I would have wanted that word to get out as soon as humanly possible — so that anyone reading it would have a heads-up. If you were someone in Ottawa who bought weed in Ottawa, or bought Xanax, or bought what they thought was OxyContin, that there was a real significant possibility it was laced with fentanyl,” Kara said.

James struggled with addiction issues over the years, but his drug of choice was marijuana, and Kara said she didn’t suspect that James was currently using harder drugs. She said James had been struggling with insomnia over the last few weeks and may have purchased a pill that he thought was OxyContin to relax him and help him sleep.

Kara visited James’ home the night of Dec. 26 after she hadn’t heard from him following Christmas Day. She went by his house, and his lights were on and his two dogs didn’t make a commotion like they normally did. She said she could hear James snoring lightly through a window and, in light of his recent troubles sleeping, she left him alone. She went back the next day after she called and could tell that his phone battery had died. That’s when she found his body.

James graduated from Lawrence High School in 2017, and he had been living in Ottawa for the last year and a half. Kara said he moved there because he had two large dogs, a Goldendoodle named Daisy and a three-legged puppy named Riley. The rambunctious dogs would often get loose in Lawrence, so Kara and her husband, Eric, bought a house in Ottawa that James was renting from them.

Kara is a former adjunct journalism professor at the University of Kansas and most recently taught journalism at Ottawa High School. She said she retired after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

She said that James and his girlfriend broke up months before his death, and after they split James became interested in cooking and creating music.

“He had become a really good cook. Like, a really good cook. He was willing to do anything to create flavor profiles and was doing all kinds of experimental stuff,” Kara said. “He had been making music with a few friends — mostly rap music (that) brought him a lot of joy.”

James’ new love of cooking led to an adventure when after learning how to cook a few Mexican dishes he was inspired to drive to Tijuana, Mexico, a few weeks before Christmas, Kara said. He spent three days driving solo to Tijuana, where he spent five days meeting people and exploring the city.

“He said he went because he just needed an adventure — to do something. He said it changed his life and he loved every minute of it, including the drive there. He said he met so many beautiful people,” Kara said.

James told Kara that his trip was full of challenges. One obstacle he faced was that he had no GPS service in Tijuana. He spent his first night in the border city just driving around for three hours looking for his Airbnb.

Another inspiration for James’ sudden trip to Mexico could have been his sister Grace, who has been traveling, Kara said. She has spent the last six months in Australia.

“I think he wanted to feel some similar experiences in his own way. He went to a laundromat (in Tijuana) just to talk to people. He wanted these real-world experiences with everyday people, and he said he met so many great people,” Kara said.

About a week before Christmas, after he returned from Mexico, James told Kara about a project he wanted to start called “Kindness, Just Because,” which was focused on bringing people joy in a world that often lacked it.

“I have got probably 500 messages this week, emails, texts, things online, and they all told the same story: that he was so kind. He wanted every person he encountered to be seen or heard. He really cared a lot about things like loneliness, addiction and letting people just be who they were and accepting that,” Kara said.

Kara was so excited by James’ desire to create a kindness project that within a few days of his mentioning it, she designed a logo and had a long-sleeved shirt made that she gave to James on Christmas. She took a photo of James wearing the “Kindness, Just Because” shirt just 36 hours before he died.

photo by: Contributed

James Lynch as a child

A memory from James’ early life stands out to Kara as telling. James attended elementary school at Corpus Christi Catholic School. She said a former lunch lady told her that every day after lunch in fourth grade James would go to the cafeteria and tell the staff how good the food was and thank them for the meal. The lunch lady told her that he did it for years.

Other classmates from high school told Kara that James would go out of his way to make anyone in the room feel like they were included.

James planned to write a book devoted to the idea that a person could be redeemed no matter how dark or terrible their life may have seemed, Kara said.

“Even though he was complicated and he had some serious challenges, he was always that person,” she said.

Though James won’t be able to lead the project he talked about, Kara has vowed to carry out his plans and started the charity “Kindness, Just Because.” She has already started printing stickers and collecting donations. She started a GoFundMe page for the charity on Jan. 1, and within the first five days she had already raised over $10,000.

“We will brainstorm about what the best uses for that money will be and how to sustain the funds while using it in as many ways as we can, large and small. I will rely on people to give me lots of great ideas,” Kara said. “I don’t have all the answers about what exactly we will do with it except that I will make sure that every single penny goes in the best way that I can.”

The project has already had a beginning of sorts. When Kara was printing stickers and pamphlets at a business, the worker at the counter showed Kara a great deal of kindness. Kara, inspired by her son, wanted to return the sentiment and slipped a $20 bill into one of the pamphlets and handed it back to the worker.

Ottawa Police Chief Adam Weingartner told the Journal-World that it would take some time for James’ autopsy to be completed and that only then would an official cause of death be named — and an indication of whether a prosecutable crime was committed in connection with his death. He said the Ottawa Police Department had responded to two opioid-related overdose deaths in 2022, but in the release that announced James’ death the department said it had delivered Narcan — an overdose reversal medication — to multiple overdose victims in December, including a 17-year-old.

James’ funeral was Friday at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Lawrence. His dogs, Daisy and Riley, have new homes. Daisy was adopted by one of James’ cousins, and Riley was adopted by the mother of one of Kara’s former journalism students.

“That would have been huge for James to know. Even though he was alone when he died, his dogs would have been right beside him. Thank God,” Kara said.


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