At North Lawrence campsite where woman was killed, family members feed the homeless in her memory and call for justice

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Melissa White-Gustafson, from left, Erin Williams and Angelina Cruz address the crowd on March 1, 2024, while serving a meal in honor of Crystal White, who was found stabbed to death in a tent in an unsanctioned camp on Feb. 22, 2024, near 100 Maple St. in North Lawrence.

At the campsite where Crystal White was found fatally stabbed last month, dozens of members of her family served a meal for unhoused residents on Friday and called for justice — both through the criminal justice system and through better conditions for Lawrence’s homeless population.

White was found dead on her 51st birthday, Feb. 22, at an unsanctioned encampment near the city-supported campsite for the homeless at 100 Maple St. in North Lawrence. At Friday’s gathering, her relatives urged the community to look past her circumstances and see the person she was — “a cherished sister, daughter, aunt and cousin, as well as a mother, loved dearly by her extended family.”

photo by: Contributed

Crystal White

“Crystal faced immense challenges in her life, including homelessness and the struggles of trauma and mental illness,” the family wrote in a statement, which was read aloud at the gathering. “Despite these hardships, Crystal showed unwavering love and kindness to those around her.”

The one reading the statement was Erin Williams, of Salina, the adoptive mother of White’s youngest son, Ro. She said White’s sister Angelina Cruz asked her to read it, because Cruz thought she would break down and cry if she read it herself.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Angelina Cruz is pictured serving food to the unhoused on March 1, 2024, in honor of her sister, Crystal White, who was found dead in a tent with stab wounds on Feb. 22, 2024.

Early Friday morning, Cruz said she and another sister, Melissa White-Gustafson, and many other relatives pitched in to help prepare the meal, which was sponsored by Burrito King and Mama’s Tamale Shop. Williams read a short prayer before the meal began, and White-Gustafson and her children went from tent to tent to invite the residents of the camp to join them.

While White-Gustafson was making the rounds, one camp resident gave her a hug and told her she looked and sounded just like White.

The family wasn’t just there to mourn their loved one; they were also there to demand justice for what their statement called a “tragic murder” and a “senseless loss.”

“We also call for justice to be served swiftly and without prejudice, ensuring that the heinous crime resulting in Crystal’s death is not downgraded or dismissed due to the struggles she faced,” the statement read.

As the Journal-World has reported, police have arrested a suspect in White’s death: Julius Robert Beasley, 40. He is being held on a $500,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.

But for White’s family members, justice isn’t just about a criminal case. It’s also about making life better for the city’s homeless residents and treating them with compassion and dignity.

“Her story reminds us of the urgent need for change in how we address homelessness and support those battling mental health issues,” Williams read from the family’s statement.

Some family members said they saw these needs firsthand on Friday when they went to collect White’s belongings and clean up the area where her camp was.

One cousin, who said he didn’t want to give his name, voiced his frustration with the conditions at the campsite.

“I’m really amazed by all this,” he said. “Two miles away from the city center, and the university and society can’t come up with a better solution than this.

“There’s a lot of money. There’s a lot of brains in this town,” he said. “There has to be a way of making things better. This is (expletive) third world country s*. It’s not acceptable.”

Relatives also described being threatened by one of the camp’s residents. Some of them said that at White’s campsite, they were confronted by a nearby camper with a gun who did not want them to be there. Within minutes, Lawrence police arrived on the scene and began interviewing witnesses.

No arrests were made, and nobody was injured, but Cruz said that she couldn’t believe that someone would do something like that while they were remembering their loved one.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Police question witnesses on March 1, 2024, after a man allegedly pulled a gun on grieving family members during a memorial meal for Crystal White. White was found stabbed to death in a tent on Feb. 22, 2024.

Ultimately, the statement that Williams read said it will take action from the community and its leaders to make a difference in the lives of unhoused people in Lawrence and to “improve the lives of all individuals, regardless of their circumstances.”

“Let us honor Crystal’s memory by advocating for systemic change and ensuring that every person is valued and supported,” the statement read. “In memory of Crystal, let us turn our grief into action. Together let us work towards a future where compassion guides our decisions and where every life is cherished.”

The family will hold a memorial service for White on Sunday at Mama’s Tamale Shop, 602 W. Ninth St. A GoFundMe fundraiser is still collecting donations to help pay for White’s service and cremation.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Melissa White-Gustafson and Angelina Cruz embrace and weep together on March 1, 2024, in memory of their sister Crystal White who was found dead in a tent near 100 maple St. on Feb. 22, 2024.


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