SPRINGFIELD, Ohio (WDTN) — A Springfield mother fights for justice for her daughter who took her own life while serving in the U.S. Army after she said her suicide was triggered by a sexual assault on base.
U.S. Army Specialist Kaylie Harris, 21, was stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska after completing basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in in south central Missouri in February 2020.
“She was very brave. She was one of those that felt like she could conquer anything if she put her mind to it,” her mother, Carey Harris Stickford describes. “She had a sense of wanting to help others. That was the reason she went into the Army in the first place and wanted to go into being a police officer.”
Serving in the military was Kaylie’s dream, but her dream became her mother’s nightmare.
“I was scared about war. I never thought it would be on base,” said Carey. “You think it would be the safest space in the world, and it’s not.”
Carey visited her daughter in September 2020 and said she was doing well.
“We FaceTimed at Christmas. She seemed so happy,” describes Carey.
In February 2021, she noticed a change in her daughter. Kaylie started to pull away, cut off her family, and the regular phone calls she would make to her mom became less frequent. Working as a psych nurse, Carey knew something was wrong.
“I noticed when I did get a hold of Kaylie, it was not the happy-go-lucky child. It was a very angry like, you know, ‘What do you want?'” states Carey.
In April 2021, she called the Suicide Hotline, and also called JBER and spoke to someone in the Family Center to raise a red flag about her daughter.
Kaylie committed suicide on May 2, 2021.
Carey got a knock at her door, informing her of her daughter’s death.
“My heart just sunk because I knew,” said Carey. “I kept asking them why, why, why did she do this. And they didn’t have answers for me.”
In shock and disbelief, Carey’s question was met with an answer even more shocking.
“One of her commanders, sergeants called me and said, ‘Ma’am I need to tell you what happened to your daughter,’ and he told me everything,” recalls Carey.
He said Kaylie was sexually assaulted three months prior.
“The next thing I know, I get a phone call that it’s a Pentagon Four Star high visibility investigation, and that I would start getting briefings,” describes Carey.
Carey said friends and family knew Kaylie was a lesbian, but on January 21, 2021, Kaylie came out publicly on Facebook. Carey said that didn’t sit well with her alleged attacker. She said he was part of special forces with the U.S. Air Force stationed at the base with her and that they were initially friends, but when Kaylie came out, he taunted her.
“I guess he teased her about it a lot. You know, he would always say to her, ‘You know what? You know Kaylie, it’s because you’re not really– you know, you’ve never been with a man before. That’s why you’re gay. That’s the reason,'” said Carey.
Carey said ten days after she came out on social media, her daughter was raped.
Kaylie didn’t report it right away. She reported the incident when she went to the hospital February 8, 2021. According to her mother, Kaylie made the decision to seek medical help after she could no longer care for the physical injuries she sustained during the reported assault.
Kaylie first filled out a restricted report, then filed an unrestricted one.
She was given a victim advocate and could see a counselor weekly. She went to every appointment to try to recover physically and mentally.
On Mar 24, 2021, she sent a text to a friend about suicidal thoughts she was having and went to the hospital. During her hospital visit, she was questioned and she was sent home. She was placed under a “do not arm,” meaning she could not carry a weapon and her badge was temporarily taken.
During that time she continued to struggle. Her mother said there were a number of red flags but no one took noticed or action.
To get her badge and weapon back, she had to go through training.
Carey said Kaylie was placed in the exact same building as her accused attacker for training. Her mother said she applied for a restraining order against him.
A spokesperson from JBER said “SPC Harris did not have a Military Protective Order prohibiting contact with the accused.”
While Kaylie was in that building, she ran into her accused attacker in a hallway. Her mother said she was told that the encounter was so traumatic for her, she had to be removed. Her victim advocate was called and she went back to his office. She stayed with him because she reportedly told him she “didn’t trust herself.”
According to her mother, a few days after that encounter, Kaylie was re-evaluated, given her badge and weapon back and given permission to buy another weapon. Carey said no one made sure Kaylie registered the new weapon she bought.
She said Kaylie wrote a suicide note.
“She sent a text message to a sergeant in that she said, ‘I’m sorry. This isn’t your fault,'” states Carey.
That text message went unreported for an hour.
After, Kaylie was found shot dead in her car.
Carey said her daughter never fully recovered from her alleged assault, and her most recent encounter with her alleged attacker acted as a trigger. Kaylie described her feelings in her suicide note.
“She discussed the reason why she did it was because of her sexual assault. She explained she knew there was evil in the world,” states Carey. “She mentioned him by name and said that definitely is the reason she did what she did.”
There have been no charges in relation to Kaylie’s death or alleged assault.
Carey said she would like to see her daughter’s alleged attacker charged with assault and a hate crime.
A spokesperson from the base said they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.
A statement reads “DoD Installations, including Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, have robust sexual assault and suicide prevention programs in place. In the event a sexual assault occurs or an individual attempts suicide, a multi-disciplinary team of professionals are ready 24/7/365 to assist victims of sexual assault as well as individuals contemplating suicide.”
Just as Kaylie fought for this country, Carey continues fighting for her daughter.
“If they’re going to sign up to protect us, they need protected too,” said Carey.
Carey said her daughter’s death shows the need for hate crime legislation and is reaching out for congressional backing.
Meanwhile, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, as well as Springfield Police and Fire, along with Kaylie’s friends and family, are planning a vigil to honor her memory and pray for justice. It will be held July 31 at 8:30 p.m. at National Road Commons Park at the corner of West Main Street and Fisher Street in downtown Springfield.