CARBONDALE — They tell her not to build a box and try to make it fit. Let the peace come its own way. So each day, Kathy Young keeps looking for signs of her daughter — and she can’t help but listen for them at night.
“I was awake, and I just felt like Molly was saying to me, ‘Mom, I’m alright. I’m OK. Stop weeping over me so much. I’m OK. I’m happy,” she recalls of a recent evening in August.
Because the pain has been so unbearable, she tried to bargain with the spirit in her tiny room, which contains little more than a bed and headboard on which Molly had painted a blackbird on top of a cherry tree. Perhaps that was a sign.
“She said, ‘I don’t feel your pain, but I’m just allowed to see your weeping, to come to help you be better.’” Kathy continues. “I said, ‘If this is really you, Molly, let there be a feather on your grave when I go.’”
Maybe she had just imagined it, but Kathy rushed in the morning to look for the blackbird feather hiding in the dry grass at Molly’s grave. She found nothing.
“I was just so devastated,” she said. “I wanted so much for there to be a feather.”
But in the six months since police found her daughter, Molly Young, 21, dead in a Carbondale apartment, peace has been elusive for Kathy and her family, and so have any telltale signs of closure. Dead from a mysterious bullet wound to her head, Molly left behind a wake of unresolved questions and vast, untended grief, the circumstances clouded by uncertainty but the violence sudden and shockingly obvious.
In half a year’s time, the facts have remained relatively unchanged. An ambulance responded the morning of Saturday, March 24 to the Carbondale apartment of Molly’s on-and-off boyfriend, Richie Minton. Because Minton works as a dispatcher for the Carbondale Police Department, the Illinois State Police assumed command of the investigation just minutes after it was reported.
The death has not been publicly ruled a suicide or homicide. Jackson County State’s Attorney Mike Wepsiec, who has an open file on the Young death, has been waiting since spring on additional evidence to return from the State Police crime lab — some of which the family reports came back just this week. Coroner Thomas Kupferer said in July he expected Young’s death to eventually be the focus of an inquest.
For those who knew her, Molly Young is now forever 21, locked in memory as what family and friends describe as, first and foremost, an artist — the only thing she ever really wanted to be. While a student at Marion High School, she proudly saw a photograph win at Carnegie Hall and hang in the U.S. Department of Education. Over years of childhood practice, she honed a powerful talent for drawing, and she hoped to complete studies in photography at SIU.
Molly was “just a funny girl with a really messy apartment,” her friend Cullen Stout says. She enjoyed music and movies and walked with a smooth, relaxed gait. The consummate artist, Molly was never without her eccentricities. She became convinced an apartment of hers was haunted, and she insisted on reading tarot cards for Stout. He agreed, even though he wasn’t particularly interested. She barely drank alcohol and instead threw a hide-and-seek party for her 21st birthday. She loved to cut and color her own hair.
“She was never fake just to fit in,” says her sister, Holly Powell. “She didn’t do things to impress others. I respected her for that so much. She had her own style, was a very honest person … She was a logical thinker rather than an irrational thinker.”
Molly also had come through a rough patch in the time leading up to her death. In part because of various medical traumas during the previous year, she faced heightening depression and stress. She also experienced increasing relationship troubles with Minton, whom she had dated on and off for about two years. Holly Young says her sister broke up with Minton shortly before her death and was looking to move on.
Holly saw her sister for the last time a few evenings before Molly died. They went to a high school baseball game in Marion and accidentally sat on the wrong team’s side. They barely noticed as they talked on a range of topics, from Molly’s new job at the mall to their shopping plans for a coming weekend. They also talked about Minton, Holly says, and an unresolved fight Molly had been having with their older sister, Shana. All in all, Molly spoke of reconnecting with old friends and working to improve her life.
That was the plan less than two days before Molly died, when she went with Stout to see the Reverend Horton Heat perform at Hangar 9. Throughout that evening, Molly had been subdued, Stout says, staying at the table and not rising to dance. Her phone chimed in with a text message from her sister, Shana.
“I texted her and told her I loved her and that she’d always be my sister,” Shana recalls. “She texted me back and said she loved me, too. Basically we just made up through text. We talked about how we were going to talk that weekend because I was going to be in town.”
Stout watched Molly as she read the message. “Molly read that and really smiled for the first time in a little while I had seen,” he says. “I think that made her night more than anything.”
Shana and Molly never saw each other again. Six days after those text messages, the family lowered Molly into a grave near her grandfather’s at Oakland Cemetery. Her plot remains unmarked aside from the flowers and trinkets that have accumulated. The agony of her passing has been so blinding that her family says it has yet to decide what words to carve on a tombstone.
Their grief has been accompanied by frustratingly slow progress in the death investigation. Molly’s father, Larry Young, spent so much time on the phone with investigators that it severely affected his work. Little information has come easily.
Through it all, they have harbored deep suspicion of Minton, who had a lawyer present the morning of Young's death. Also with him that morning were his parents, both law enforcement professionals from Franklin County. For now, the truth of what really happened when Molly made her early-morning trip to Minton’s apartment remains unclear. Previous attempts by the Times to contact Minton have been unsuccessful.
“Whatever happened in that apartment that night was horrible, absolutely horrible,” Kathy Young says. "And he knows what it is."
Stout says he isn’t too surprised by anything that has or hasn’t transpired.
“It doesn’t surprise me that a wonderful, intelligent young woman that had her future to look forward to is now gone, and everybody just wants to look the other way, because that’s the way the world is,” he says. “I’m not happy to say that. It’s not even like a lie. It’s as though they’re not even considered important enough to be lied to.”
That lack of answers has made the healing harder, Molly’s family says. Even with answers, however, they don’t expect the wounds to completely heal. The loss has been too sudden and the cost far too high.
Kathy Young has been shattered by the death of her youngest daughter, and she is desperate to find something resembling peace. She was heartbroken when she didn’t find the feather she was certain Molly would send, and she pleaded that evening for solace.
“That night I said, ‘God, please just give me peace that Molly’s alright,’” she says. The next morning, she woke at about 7 a.m. and sat on her porch. There, just a couple of feet away, was a feather. She rushed to her feet.
“I got it and took it in, and it matched the same color as the blackbird she painted on the headboard on top of the cherry tree that I have by my bed. It matches it perfect,” Kathy says. “I just knew that it was real.”
She placed the feather delicately on the headboard, and there she has kept it as a reminder. She doesn’t always hear Molly speak back, but she tries each day to talk to her lost daughter. Each night, she listens for a message she hopes is coming soon.
“I look for signs everyday, but I want them to be real,” Kathy says.