On Friday, January 8, 2021, a 911 call summoned Hocking County EMS to 1010 Hayden Place in Logan, Ohio, where, in apartment 15, they found two-year-old Arianna Jade Starkey, a tiny girl with fine blonde hair and big blue eyes, not breathing.
EMS radio chatter indicated that Arianna was reported to have been trapped between the wall and a piece of furniture.
Arianna was taken to Hocking Valley Community Hospital and subsequently transferred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, but tragically, she did not survive her injuries. Arianna gained her wings on January 10, 2021.
Hocking County Sheriff’s deputies were notified of Arianna’s injuries and responded to the hospital and the Logan Place Apartment Complex to investigate.
Detectives said, “Evidence indicated that the child had suffered from abuse.”
Even before Arianna died, on January 9, Arianna’s father, 24-year-old Austin Lee Starkey, and his girlfriend, 27-year-old Destani Dawn Neel, were arrested and charged with permitting child abuse, a first degree felony, and endangering children, a second degree felony. Both were booked into the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail.
In Ohio, a first degree felony can be punished with a prison sentence between three and eleven years with a five year period of PRC, or post release control, in addition to a fine of up to $20,000. A second degree felony can incur a prison sentence between two and eight years, as well as a fine of up to $15,000 and five years of PRC.
According to a Facebook post made by Arianna’s maternal step-grandfather about Arianna’s death, “she passed on January 10th 2021 due to injuries sustained from abuse by her biological father and his girlfriend over a 4 day period until her little body couldn’t take it any longer.”
Chris reportedly loved having tea parties with Arianna, who he called “my little sidekick.”
Someone claiming to be Destani’s ex wrote in a true crime forum under the username Neonnds85: “She is a good mother I would know shes my baby mama and me and her have a daughter together and her son who she just had last January is with her now ex husband she only been dating that Austin dude since September. She loves her kids and is a great mother so I can tell you this as facts she wasn’t there when the chid [sic] abuse had cause she would not let that happen I know that for a fact. She had to have got to his apartment after he abused his daughter but was there when the cops came wrong place wrong time I think it was cause I know Destani better than anyone we were engaged also Destani isn’t the one responsible for the child abuse he is and she should not have to go through this bs of people talking bad about her cause shes a great mom to her kids this dude obviously has a drug problem also Destani don’t do drugs at all not even weed to we all see who the monster peice [sic]of shit Is and that’s Austin Starkey #FreeDestani”
Of course, other forum members had a field day with the run-on sentence, not to mention the claims of his “baby mama’s” innocence. Later in the thread, he helpfully added, “…she had something on her record from 2018 that was cause of her now ex husband but ya if you wanna look that up you can but i sturdiness [sic] but her ex husbands [sic] was a kleptomaniac though”
Destani’s husband is a man named Cameron Richards, and he does not appear to have a criminal record at all. Also, the same address is listed for both Austin and Destani in Hocking County Municipal Court records, indicating they lived together in the apartment, so Neonnds85’s explanation that Destani “got to his apartment after he abused his daughter” doesn’t hold water.
Anyway, Destani’s two children do appear happy and healthy in multiple photos she posted of them on Facebook. She, however, seems unable to post a photo of herself with anything besides this grimace of dissatisfaction, or whatever she thinks this expression conveys.
After her death, Arianna was taken to the Franklin County Coroner’s Office, where an autopsy was conducted to determine her cause and manner of death. Results from the autopsy have not yet been released.
On January 13, the despicable duo was arraigned in Hocking County Municipal Court. At their preliminary hearing on January 20, their charges were bound over to the Hocking County Grand Jury.
It’s unclear when the charges changed, but currently, it appears both Austin’s and Destani’s charges have changed since their arrests. The child endangerment charges remain the same, but the permitting child abuse charges have evidently been swapped out for a single count each of felonious assault, a second degree felony, for which a $500,000 cash or surety bond is listed for each defendant. The child endangerment charges stand at no bond.
Sheriff Lanny E. North said in the department’s January 11 press release that the investigation is ongoing, and additional charges will be presented to the grand jury.
Arianna’s mom, Kassie Belknap, gave birth to her third child, a daughter, at the end of December; it’s too horrific to comprehend that she now has to bury her two-year-old. Arianna’s brother is Kassie’s oldest child.
A GoFundMe campaign has been created to help the family cover Arianna’s funeral costs. Any amount will help! If you’d like to donate, click here.
Little Arianna’s Great Aunt Amanda posted on Facebook, “…our lives are devastated so bad, please lets make sure NO other family has to go through this…She is LOVED and MISSED so much… Never dreamed something could ever hurt so badly”
In a separate comment thread, Amanda said Arianna was “so precious and loving..so full of life…god i miss her so bad…wish we could all just wake up from this God awful nightmare.”
Arianna’s Nana Christina said on Facebook, “Arianna was a beautiful smart baby girl and she will never be forgotten.”
Elsewhere on Facebook, Christina said, “…I miss her sweet giggles and them big blue eyes her hugs and kisses she will live for eternity in my heart and soul.”
Christina’s husband, Chris, wrote, “Arianna Jade was [the] best little girl a Papaw could have. She was the sweetest little thing ever. Me and her Nana had her any chance we could get and honestly she never did anything wrong which always surprised me! Arianna Jade will always be remembered, thought about and loved for eternity! R.I.P. OUR SWEET LITTLE ANGEL!!! Papaw loves you baby girl!”
Kassie has posted a number of times about her little girl, saying, “Living on without you babygirl is the hardest thing i have to do Mommy Loves you Forever and Always Ari”
My heart truly goes out to this family. If nothing else, at least I can ensure Arianna will never be forgotten.
Rest in peace, sweet baby.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Arianna’s story.
Sources: WLWT, Logan-Hocking Times, Spaulding and Kitzler, the Dreamin’ Demon forums, Ohio Revised Code, 10WBNS, The Athens Messenger, Hocking County Municipal Court website, Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail website, Hocking County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, Facebook