BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Matthew Queen, the man found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Micah Holsonbake is set for sentencing in less than a month. Holsonbake, Baylee Despot, and James Kulstad, collectively known as the Bakersfield 3, were all either killed or went missing within months of each other.
Now, their mothers are speaking out in the wake of that guilty verdict.
These women's resilience and support for each other have kept them strong and in the midst of the heartbreak, they’ve been through they’ve been there for other families with missing or murdered children.
“I reached out to Cheryl, and then Cheryl reached out to Jane. We just knew - our mama gut and instinct told us that something wasn’t quite right,” explained Diane Byrne.
Diane Byrne is James Kulstad’s mother. She, along with Cheryl Holsonbake, the mother of Micah Holsonbake, and Jane Parrent, the mother of Baylee Despot, have been working together to connect the dots.
Since the disappearance of Baylee, and the killings of James and Micah, they’ve kept each other strong - pillars to stand on - and even shields to protect during the murder trial of Matthew Queen.
When asked what was going through her mind during the trial, Cheryl responded: "Well first, in relation to these lovely ladies, I don’t know if they know this, but they provided a bit of a barrier for us. They sat in front of us, in the row in front of us in the audience. I was able, to not look, at [Queen]. I was able to focus on the witnesses rather than the alleged perpetrator at the time. Because of that, I felt a bit of a buffer during most of the testimony.”
The women's maternal instincts have extended to families outside their own. Diane says the three mothers founded the Bakersfield 3 Charity, a nonprofit to help families search for their missing children and provide support to those who lost family members to violent crimes. Proceeds from the volunteer-based organization go toward Kern Secret Witness.
"On Micah’s birthday, which has just passed, I spent a bit of time on the phone with a family whose child is missing, and I can honestly say that helping is what gets me through the day," explained Cheryl. "Because if I hadn’t had that opportunity to help the family by phone, I would have just been a sobbing mess."
"There was no one to help us or show us the way. We had to figure it out on our own,” added Jane.
Jane says filing a missing person report has become easier since they had to do it. Diane added that she brought Micah's parents with her when she reported what happened to her son. That’s how then-homicide detective, now Sergeant Chad Garrett ended up working on all three of their cases, echoing the importance of mothers helping each other.
"If you have someone who’s been missing or has been murdered if you have a flier, you email it to us. We will make sure that it gets out," said Cheryl.
"Or if you just need someone to talk to, tell you you’re not going crazy. Just message us with your number and one of us will call you. Because you think you’re going crazy when it’s happening, but it’s the new normal. You’re not crazy,” continued Jane.
"Together, we can make a difference,” added Jane.
And now that Queen has been found guilty in the death of Micah Holsonbake, the mothers are speaking out.
“James was a bright light, the moment he walked into the room. He loved to cook. This past Mother’s Day, if he would have still been here, with us, he would have been barbecuing, just really enjoying family and friends, giving them great food," said Diane. "He was an amazing father and a great friend.”
“The last Mother’s Day I got to spend with Baylee, was in 2016 and she cooked me breakfast of all my favorites: and the girls had gotten me flowers," said Jane. "But it’s hard because then I start thinking of all the stuff that happened after that made her not be here. I don't mean to cry. But for me, it’s always the last time."
Jane’s daughter, Baylee has been missing since 2018 and may still be out there. For Diane and Cheryl those days with their respective sons can only be experienced again in memory.
“I struggle with holidays. I struggle with…" said Cheryl.
"Every holiday," responded Diane.
"Every holiday. Every unusual holiday. Even Election Day," continued Cheryl.
Cheryl recalls countless conversations with her son about proposed bills, bond measures, and public officials. Just last week she received election ballots in the mail.
“So when I got those ballots… I just opened the mailbox and they were there. It just brings back phone calls, and discussions, and opinions, and… that was just a very big important part of his life. And all of his friends would know that too. I miss that.”
Said Jane turning to the other two moms, "I don’t know if you still get the mail with the kids’ names but since Baylee is not declared deceased, I get mail for her all the time. Every day is a reminder of something that she’s not here. And that helps me to stay focused, that we still have to find her.”
Four years later unanswered questions remain. Last week, Queen was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Micah. He will be sentenced in June but as Diane points out it’s not a conclusion.
According to the Bakersfield Police Department, James was reported as a victim of a shooting in April 2018, which Diane says was reported as a drive-by. BPD reports that the suspect was believed to be driving a “newer model silver sedan.”
Diane says her son James' case is still being actively worked on.
"Early on, we realized, that all the names we were getting, when we were reaching out to our adult children’s friends, a lot of the names were the same names. So, we knew that there was this big circle of acquaintances and we needed to connect the dots. And we still have a lot of dots to connect.”
The Kern Secret Witness Program has a $10,000 reward for any information on James Kulstad's death. If you have any information and want to remain anonymous, you can call the Secret Witness Hotline at 322-4040.