JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Reminders of Isaiah Beatty are all around his small bedroom on Indian Ridge Road in Johnson City. A cluster of baseball bats leaning in the corner, a testament to the boy he was, and a backpack filled with fishing tackle, a sign of the man he was becoming.
Kelly and Anthony Beatty still find their way into Isaiah’s bedroom just to feel the presence of their firstborn child, taken from them when he died of an overdose at 23 on Nov. 2, 2021.
“To us, his room is a way to be close to him, I think,” Kelly Beatty said of the kid friends called “Zero” as a reference to the character in the 2003 movie “Holes.”
“It’s really hard to try to box up a child. We were fortunate to have him for 23 years, and for us that wasn’t enough, but we did get him for a lot longer than some parents get their children.”
Nearly two years after Isaiah’s death, the Beattys have their minds on a new aspect of his story. Christopher Jones, who allegedly provided him with the fentanyl-laced drugs that caused his death, was arraigned Monday on a second-degree murder charge.
Jones’ arraignment came after a Washington County grand jury returned a true bill Sept. 11 charging him with “unlawfully killing (Beatty).” That murder charge, which could result in a sentence of between 15 and 60 years in prison, was possible because of a 2018 change to Tennessee’s second-degree murder law.
Tennessee Code Annotated 39-13-210 now has a section allowing for murder charges if someone dies from “unlawful distribution of any Schedule I or Schedule II drug, when the drug is the proximate cause of death of the user…” The law allows the same charge for any schedule drug with fentanyl mixed in it.
While Kelly Beatty said the prosecution of Jones isn’t going to provide the family healing, Anthony Beatty said learning about the law was a positive eye-opener following Isaiah’s death.
“When we found out there was something that would take that shield away from someone dealing drugs … and say, ‘hey, you’re exposed,’ that is what amazed us,” Anthony said. “I was like, ‘wow, we finally get justice.'”
Jones, 27, spent some time in jail after initially being arrested Nov. 4, 2021 after law enforcement executed a search warrant at his house on Charlie Hicks Road. Investigators allegedly found multiple firearms, methamphetamine, fentanyl, prescription narcotics, marijuana and scales, after which Jones allegedly admitted to selling fentanyl in order to obtain meth.
Investigators knew who to look for largely because Isaiah’s girlfriend knew who he’d purchased drugs from the night he overdosed, the Beattys said.
“All along, Johnson City police have spoken with us, we knew what was going on, we knew that justice takes time,” Kelly said. She said she never doubted the investigation would lead to a prosecution.
“From the day of, we were on the mission of holding someone accountable and they were too, and they knew who to go after and they had the evidence to do it,” she said. “And not every family gets that.”
‘Isaiah is amazing’
The Beattys are a close family. Isaiah, who graduated from Science Hill High School in 2016 and earned a pipefitter certification, had recently moved back home with his parents and then 16-year-old sister, Tatyanna.
The siblings had been thick as thieves since Isaiah became a big brother at the age of 7.
“Her first words were actually ‘Isaiah’ — she said it clear as day,” Kelly said. She’d had her close times with an even younger Isaiah as she finished her accounting degree and he would color while she did her homework.
“He was small, but he would have the biggest smile like you would see his smile before you would hear his voice,” Kelly said.
Having a sister, Anthony said, “opened him up. We [saw] a protective side, just someone he could relate to and be a mentor to.”
“The only thing he has hanging up in his room is something that she wrote for him that says, ‘Isaiah is amazing,'” Kelly said. “There was nothing like his sister, and there was nothing like her brother.”
The pair remained close as Isaiah fell in love with baseball, playing through Little League, Babe Ruth and travel ball. Tatyanna would follow in his footsteps, eventually playing four years of softball at Science Hill before graduating last spring.
Isaiah’s path was different. He didn’t make Science Hill’s baseball squad. Most of his friends were baseball players, and while they didn’t stop being friends with him and his family didn’t think any less of him, Anthony said the end of organized baseball likely had some psychological impact.
“He would go see a couple of them playing and stuff, but he really realized then that ‘I can’t really be a part of the group, but I’m still going to do something,'” Anthony said. “He would withdraw himself to fishing to try to break through the, ‘hey, I can’t be with my boys all the time’ type situation.”
Isaiah had fallen in love with fishing when the family visited Yellowstone.
“We gave him a rod and reel and he took out for like three or four hours just going up through the streams,” Anthony said. “That’s when he really discovered he had a love for the outdoors.”
Warrior’s Path State Park was a favorite local fishing spot for a young man who carried fishing gear in his car.
“He could just take out and like, ‘hey I think I’m going to go fishing, it’s a good time,’ and he would go off and go fishing,” Kelly said.
“He would get the paddle boats and just stay on the lake,” Anthony added. “He loved it.”
But inside, Isaiah was struggling with some anxiety and feelings of not measuring up, his mom said. He’d “self-medicate” with marijuana and also some Xanax, to try and curb the anxiety she said plagued him at times.
Ironically, though, Isaiah had started dating a young woman his parents really liked and switched jobs from Harbor Freight to ACT, working from home.
“He started coming out and being more and more outgoing, he was doing more family functions,” Anthony said. In fact, the night before he died, the whole family was together.
“We were all goofing off downstairs, just having a blast, acting silly and different things,” he said.
“We didn’t expect anything like that that night or any day he was here, because he was just so into work, so into the girl that he had met, and they had big plans.”
The night of Nov. 1, Isaiah’s plans included getting up the next morning and putting in a standard workday.
‘Not something I would wish on my worst enemy’
“I’d had a conversation with him that night and my last words to him were ‘I love you and I’ll see you in the morning.'”
Kelly did see Isaiah the next morning. She found him in the living room, called 911 and she and Anthony administered some Narcan they kept at home. Tatyanna was there.
“For a 15-year-old girl such as our daughter to see something that you see on TV play out in your living room and you’re 15 years old, we were just — I think we were shell shocked,” Anthony said.
First responders arrived quickly and took over trying to revive Isaiah — a far-too-familiar task as overdoses have risen dramatically over the past several years.
“A man came in, and it was like they shot straight to him and knew what to do,” Anthony said.
But Isaiah didn’t revive. Kelly Beatty’s worst fears — that he’d get ahold of something with a higher level of narcotic than he expected and more than his body could handle.
“You know you’re going to bury your parents, you know you’re going to bury your grandparents, you know that you may lose your spouse, but you never envision losing your child,” Kelly said. “It is not something that I would wish on my worst enemy.”
Kelly said the family has received an outpouring of love and support, without judgment, from their church family at First Christian, from Anthony’s mom’s church, from Science Hill and from Isaiah’s friends.
Tatyanna has leaned on her Christian faith as well.
“She’s taking this, and she’s trying to be a light in the world,” Kelly said.
“She’s such an empathetic and sympathetic person. Tatyanna will give you the shirt off her back, but her brother was like that too. She’s not a judger, and she’s always lifting people up.”
Anthony Beatty said the family can’t help but notice how frequently they see things scroll across the TV screen showing someone has lost their life to fentanyl.
“You sit there and think, ‘wow, this is unreal. We are a part of this statistic,'” he said.
But Kelly Beatty said she wants people to know her son was more than a statistic and that his life isn’t summed up by the way he died. And she wants Christopher Jones to face accountability.
“I know that I can’t put my healing on the judicial system, because it’s not going to come from there. It will inevitably never give us what we want, we’re never going to get our son back and there’s never going to be enough time that will make it right.
“But it’s at least to say it’s in the books and you have to face that, and we want to be there when he has to go to court … because we want him to know that it matters, and (Isaiah) mattered and he is lost, and there’s a blank space that should have something there. And we want the world to know he mattered.”
Big life moments remain hard, and Kelly said they probably always will.
“When (Tatyanna) graduated high school, her brother wasn’t there. She turned 18 September 22. That was hard because her brother wasn’t there. It was hard to have Christmas without him…
“We will grieve all of our life. There won’t be a day when we won’t feel his absence, and there won’t be a day we won’t notice he’s not there. Every happy moment will be filled with a sad moment because we know he’s not there.”