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Family of Tulsa County District Attorney speaks on mental health impacts

KTUL Tulsa 1/18/2023 Daniela Ibarra, KTUL Staff
© Provided by KTUL Tulsa

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler and his family are hoping to turn attention into action. 

Their family was put under the spotlight back in September after Tulsa police said Kunzweiler's middle daughter, Jennifer, stabbed her father multiple times.

TPD said Kunzweiler's daughter was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time.

Months later, Kunzweiler let his pain out.

"She did not deserve the life she's been given," Kunzweiler said of Jennifer, choking up. "She's one of the most compassionate and well-intentioned persons we know."

Kunzweiler said his daughter is a domestic abuse survivor.

Dr. Christine Kunzweiler, Steve's wife, said it changed their daughter. 

"So many of us privately deal with this," she shared during a panel with the Republican Women's Club of Tulsa. "My daughter is fortunate she’s at least had us.”

Jennifer Kunzweiler's younger sister, Jackie, said she doesn't want that incident to define her sister. 

"I want her to be thought of not just as a mentally ill person with a specific set of symptoms, but as somebody who might struggle with this, but also who is she's an artist, and she loves music, and she loves the outdoors and somebody who is not just defined by that narrative that has been set for her," Jackie Kunzweiler said. 

That narrative Jackie alluded to is what the Kunzweiler family hopes to change. 

"There is a whole country of families just like ours," said Steve. "People have struggled to find the answers within the mental health system, which is clearly broken and in need of repair."

Julie Miller-Cribbs is the director of the University of Oklahoma's Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work.

"We need workforce initiatives," she said when asked about solutions. "We need more people going to school and majoring in degrees that lead to a career in mental health. We need facilities, particularly in areas where there are shortages, like rural areas in Oklahoma."

Miller-Cribbs said talking about the impact of mental health like the Kunzweilers have, helps. 

"The more we talk about it, the more we normalize it, the more we understand that it's something that can be treated and that is treatable and that it doesn't necessarily have to be horribly embarrassing or stigmatizing," she said.

Kunzweiler hopes lawmakers will take action to make funding and staffing to help those suffering from mental illness a priority, which is something he emphasized the day after the incident.

"Talk is cheap," he said. "Getting personally educated, personally educated on the crisis is what our legislators need to do."

He said he only hear from three legislators in the days after the stabbing.

He said the only one from the Tulsa area was State Representative Regina Goodwin, who Kunzweiler said is the "polar opposite" of him on a lot of things. 

"She at least understood the gravity of what had happened," he said. 

As for action from lawmakers, Kunzweiler said he's heard crickets. 

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