- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - When relatives came into the home where five members of one Utah family were found dead in September, it looked like they’d been preparing for a long trip, leaving bowls out with extra food for their cats.

Family members found something else in 14-year-old Benson’s room, his uncle said Friday: A letter to the boy’s best friend saying goodbye.

“It basically indicated that he knew one day he’d be found dead,” Jacob Strack said. Benson was found Sept. 27 along with his parents, Benjamin and Kristi Strack, and two of his siblings.

Relatives believe the deaths were planned and mental illness was a factor, said Jacob Strack, who is Benjamin Strack’s brother and is acting as family spokesman. The family now wants to help raise awareness and encourage early, regular mental health screening.

“For them to do something like this, they would have had to be in a state of paranoia,” he said. “That’s the only thing that makes sense to me. They must have thought the end of the world was coming or something.”

Authorities are still investigating exactly what killed the Stracks, who were found in a locked bedroom on Sept. 27. Benjamin, 37, and Kristi, 36, were in a bed with three of their children, Emery, 12, and Zion, 11, and Benson.

The couple’s surviving 18-year-old son and Kristi Strack’s mother discovered the bodies.

Police found empty bottles of methadone and nighttime cold medicine in a trash can, according to search warrants, but the results of toxicology tests are expected later this month, said Springville police Lt. Dave Caron on Friday.

For the surviving family members, questions about why the tragedy happened are fading in favor of finding ways to help others deal with mental illness. Jacob Strack said he isn’t aware of his brother or sister-in-law being of having a diagnosed mental problem, but in hindsight, there were signs something was wrong.

Benjamin Strack stopped talking to his family four years ago, after relatives tried to get the couple help with drug abuse and legal problems, Jacob Strack said.

Court records show the couple had a history of legal and financial problems, and had gone through court-ordered drug treatment several years ago.

But Jacob Strack said there’s more to the family then its manner of death.

Benjamin and Kristi were intelligent and charismatic people, loving parents who homeschooled their children, he said. Benjamin Strack was one of 12 brothers and sisters, and graduated from Alta High School in Salt Lake City. He met Kristi when he was 16, though they didn’t wed until years later.

Benjamin Strack had a personality that made everyone feel like his best friend, his brother said.

“You watch him play with his children and that’s how you want to play with your children,’” said Jacob Strack. “It’s beautiful to watch.”


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