After daughter’s murder, grandmother left to raise grandchildren in Mississippi
MADISON COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - “Katie was a wonderful person... Other kids, you ask them what they want to be when they grow up. They want to be doctors and firemen and such. She said she wanted to be a mommy.”
Katie Baunach’s mother, Carolyn McKinney, describes her daughter as funny and talented, and says she always went after what she wanted. “She was working [to become] a nurse practitioner. Just had her clinicals left to do when this happened.”
What happened was that in September of last year, Katie’s life was allegedly taken at the hands of her ex-husband, Ian Baunach, a bodybuilder and ex-Marine who, after killing her, is accused of burning her body in an attempt at hiding the evidence.
He has pleaded not guilty.
The two met on Christian Mingle, and McKinney says she was concerned from the onset because he was a total stranger. Her concern would turn to dread when she looked him up on the internet and found “page after page after page” of arrests.
She called it “a mother’s worse nightmare.”
Without her daughter knowing, McKinney asked to meet Ian face-to-face. It was during this initial meeting that Ian gave McKinney an explanation for all of his prior arrests. He was a bodybuilder, he said, and women often took advantage of him, saying he did things to them that he did not do. Police would always believe the women due to his size, he told McKinney.
Ian was never convicted of a crime, and his cases in Indiana have been expunged, according to an investigation by USA TODAY Network-Florida. Ian’s two ex-wives both told the outlet that they had reported Ian’s abuse but felt the authorities were not taking them seriously.
Even so, McKinney says Katie was smart, “and she would not put up with anyone mistreating her or disrespecting her, so I kept pushing my feelings aside.”
The couple would go on to have two children, a boy and a girl, get married, and set up a life in Florida. Ian would ask that McKinney retire early and move in with them. He had been raised by his grandmother and he wanted his children to have that experience as well.
McKinney was taken by his kindness. Not accepting right away, she took time to pray about the decision. She decided to take him up on his offer. Yet as soon as she moved into the home, she sensed that something was off.
In one event, she recalled witnessing Ian beating his dog, Zeus, with a piece of wood. This after the dog killed one of the couple’s chickens that had escaped their backyard chicken coup. After beating the dog, Ian tied Zeus to a tree and hit him with the chicken’s corpse, she said.
When McKinney would raise her concerns about Ian, Katie would brush it off. “He’s an idiot,” she would say.
But McKinney always felt tension in the house, saying Ian would be angry with her every time she left to run errands. She says this was because Ian had not given her permission to leave.
And during one fight, McKinney says she watched as her son-in-law transformed into The Hulk.
“He turned from his regular self to this monster,” she says. He began screaming at McKinney, she says, and she felt she was in danger. She knew then that she had to leave. Without being allowed to say goodbye to her grandchildren, McKinney escaped to Mississippi to be with her brother, a U.S. Marshal, who has now since retired
Once in Canton, Mississippi, she bought a house and got a job, setting up a new life for herself. It was November of 2020.
Once things devolved between Ian and Katie, Katie would tell her mother how bad things had gotten, slowly releasing tales of what she described as Ian’s erratic mood swings which would see him calm one moment and screaming in her face the next. Katie stayed in the relationship, however, thinking she could love Ian through this behavior and that one day he would change, McKinney explained.
Yet after the alleged physical abuse came - in one instance, Ian allegedly tried to strangle Katie - Katie would try to leave. But Ian said he had found the Lord and Katie tried to make things work yet again and the charges against him were dropped.
Things only got worse from there, McKinney says. They would divorce in January of 2022 and eight months later, Katie would be gone.
This coming as Katie was trying to receive a restraining order against Ian - a restraining order that, for reasons still unknown, was denied.
In that investigation by USA TODAY Network-Florida, they found “a series of failures to protect [Katie] by every layer of state and local law enforcement.” Now, a group who calls themselves “Justice for Katie” has a goal of removing the judge who rejected Katie’s restraining order against Ian.
McKinney says her niece is the one leading the group, explaining that she has her hands full with the grandchildren now. But she does say this: “I want law enforcement and judges to believe women when they say they are being hurt.”
With a full-time job, McKinney says she doesn’t have a second to grieve the loss of Katie. Her life revolves around raising her grandchildren, who she says are still processing the death of their mother. They are both in grief counseling.
When asked if they will stay in Mississippi, McKinney was apprehensive. The kids do not like it here, she says, having grown up on the beaches of Florida, they are now landlocked on a golf-course in Canton.
“This doesn’t feel like home,” McKinney says at one point. “Nothing feels like home anymore.”
Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Copyright 2023 WLBT. All rights reserved.