The Real Story Behind Astrologer Danielle Johnson’s Murder-Suicide

The Real Story Behind Astrologer Danielle Johnson’s Murder-Suicide

Film


O
ne night in
2021, Sharonda Johnson had a dream. A figure was standing over a baby’s bassinet. She couldn’t tell what it was, but she sensed this figure emanating overwhelming dread. “I remember saying to myself, ‘I don’t know how anyone can fight this,’” she says. 

Sharonda woke up with a “heavy, sickening, thick feeling” in her gut. So she called her daughter, Danielle Johnson, an astrology influencer who went by the handle Mystic Lipstick on Twitter. They struggled to figure out what it was about, but Sharonda believed it would become evident sooner rather than later. “I know it’ll come full circle,” Sharonda remembers thinking. “Because it always does.” 

Sharonda and Danielle had a complicated relationship. Sharonda had struggled with substance abuse when Danielle was a teenager, and had not been present for much of her life; they had only started speaking again in 2015, around the time Danielle had her first child. As part of an effort to reconnect with her daughter, Sharonda had set off on her own spiritual journey. She would eventually call herself a psychic, appointing Danielle as her guide. 

The dream came back to mind three years later, on the morning of Thursday, April 8, when Sharonda received a phone call from the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s office: Danielle, 34, had driven her car into a tree at high speed and did not survive the impact. The medical examiner went on to tell her that Danielle’s partner, Jaelen Chaney, 29, had been found in their apartment stabbed to death.

It got worse. Danielle’s two children appeared to have been pushed out of a moving car on the 405 Freeway, and, while the nine-year-old only had a few cuts and bruises, the eight-month-old had died. 

Sharonda was stunned. In the years since that dream and since moving to California, her daughter had become distant and withdrawn, retreating almost entirely into her spiritual-healer persona. Their relationship had fallen apart — she had no idea that Danielle and Chaney had a child, a baby girl named Solé. She didn’t even know her daughter had been pregnant. 

The two had ceased contact not long after Danielle became romantically involved with Chaney, a follower with whom she’d developed a relationship while he was stationed at an Air Force base in Italy. Chaney had spent the last year and a half of his life living with Danielle, her daughter and, eventually, the baby they would have together in her swank rental apartment in Woodland Hills. Neighbors would later say that the two largely kept to themselves and could often be heard fighting late into the night. 

They had been fighting that night in April. Screams heard by a neighbor coming from the apartment around 3:40 a.m. led to the discovery of Chaney’s body. (The LAPD declined to answer questions from Rolling Stone about the status of the investigation into Chaney’s death, pointing us to an April 9 news release in lieu of a statement.) The sole survivor of the tragedy, Danielle’s nine-year-old daughter, has since moved in with her father, Danielle’s former partner Cecil Rice.

Long before that night, Danielle had effectively cut off all communication with everyone who “would have been able to spot the direction where she was going,” Sharonda says. And, either way, she adds, fighting “against the energy I was feeling in that dream years ago would have been next to impossible.” 

SHORTLY AFTER SHARONDA received the call, news of what had happened started filtering out from local, then national, outlets. For Danielle’s more than 100,000 followers on X (formerly Twitter), it only took a few hours to draw the direct line between Danielle Johnson, the mother of two who had apparently killed her partner and her baby before taking her own life; and Mystic Lipstick, the celebrity astrologer, aspiring musician, and spiritual leader that some had been following for more than a decade. “It floored me,” says Danielle Arias, who goes by Stars Moon and Sun on Twitter, someone who herself rose to prominence posting astrology content in the early 2010s, around the same time as Mystic Lipstick. “I was in shock. My heart has been heavy for days.” 

On Astrology Twitter, some wondered if Danielle Johnson had been struggling with a postpartum mental health disorder, or a little-understood phenomenon called “spiritual psychosis,” which has been linked to hallucinations and delusions of grandeur. Others claimed she had been overtaken by demonic forces, with rumors circulating that she had dabbled in dark magic. Many found it difficult to accept that the woman they’d turned to for healing had been capable of such violence. (Some of the people who followed Danielle online declined to talk to Rolling Stone for this reason, saying they were still too troubled by what she had done to speak about her.) As more details emerged, it became clear how much of Danielle’s private life she had kept from her followers; she had rarely spoken publicly about being a mother, or about her relationship with Chaney, let alone her recent pregnancy. 

While her followers and family grasped for explanations, itt seemed apparent that Danielle had been losing her grip on reality for some time. Since the early days of the pandemic, “her tweets began to get darker and darker,” says Alma Suono, an online friend of Danielle’s since 2016. “[She] just seemed kind of sad and burnt out.” On X, her content had become increasingly unhinged in her final weeks, with reposts of increasingly aggressive antisemitic content and apocalyptic messages from accounts promoting QAnon. Some friends had dismissed such posts as “trolling”: “I thought it was dark humor,” says Suono. “[I] was way less concerned than I should have been.” 

In their coverage, many media outlets focused on Danielle’s vocation as an astrologer and the fact that her death took place the same day as the total solar eclipse, which appeared to have consumed Danielle in the days leading up to it. “This eclipse is the epitome of spiritual warfare,” she wrote on April 4, four days before the crash. “Get your protection on and your heart in the right place.” The following day, she warned: “WAKE UP WAKE UP THE APOCALYPSE IS HERE. EVERYONE WHO HAS EARS LISTEN.”

Many on Astrology Twitter were angered by the coverage of her death and concerned about what impact it would have on the community, arguing that such stories unfairly demonized astrologers. Indeed, based on more than a dozen interviews with those who knew Danielle, it seems apparent that the eclipse was not the driving force behind hers, Chaney’s, and their daughter’s deaths. From both her behavior online and in real life, it seems her mental health had been declining for some time. “She was like a hurt baby,” says Maya Johnson (no relation), Danielle’s former college roommate. But there was little discussion online about what, if any, interventions could have been taken prior to April 8. “As her tweets started to get darker, I kind of just looked away,” says Suono. “I didn’t want to seem prying. So I didn’t ask too many questions.” 

Danielle’s death also raised a question: If you’ve accumulated an audience based on your ability to provide clarity and guidance, what happens, to both your followers and yourself, if you find yourself unable to do so? “Some people are like, ‘Save me,’” says Samuel Reynolds, a Santa Fe-based astrologer who has been following Danielle’s career for more than a decade. “And then you can get sucked into it — like, ‘Why do I have to do this for these people?’” In other words: What happens to the healer when they can’t heal themselves? 

Danielle Johnson

Courtesy of Cecil Rice

IN THE EARLY 2010s, astrology exploded among millennial audiences on social media. Though most of the big astrologers on Twitter in the early days were people of color, the eruption of horoscopes as a form of personal branding ushered in “a groundswell of people [of all races] talking more about astrology on Twitter” around 2016, says Reynolds. Now, it’s an inextricable part of popular culture, with many influencers in the space racking up millions of followers on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Danielle was early to the trend, starting her account on X where she would post astrological predictions and personalized horoscopes in about 2010. 

According to Sharonda, who became pregnant with Danielle when she was just 16, her daughter had a difficult childhood. “Her struggles started from the moment she came into this world,” she says. As a child growing up in Maryland, Danielle showed symptoms of anxiety; if she had a headache, she would assume it was a brain aneurysm and start panicking that she was going to die. “She thought she was going to catch a condition that would ultimately kill her,” Sharonda says. “I never understood where that fear came from.” When Danielle was 13, Sharonda, who had started abusing drugs, sent her to live with her uncle. Sharonda thought her brother, a Navy veteran living with his wife in Virginia, could provide a more stable environment for Danielle. But Danielle “never got past” this, Sharonda says, later publicly characterizing Sharonda’s actions as abandonment. 

After graduating high school in 2007, Danielle attended Norfolk State University, where she became involved with a campus Bible study group and a local Baptist church. Even then, her former housemate Maya Johnson recalls, Danielle spoke often about having dreams or visions predicting future events. But within their devoutly religious community, that wasn’t particularly unusual. “The Bible tells you that you can experience things like visions if you’re in the spirit,” says Maya. “So thinking about the church we grew up in, that wasn’t abnormal.” According to Maya, however, Danielle would soon become disillusioned with the church, and drifted further away from organized religion. “It was one of those ‘church hurt’ kind of things,” she says. “I think some of the things that she experienced in her family life took a toll on her, as far as her spiritual walk.”

Maya Johnson and Danielle Johnson

Courtesy of Maya Johnson

When Danielle was a junior, she abruptly dropped out of college and moved back in with her aunt and uncle. It was also around this time, in late 2010, that Danielle started studying Reiki, a non-evidence-based energy healing technique. Author Morgan Jerkins, who interviewed Danielle in 2016 for her bestselling book, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America, writes that Danielle became fixated on “strengthen[ing] her spiritual gifts” outside the paradigm of “the kind of Christianity in which she was raised.”

In 2012, Danielle, then around 23, met Cecil Rice, a Procter & Gamble vendor and her future husband, on Twitter. The pair had been DMing sporadically before discovering they lived relatively close to one another and decided to take their flirtation offline. Rice was not in the astrology or spiritual healing worlds, instead finding himself attracted to how funny Danielle’s posts were. “She definitely lived a rough life, but it wasn’t something that was weighing on her. She didn’t carry it like she had been through a lot,” says Rice, who remembers Danielle talking about her fractured relationship with her mom and negative experiences growing up in the church. “She was a very positive, hopeful, graceful person.”

Danielle and Rice married in 2014, together moving to his hometown of Springfield, Ohio, that same year. Their daughter was born in 2015. It was right around then, Rice says, when Danielle’s Mystic Lipstick brand started to explode. “Social media was coming into that stage where you could make money,” he says. “And, to both of our surprise, people really connected [with what she was doing].” 

As @mysticxlipstick, Danielle was part of an initial wave of creators to embrace the tight-knit Twitter-based astrology community. Her followers viewed her as something of a “spiritual homegirl, [someone] who was pretty and fly and has it all together,” says Reynolds. “[They thought] she understood all the spiritual things, like Reiki, astrology, numerology. Kind of like Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched, except on Twitter.” 

Many were entranced by Danielle’s unvarnished, tell-it-like-it-is style. “There’s a certain demographic of people that are looking for an unfiltered, no-bullshit perspective, like, ‘This is the shit, this is what you need to fix,’” says Arias. “And I think she provided that.” When Jerkins interviewed Danielle for her book in August 2016, Jerkins recalls being “transfixed” by Danielle: “She seemed very grounded; she seemed anointed.” 

Others were more skeptical. Astrologer Amy Tripp, known online as Starheal, connected with Danielle in 2014. She claims that when they began talking on Twitter, Danielle was in the midst of making a calculated pivot from remote energy healing to astrology. “She didn’t understand astrology,” Tripp says. “She said things just to say things.” When she started appearing on podcasts and doing interviews with publications like Refinery29, others also questioned whether she knew enough about astrology to position herself as an expert. “She went from someone who had been asking questions about astrology [of] more seasoned astrologers [on Twitter], to someone talking about astrology [as an expert],” says Reynolds. Still, Danielle had a knack for using social media to frame astrological insights in the context of self-care and self-healing, which resonated with her followers. “It was something that she found that was her thing. It wasn’t something that was attached to the church or to someone else,” says Maya Johnson. “And she seemed to really enjoy and take pride in it.”   

Around 2016 or 2017, Danielle started transitioning from offering astrological insights (“I love Geminis for their exuberance and spontaneity. Hanging with a Gemini can really make you forget that you have adulting to do”) to presenting herself as a jack-of-all-trades spiritual healer. She began selling spells, rituals, and cleanses on her website, charging $150 a month for a series of “healing” audios and PDFs, and $11.99 per cleanse for specific astrological signs. Some of her followers started accusing her of scamming them. “It did make me wonder, ‘Are they growing as an astrologer? Or are they just trying to stay in business and relevant?” Reynolds says. Still, Danielle was apparently successful, buying high-end handbags and leasing a luxury car. When her old friends saw her Instagram, “We were kind of shocked,” says Maya. “She’s living this lavish life. It’s like, ‘Who is this person?’” 

Others on Astrology Twitter developed concerns about the advice Danielle was doling out to her now-100,000 followers. Over the years, followers unearthed old tweets where she promoted offensive views about LGBTQ+ people, accusing her of being trans- and homophobic. (She later apologized, claiming she had been dealing with internalized shame from the church over her own sexual orientation.) In 2018, she also started marketing “healing series” specifically for survivors of sexual assault: “This will also HELP with SEXUAL ADDICTIONS and be paramount for those in ANY form of SEX WORK. RAPE VICTIMS, SEXUAL ABUSE VICTIMS,” she tweeted. When some followers criticized her for appearing to target sexual abuse survivors without any formal training herself, Danielle wrote a lengthy thread alleging she herself was a survivor of long-term childhood sexual abuse. (Sharonda says Danielle never told her she had been sexually abused. Others, however, such as Danielle’s ex-husband and her college friend Maya Johnson, remember Danielle opening up about experiencing physical and sexual abuse as a child, though they did not recall specific details.) 

For these reasons, some of Danielle’s longtime followers had already started to slowly withdraw from her orbit by the onset of the pandemic. “It didn’t feel right in my spirit. I am a Christian and I felt her energy was really dark,” says one longtime follower who used to purchase Danielle’s cleanses, who asked Rolling Stone to withhold her name. “She was opening up doors that you shouldn’t walk through. And she didn’t seem very well.”

Some of these “doors,” according to Sharonda, Tripp, and two of Danielle’s former friends, included dabbling with witchcraft. As her platform grew, she became obsessed with critiques and attacks from people online, particularly other astrologers, says Rice, though he “chalked it up to people feeling like there was a competition.” Tripp says that, after she fell out with Danielle, she heard rumblings from some of her former clients that Danielle was “doing dark magic,” placing “hexes” on her using cow tongues and feathers. Following Danielle’s death, two TikTok influencers also took to the platform, alleging Danielle had been “working with demons,” including “tak[ing] somebody’s picture [and putting] nine nails on it on a cow tongue” as part of a hexing ritual. (The TikTokers did not respond to requests for comment; it’s also important to note that such rituals are not part of the usual practice of modern witchcraft, and are certainly not common within the astrology community.) 

Rice and Danielle separated in 2018, though they never officially divorced. “We did great as friends, decent as co-parents,” he says of their split. “We had grown apart and wanted different things out of life.” During the time they lived together, he does not recall seeing his wife practice dark magic. Anything he did witness was mostly around manifestations and healing, such as setting intentions in her journals and mailing cleanses to clients. “It was never anything that would be considered taboo or evil or wicked,” he says. “It wasn’t like she was slitting the throat of a goat. Nothing extreme.”

But Rice also acknowledges there were limitations to his understanding of Danielle’s work, as well as her mental state. After she eventually from of Ohio to New York City, Danielle became the full-time caretaker of their daughter due to how much better off financially she was than Rice at the time. Their conversations in the years since were almost always “normal” in Rice’s memory. “She had a tendency to be very guarded,” he says. “She wasn’t terribly expressive to me about a number of things.” Even after they separated, even in the months leading up to her death, when he would call to check in on her, “she would always just say she was fine.” 

BY 2020, DANIELLE WAS at something of an impasse. After separating from Rice, she had started a new relationship with a novelist and tarot reader, briefly moving into an apartment in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood with him. They eventually got engaged. (He declined to speak with Rolling Stone.) But she wanted to pivot away from spiritual healing and into music, a passion she had harbored — despite having little innate vocal talent — since she was a child. “When she was in choir, we’d always tease her about the notes she was hitting,” says Maya. “But Danielle was persistent.”

Danielle, her daughter, and her then-fiance moved to Los Angeles in mid-2020, at the height of the pandemic. That fall, she released an album Venus under her stage name Ayoka. On her YouTube channel, she described her music as “a sleek, alt-R&B sound.” When Maya came across one of her music videos, she was stunned by how much Danielle had changed from their college years, when the two were in praise group. “She wasn’t this sweet, awkward, and goofy person anymore,” says Maya. “She had this dark-feminine energy….she was just not the same person, at all.”

Danielle quickly found that that music stardom did not come as easily as her Mystic Lipstick social media persona. “For a while, she was very aggressive with promoting the music,” says Shawn Pierre Marshall, a.k.a. Marz, a podcast host and the head of The D.E.N., an artist collective Danielle briefly joined to promote her work. “And then it kind of fell off after that first release. I don’t think it did the numbers that she wanted.” She pivoted back to healing, continuing to connect with her loyal followers.

At some point in late 2020, according to Sharonda, Danielle started becoming closer with Jaelen Chaney, a U.S. Air Force technician stationed at Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy. A diehard Star Wars nerd, Chaney had what his ex-boyfriend, Chris Mills, characterizes to Rolling Stone as “nerdy swag”: He was good-looking, with close-cropped hair, Doc Martens, and rippling biceps. Mills had met him on a dating app when Chaney was just 20 years old and had just moved with a few friends to the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area. Mills had been drawn to Chaney because his profile photo featured him in a Boba Fett helmet. “It wasn’t, like, a Wal-Mart costume you’d get for 20 bucks,” Mills recalls, laughing. “It was a very nice Boba Fett helmet. It was like, ‘OK, you’ve been to a couple of Comic-Cons.’” 

Jaelen Chaney and Chris Mills

Courtesy of Chris Mills

Chaney was jovial and upbeat, “the embodiment of the phrase, ‘Their smile could light up a room,’” one high school friend recalls. Another remembered him in the cafeteria cracking jokes, “always the center of attention.” Like Danielle, he had also been a member of a church youth group. His interests were eclectic — he loved going to clubs and flailing his limbs to EDM and watching YouTube videos of tornadoes. “[He was] a storm chaser,” his mother, Juanita Chirikas, recalls. “He was always amazed with how the lightning strikes. He was great at taking pictures.” He dreamed of becoming a meteorologist, but at the time was somewhat adrift. “He was very much learning himself at that time,” Mills says. “He hadn’t quite found a niche.” Still, he was relentlessly curious, a dreamer who’d drop everything to hop a train across Europe or pop over to Florida’s Hillsborough River State Park to watch meteor showers. Whenever they took walks at night, Chaney would always look up at the stars. “I’d be like, ‘Seeing anything interesting?’” Mills recalls. “And he was like ‘Not yet — but you gotta look up to see it.’” 

Chaney’s interests extended to the metaphysical realm, says Mills. “He was very interested in horoscopes, learning more about birth charts,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it was anything out of the ordinary. He was just a little bit more interested than the average person.” Chirikas says he spoke often of having a special astrological connection to his grandmother, with whom he was close, as their birthdays were four days apart. A profile on Academia.edu, a database of research papers, linked to Chaney’s Facebook handle lists his interests as “extraterrestrial intelligence, radio communication, spiritual metaphysics, and expanded consciousness.” But Mills thought this was all part and parcel with Chaney’s general curiosity.

“He had a good understanding, in my opinion, of the concept that the world is so much bigger than just me or him,” he says. “He understood that the world was big, and that we are so small, and there’s so much out there that we can explore that we don’t know.”

In 2016, when Chaney was 21, he enlisted in the military, going off to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base outside San Antonio. While he was there, Mills sent him letters and printed out Instagram memes he thought Chaney might laugh at, but kept the content of his correspondence relatively bland. “I didn’t know if the sergeants read their mail, or if they’d give him a hard time about it,” he says. Though Chaney was out to his mother, as well as most of his close friends, he was not widely known to be out in high school, one former friend recalls, and the area in which he grew up in Palm Bay, Florida tended to skew conservative. But Jaelen, the product of a mixed family and neighborhood, was more progressive, says Chirikas. “He was taught to accept people as he would like to be accepted and treated.”

Still, Mills was careful to not be overly demonstrative when he visited him in basic training. “[The military is] not a career field that you necessarily go into and you’re like, ‘Look at me,’” he says. “You don’t want to make things more difficult than they have to be. [And] I wasn’t gonna push anything. I didn’t want him to feel like he needs to come out because I want him out.” He attended Chaney’s basic training graduation with Chirikas, where he played trombone in the military band. 

When Chaney told Mills in 2016 that he would be stationed at Aviano Air Base in Italy, where he’d always wanted to go, Mills was happy for him — but the news was bittersweet. Mills had just adopted a baby, and he had his hands full as a single dad. Over time, their relationship “dwindled,” but they still sporadically kept in contact. “In my head, I always thought one day we’d run into each other, and he’d look at me and say I did a great job as a parent, and I’d get to hear about all his adventures and find out that it was all worth it,” he says.

At some point, while stationed abroad, Chaney, who followed Danielle, began communicating with her frequently on social media, becoming more and more deeply invested in the spirituality space. In his Twitter bio, he called himself a “reiki master,” frequently posting spiritual aphorisms and astrology memes; he also registered an LLC, Saturn’s Guidance, in 2021, creating a website where he offered “aura baths” and “timeline shifts,” which he described as “a type of energy work associated with quantum healing.”

At the time, Sharonda and her son were living in Los Angeles with Danielle, Danielle’s then-fiance, and her daughter with Rice. It was from this vantage point that Sharonda witnessed the beginnings of Danielle’s long-distance flirtation with Chaney. In the fall of 2021, she says, Chaney joined an online coven that Danielle frequently promoted on social media, in which she would teach members various spells and how to make their own sigils, or magical symbols. Eventually, Danielle would anoint Chaney the role of high priest, according to Sharonda. (Chirikas disputes this: “Jaelen was not the type to join,” she says. “He was more into paving his own way.”) At some point, Sharonda says, Danielle became convinced that she and Chaney were “twin flames,” a term used to describe an intense connection with a soulmate. “She did a lot of spell work for her and Jae’s relationship,” she says. “A lot of sex magic, a lot of tantra, everything she could find in order to make this relationship successful.”

There were more than a few roadblocks — Danielle’s fiance, for one, who continued to live with her until May 2022. There was also the matter of Chaney’s sexual orientation: According to Sharonda and Mills, he had primarily dated men for most of his life. “[Danielle] somehow convinced him that he wasn’t who he thought he was, that stuff from his childhood created the part of his personality that he thought was gay,” Sharonda says. Nonetheless, Danielle and Chaney began a long-distance relationship, with her visiting him in Italy and the two traveling together to his hometown in Florida while he was on leave. Soon, he would decide not to reenlist.

Sharonda says this was not the first time Danielle had become infatuated with a man who had sex with other men, and, while Danielle did not harbor “any type of hate” toward the LGBTQ community, and personally identified as bisexual, she did have “issues” with Chaney’s sexual orientation. “She was always scanning him, saying, ‘Oh, that was gay of you [to say]. Why did you say that?’” Sharonda recalls. “[It] came down to her needing to snuff out every whiff of his higher self.” 

Chaney moved in with Danielle in the summer of 2022. According to Sharonda, Danielle accused Chaney’s mother of doing black magic on their relationship, discouraging him from contacting her. “I could not believe my eyes,” Sharonda recalls. “Getting between a mother and son — that’s a line you can’t cross.” Chirikas confirms that Danielle did, in fact, make an effort to turn Jaelen against her, “despite the fact that I never spoke to her or anyone in her family [or] said anything negative about her to Jaelen or anyone else prior to her being in my son’s life.” She says she and other family members were “deprived [of] access into their lives due to a great deal of manipulation and violence” from Danielle. “Jaelen and I had a very close relationship and we spoke often,” she says. “I never knew why she turned my son against me.”

Jaelen Chaney

Courtesy of Chris Mills

At this point, Danielle, who was becoming increasingly paranoid, started to “isolate” and control Chaney, Sharonda says, including locking down his Twitter in May 2022 to prevent their enemies from “putting a curse or a spell” on his account. Even Chaney himself was ambivalent about the relationship, at one point asking Sharonda over FaceTime, in front of Danielle, whether he should “walk away from Danielle and this whole situation,” Sharonda remembers. She says she told him to trust his intuition. 

Both Maya Johnson, Danielle’s former housemate, and Sharonda say Danielle had a history of emotional volatility. “She had big feelings,” says Maya. “And they came out sometimes in a bit of an explosive way.” But while living with her daughter in Los Angeles, Sharonda says she witnessed Danielle become increasingly unstable. Danielle was prone to breaking and throwing things during arguments; once, in 2021, she threatened to take her own life by breaking a glass and saying she would swallow the shards, only calming down when her mother threatened to call 911. But things got much worse.

As she grew more paranoid, Danielle “started inviting demons around her home, stationing them on her roof, at the front door, and at the front gate” to protect her, envisioning herself as the “queen of the underworld,” with demons at her disposal, says Sharonda “It was like there was always this imaginary threat out there. Except it wasn’t imaginary in the sense that there was no threat around her,” Sharonda says. “The threat was literally herself.” She says she begged Danielle to get professional help, but Danielle refused. “She didn’t want to go on any medication, she didn’t want to do talk therapy,” Sharonda says. “She just did not trust any person who did not have ties to the metaphysical.” 

It all began to come to a head when Sharonda warned Chaney on social media to “run as fast as he can,” she says. Danielle demanded her mother and her half-brother leave the apartment. They moved out in March 2022. A few months later, Chaney moved in. Within a year, Danielle would be pregnant with her second child and Chaney’s first. Chirikas, who at this point was not in contact with Chaney at all, says she did not know about any of this. “[He was] being disconnected and manipulated,” she says. “Others knew and saw the signs and did nothing about it.”

By the time Sharonda received the phone call from the medical examiner’s office this April, she had not spoken to Danielle in more than a year. The last time she saw her was in late 2023, sitting next to her in traffic while driving home from work. Danielle, she says, drove right past her. Sharonda remembers thinking, “‘Wow. She’s no longer part of my reality.’” 

IN THE WEEKS FOLLOWING Danielle’s death, the term “spiritual psychosis” was thrown around frequently on social media. Spiritual psychosis is not a widely documented phenomenon, nor is it listed in the DSM-V, the standard American classification for mental health disorders. But some researchers have argued that psychosis, defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a “collection of symptoms that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality,” has been linked to the phenomenon of spiritual visions or hallucinations. 

“You feel you might know things that no one else knows, or that people can read your thoughts, or you can read their thoughts. You might feel you’re very powerful and that you can do anything, or that you’re being invaded by outside forces,” says Isabel Clarke, a consulting clinical psychologist who studies the intersection between spirituality and mental illness. She characterizes psychosis as the emotional mind and the rational mind drifting apart. “Life becomes unmanageable, and people can get ideas which are divorced from reality.” Such a breakdown is most often precipitated by what she refers to as a “trigger event,” such as a life transition or a period of high stress. (The birth of a child, Clarke notes, can certainly fall into that category.) When that happens, Clarke says, “the things that were holding the person together, no longer do.” 

In the days leading up to her death, Danielle frequently reposted antisemitic conspiracy theories and content from QAnon and QAnon-adjacent accounts. No one I spoke to who knew Danielle said they had ever heard her say anything about these conspiracy theories. Those in the astrology community chafed at the suggestion that her spiritual beliefs may have rendered her more vulnerable to radicalization: “I don’t really care for the term conspiracy theories,” Arias says. “[Sometimes] that means just not being aligned with the mainstream or questioning. For instance, I have some doubts that we went to the moon. And I have friends who think this is crazy. Does that make me a conspiracy theorist?” 

Like most communities or subcultures, the “vast majority” of those in the astrology community do not have a tendency toward radicalization, nor do they harbor conspiratorial views, says Derek Beres, coauthor of the book Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Health Threat. But there may be “small pockets” that are more prone to radicalization, he says — and that can be problematic “if you’re someone with mental distress [who] believe[s] there’s an actual cosmic battle playing out in human form,” as appears to have been the case with Danielle. 

The rise of algorithm-supercharged platforms like TikTok, which tend to prioritize emotionally charged, high-engagement content — regardless of whether it is accurate or not — has accelerated the spread of conspiracy theories within the community. “There’s this tendency to make these big, dark, and ominous statements around celestial events and dates, and kind of drive mass hysteria and paranoia,” says KadyRoxz, a former astrology influencer who, following Danielle’s death, spoke out about her own negative experiences in the community. “A lot of them do it just to drum up engagement, but people don’t know that. So they start reacting like there is something to be afraid of.” 

It’s unclear whether Danielle was ever formally diagnosed with a mental illness or a personality or mood disorder of any kind. During the decade Rice knew her, he says he never knew of her going to a mental health specialist. Both he and Sharonda confirm that Danielle exhibited symptoms of postpartum depression following the birth of her first child, which had been further complicated by a preeclampsia diagnosis after the birth. But they do not believe she ever sought an official mental health diagnosis, let alone professional treatment. When Danielle revealed to Rice that she was expecting her second child last year, he periodically checked in with her, “because I knew she had struggled before with our child,” he says. Rice says, at the time, their solution was largely to talk it out: “[I tried to tell her] ‘You don’t have to feel bad if you don’t want to,’” he says. “‘You don’t have to let it take you to a dark space.’” 

FOLLOWING DANIELLE’S DEATH, many of her friends and former clients felt intense regret about not having heeded the signs of her downward spiral before it was too late. For instance, when Suono, her online friend, saw concerning posts from Danielle’s account a few days before her death, she was hesitant to say anything. “I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries,” she says. 

Some who knew her personally, however, say that Danielle had withdrawn from reality and lost sight of who she was — beyond being Mystic Lipstick — a long time ago. “She was so focused on healing other people to fuel this lifestyle she built that, somewhere along the way, she forgot to heal herself,” says Sharonda. 

Others failed to see any signs at all. Cecil Rice kept in touch with Danielle up until the last month of her life. He describes her as “standoffish,” but nothing that sparked alarm. “Nothing seemed suspicious or out of the ordinary” when they last spoke, he says. “It felt like she was in a good space.” The biggest worry she admitted to him was struggling with her post-pregnancy weight gain. 

During one of their final conversations in February, she brought up the possibility of them finally legally ending their marriage so that she could marry Chaney. Up to that point, Rice had only heard about Danielle’s new boyfriend in passing. He didn’t even know his name. “I wasn’t sure how serious it was,” he says. “I didn’t realize it was the same person she had been dating for a while.”

Because he spent little time on social media in recent years, Rice says he was “shocked” by Danielle’s final tweets about the eclipse and the apocalypse, which he saw after her death. It wasn’t the Danielle he knew.

Before his and Danielle’s daughter moved back in with him in Ohio, Rice went to L.A. He spoke with the hospital, police, and his daughter’s teachers, and learned that his daughter had not been in school for the week leading up to the tragedy. He also viewed Danielle’s apartment before it was cleaned. There were bags of trash that hadn’t been taken out, a closet full of dirty laundry sprawled all over, and unwashed dishes in the sink. The Danielle he knew was a tidy person who would even go so far as to hire a cleaning service when her home got out of hand. “It looked like she was probably struggling a lot in those last days.”

Chirikas, who has set up a GoFundMe raising money for the burial expenses following Jaelen’s death, also saw the apartment to pack up her son’s belongings after he died. “Disarray is an understatement,” she says of the conditions. But it made sense considering what she imagines to be Chaney’s emotional state at the time: her son, she believes, was “in fear and fighting for [his] life and the kids’ lives.”

Rice says his and Danielle’s daughter has been adjusting well since surviving the tragedy. “She’s been a very, very, very strong kid through all of this,” he continues. “I could tell that, as a mother, Danielle did a very good job.” Their daughter’s physical injuries, all superficial, have since healed and she’s seeing a therapist. Rice does admit she’s been having trouble sleeping, likely due to PTSD.

For Mills, Chaney’s ex, the death of his former love leaves him with far more questions than answers. When he heard about what had happened to Chaney, he was astonished that Chaney had even been living with a woman to begin with; he had always thought that Chaney had only been attracted to men. 

Looking through Chaney’s Facebook photos geotagged in Greece, in Puglia, in Venice, in Bulgaria, and Tel Aviv, Mills sees that Chaney’s dreams of exploring the world in large part came true. But he is devastated he will never be able to hear about them directly from Chaney. “A part of me was just waiting to tell him ‘I’m proud of you, and I’m proud of everything that you’ve done. I’m so happy for you and you did exactly what you wanted to do.’ And [that] he would be happy and proud of the person I became,” he says. “And now that’s never going to happen.”

Chirikas, Jaelen’s mother, is deeply frustrated that no one who saw signs of Danielle’s increasingly erratic behavior intervened before it was too late. “Jaelen and Danielle were given the opportunity to create a beautifully innocent baby girl Solé that could have had a chance to grow up,” she says, “only if someone who saw the signs of unstable behavior would have done the right thing and got help.”

In the wake of the tragedy, many of Danielle’s followers are clearly still struggling. During an April 12 Space hosted by Sharonda, which was attended by hundreds of Danielle’s followers, one of them said he had been contacted by the astrologer beyond the grave, and that she had provided an explanation for why she had murdered her partner and child. Another said she had been too depressed to eat or socialize with her friends after hearing about Danielle’s death, because Danielle was unable to do so and she would “feel guilty.” “I would rather have her back than any good thing that I have in my life,” the follower said, weeping. 

Sharonda does not know what happened that drove her daughter to commit such horrific acts, but she had witnessed enough of her psychic state beforehand — the paranoia, the delusions, the erratic behavior — to develop her own theories. Sometimes, in discussing what happened to her daughter, she’ll invoke the language of the spiritual community of which Danielle was a part, using terminology like demons, dark energy, and low-vibrational entities. Other times, she’ll resort to more widely accepted explanations: mental illness, trauma, the pressures of social media. And sometimes, she’d allude to the specific type of emotional pain that only a mother and daughter can inflict upon each other. 

Sharonda says she was frustrated by some of Danielle’s followers’ responses to her death, because they were mourning a person who had not existed. This person wasn’t queen of the underworld or an anointed shamanic healer. She was just her daughter. “We all have a dark side,” Sharonda says. “And if we continue to ignore our dark side and pretend like it ain’t there, one day, when the energy is as potent as it was on that solar eclipse day, honey, that darkness being out of balance takes over.”

Read original source here.

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