Family members recall Regan Gibbs’ ‘vivaciously beautiful smile and laugh’; ‘heart for the lost’
Article updated at 3 p.m., 7:22 p.m. Friday, May 20:
Regan Gibbs’ mother and four sisters traveled to Lawrence on Friday to share memories of her and ask the public never to ignore signs of domestic violence.
Regan was murdered at her Lawrence apartment Monday night. She was 25 years old. According to Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart, her husband, Chad Marek, told dispatchers that God had told him to kill his wife. On Tuesday, Marek was charged with first-degree murder.
Regan graduated from the University of Kansas in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science, and she planned to attend a physician assistant school to help people experiencing homelessness and mental illness, her mother, Kristin Gibbs, said during a press conference Friday.
After graduation, Regan worked in the behavioral health department of St. Luke’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, helping patients of all ages. She left to come back to Kansas last fall, her mother said.
“That’s when we saw the changes happening,” Kristin said.
Marek used Regan’s beliefs to pull her away from family, the mother said.
“He manipulated her through her faith,” Kristin said. “As we have all heard through domestic violence awareness campaigns, he slowly isolated her from people who expressed concern. I am sure that many people who’ve had a loved one involved in a similar situation can relate to the frustration of seeing it happening, feeling helpless, but never expecting this kind of tragic ending.”
Kristin said the family only met Marek once, and even then the control he exerted over Regan was evident.
Once the couple was living in Kansas, far from Regan’s family, Marek began to isolate Regan. Kristin said that eventually the only contact the family had was periodic phone calls that Regan was required to make from Marek’s phone. He insisted those conversations take place on speaker so he could be present.
Although Kristin said they were beginning to recognize warning signs, they were unable to get Regan free from Marek. She asked the public to be relentless about helping someone in a potentially dangerous domestic situation.
“Don’t ignore (the warning signs),” she said. “Please don’t ignore any of them. Go emphatically after that warning. Learn and study those signs, please.”
Kristin said Regan was “a beautiful soul inside and out. No one could dispute that.
“Regan did everything with an intense drive and love and had a tremendous heart for the homeless. I can’t express that enough.”
She was also very humble, her mother said.
“She never boasted of her skills and was uncomfortable when others pointed them out. She had a vivaciously beautiful smile and laugh. I will always remember how she laughed with such great intensity.
“Regan brought passion and kindness to everyone she met and in everything she did. She had faith in people, love for people. And she trusted people so much.”
Regan’s four younger sisters also shared fond memories.
Regan had a “heart for the lost,” 23-year-old sister Ashlyn Gibbs said.
“When we were in school, she would find people sitting alone and befriend them,” Ashlyn said. “Regan was genuinely interested in getting to know you. She didn’t care what you looked like or what other people thought; she saw the good in everyone.”
Ashlyn said Regan willingly gave up her spot sleeping in her parents’ bed when Ashlyn was born. Not wanting to be far away, Regan brought her own blanket into the room to sleep at the foot of the bed.
Ashlyn remembered riding in pink Barbie Jeeps, talking for hours during sleepovers, picking strawberries, and finding caterpillars.
“When we were little, she would wrap her arm around my neck in a headlock and say, ‘Come on sissy,’ and drag me wherever we were going,” Ashlyn said.
Erin Gibbs, 18, described her sister as a person who bore everyone else’s pain. She recalled that whenever Regan would visit Arizona, she would always make time to visit elderly neighbors she referred to as her friends.
Erin called Regan “unapologetically herself.”
“This really does not feel real,” Erin said. “I think every one of us could say that we are expecting her to just come home from one of her long stays away in Kansas. I miss her so much.”
Sister Madelyn, 20, said Regan was a tireless advocate for people experiencing homelessness and people with mental illnesses.
Madelyn said Regan gave all she had to bring joy to others and expected nothing in return.
“She would … seek out the brokenhearted with tender compassion, stranger or not,” she said. “Familiarity was never an obstacle in her path and to make someone feel whole again, or to feel loved.
“Her voice and her memory will live on in the people she touched.”
Youngest sister Kearan, 15, said she recalled going to a movie with her sister, and afterward walking to a plaza area where music was playing and an older man was dancing alone to the music.
Kearan said Regan decided quickly to join him on the dance floor, and in doing so sparked the crowd to join in.
“I think she was drawn by his energy and his expression,” Kearan said. “Eventually, I kind of reluctantly followed. Then we broke off from the elderly man and started dancing with each other. One by one, the rest of them followed.
“That was what she brought out of us. No matter how closed off you were, she just seemed to bring that out of people.”
Ashlyn said it was important to remember her sister not just for the end of her life, but for the sum of everything she was.
“Reagan was not perfect, but she was uncommon, beautiful, and genuinely caring in a way that few people are,” she said. “She existed, and this was just a shred of her life. He will not take her away, or the good that she did.”
Regan grew up in Washington and graduated high school with honors “and a passion for soccer,” her mother said. “Everything she did was with passion.”
Regan played soccer as a goalkeeper for KU for the 2015 through 2018 seasons. She was a member of two NCAA Tournament teams during her career at KU, according to KU Athletics.
“She was an incredible athlete and person, and was even a national team’s prospect after a serious back injury. She never let anything shut her down. She had unparalleled fairness, fearlessness, speed and agility as a goalkeeper,” Kristin said.
Regan was sought after by many universities before deciding on KU, and she was “ecstatic to be here,” her mother said.
“She helped her team defeat Mizzou in double overtime and the first time ever. They were so proud. She also shut out the women’s national team in a practice game. She took a face hit from Heather O’Reilly and cherished that red face,” Kristin said with a quiet laugh.
“She was fierce and sacrificed everything for her family, friends and team. Even when she wasn’t in that goal, she supported them.”
Get help in Lawrence
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
- Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
- Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
- National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.
File for an order of protection
In Kansas, victim-survivors of stalking and abuse can file for court orders of protection from abuse or stalking online. Visit kspop.org and follow the instructions on the website. The service is available for any county in Kansas.
Learn the warning signs
Read about warning signs of domestic violence and emotional abuse and learn how you can help at this link.
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