Vigil for 10-year-old Black girl who died by suicide brings together 300 mourners

The community remembered Isabella Tichenor and called for parents to talk to their kids about bullying and race.

Editor’s note • This article discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.

North Salt Lake • When one of the speakers first said, “Izzy should be here,” the crowd’s affirmations of “yes” and “she should” turned into misty swirls of breath in Tuesday’s cool night air.

Some of their replies were broken by sniffles and sobs. Their faces were illuminated by flickering candles. And their words were weighted by the loss of a 10-year Black girl to suicide.

The nearly 300 people came here to remember Isabella Tichenor — affectionately called Izzy — who loved this park, Foxboro Hollow, because it had the special plastic slides she liked to zip down. She died Saturday after her mom says she was bullied for being Black and autistic. And her death has ripped through this community, with many accusing Davis School District of ignoring the family’s concerns.

Some shared their own experiences of being harassed at school because of the color of their skin. They called on Utah to do better.

But mostly, they just tried to console one another in their mutual pain.

“I’m not going to let her name fade,” said Izzy’s mom, Brittany Tichenor-Cox. Izzy’s little brother, 7-year-old Jaxson, fidgeted below the microphone, twirling around his mother’s knees.

“I miss Izzy. She is my sister, and I love her,” he added when Tichenor-Cox lifted him up. “She would help me when I would get bullied.”

Her family says the loss will create a gaping hole, leaving them without the giggly girl who obsessed over Hatchimals and coloring books and the color purple. When she grew up, Izzy wanted to be a Disney character; which one, she hadn’t decided yet.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Paula Harris, mother of Brittany Tichenor-Cox, listens as others pay tribute to the life of her granddaughter Izzy Tichenor, Nov. 9, 2021. Hundreds joined the Tichenor family in mourning the death of 10-year-old Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor during a vigil at Foxboro Hollow Park in North Salt Lake on Tuesday.

Her picture hung over the vigil Tuesday, with her smiling in a blue flowery dress and pink sash as onlookers wiped tears that mingled with the dripping rain. They filled the tiny gazebo, with many standing outside, too, under umbrellas. Candles could be seen back several yards, the small lights showing the size of the crowd.

Those gathered mostly told stories of Izzy. A few classmates mentioned her smile and thoughtfulness. A friend named Zaylee said she tried to protect Izzy from bullies. “Nobody deserves to feel that way, to feel worthless or like they don’t belong,” the little girl said.

Tichenor-Cox thanked her. “You were there for her when nobody else was. I appreciate it.”

Izzy’s mom also talked about how her daughter answered every question with a little sass. And she recalled telling her every day, almost like a chant or their own secret poem: “Baby, you are gorgeous. You are pretty. You are beautiful, baby.” She liked how “baby” punctuated both ends.

She sobbed at the podium, which was draped with a Black Lives Matter flag, as her sister hugged her side.

“I just wanted my daughter to have a fair chance,” Tichenor-Cox said, covering her face as her small body shook, seeming smaller in her grief. Those in the crowd hugged tight to their babies and kids.

The community says the predominantly white school and district should have done more to protect the 10-year-old girl after her mom reported that her teachers and other students were mistreating her.

Tichenor-Cox has said Izzy’s teacher ignored her. She also said the teacher told students they smelled; Tichenor-Cox believes that was directed at Izzy because after that, several kids specifically responded by threatening Izzy on the playground and telling her she stunk because of her skin color. Izzy had also told her mom that kids taunted her, too, for her disability. She said they called her names and made fun of the way she looked.

The mom said she went to the district, calling administrators and the principal and talking to the teacher directly. She said her reports were brushed aside and the intense abuse against her daughter was allowed to continue without intervention.

Davis School District said in a statement Monday that it was working “extensively with the family” to resolve the case and “will continue to provide help to them and others impacted by this tragedy.”

Izzy’s death, though, comes about two weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on Davis School District’s serious mishandling of hundreds of reports of racism there. And several at the vigil said they feel the district’s promises to change are empty.

Josh Chamberlin, a community member of color, said Utah leaders are focused on fake concerns about critical race theory, which isn’t being taught in public schools here. They don’t want to talk about racism or empathy or diversity, he said, and they shy away from the word slavery.

“They don’t know what should be taught to Black children,” Chamberlin said. “And they don’t know what should be taught to white children about Black children.”

He said he faced racial slurs from his peers when he was a kid, to the point that he left his school and transferred elsewhere. “When I was in sixth grade, I was Izzy,” he said.

He repeated: “Izzy should be here. Izzy should be here because she’s 10 years old. Izzy should be here because she’s a child.”

(Tichenor family) Pictured is Isabella Tichenor, who died by suicide on Nov. 6, 2021.

Many nodded and said they’d gone through similar experiences in Utah or their kids have. Mario Mathis, a member of the Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter’s board, said his brother died by suicide, as well, when Mathis was 7 years old.

“How do we resolve this?” he pleaded. “How do we stop this from ever happening again? I know how Black people are treated in Utah. I know how Black people are treated in America.”

Many urged parents to talk to their children about bullying and race, and to check in on them for warning signs of suicide, especially after Izzy’s death.

“We need to talk to our kids about being Black,” added Rae Duckworth, the leader of Black Lives Matter here. “White kids needs to hear it, too. We need to talk about mental health, too. Mental health is a really, really hard conversation to have in this state.”

Duckworth’s own five-year-old daughter watched from one of the benches in a Hello Kitty hat. Nivia Castillo stood nearby with her 6-year-old girl, Nya. She said her daughter has been told by other kids at preschool that her hair is ugly, that it’s “not right” and should be straight.

“As a parent, it just hurts,” Castillo said.

Sapphire Robinson, a Black licensed child and family therapist in Utah, added that Black children’s lives should matter more than white people’s feelings; that districts should be protecting Black kids instead of catering to white families who don’t want to have difficult conversations.

“It might be really hard to talk to your kids about race, but you’ve got to,” she said. “Otherwise, you’re going to be talking to them about death.”

Those at the rally whispered in agreement. As it ended, they piled stuffed unicorns and bunnies, carnations and daisies at a little memorial for Izzy. Many walked away repeating, “Stand for Izzy,” shielding the flames of their candles from the wind so that they would continue to burn into the dark night.

The Salt Lake Tribune