Izabel Laxamana: A Community Left Grieving. Where Do We Go From Here?

The Memorial At Izabel's Middle School

The Memorial At Izabel’s Middle School

It isn’t usual for Tacoma Stories to do more than one article about the same topic. It’s also not usual for someone other than me to write an article for Tacoma Stories. But the last few weeks have been unusual. There has been much talk and controversy about the suicide of Izabel Laxamana. Up until now, I’ve refrained from using the 13-year-old girl’s name. However, since it’s been used everywhere from the Washington Post to Seventeen Magazine, I think my refrain is fairly useless at this point.

I received the following article earlier today from a local psychotherapist. Her name is Cheryl L. Fracasso, Ph. D. She’s not just writing about Izabel. She’s writing about all of our children.

Before we get to the article, I just want to say if you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, you can call the National Suicide hotline any time day or night for free and anonymously at 1-800-273-8255.

Here’s Dr. Fracasso:

Not even three weeks after her death, one thing that is clear is that there is a whole community spanning globally now left grieving the tragic loss of Izabel Laxamana. The public response of support and compassion has been tremendous, evoking many strong and mixed emotions. As a psychologist, I, like many others, sat dumbfounded and deeply saddened as this case unfolded, hoping that the investigation would reveal some answers into the “how” and “why” behind this. In the end, the police investigation that closed last week that revealed no wrongdoing by the father and left more questions than answers. So where do we go from here?

While no legal action may be taken for the real Izabel, one thing that lives on is the iconic Izabel created by the facebook page, “Justice for Izabel.” Whether her suicide was due to abuse or not may never be answered since Izabel can no longer speak for herself. I only hope that those who may have further information about this case will gain the courage to speak up if there are facts that need to be investigated further. However, we must move on as a community and society and focus our efforts on preventing future tragedies like this from occurring. I for one am not interested in reading about media defending their positions and pointing fingers at one another due to the reporting of this case, nor am I interested in reading about what “could have” or “should have” been done. What I am interested in seeing is abuse awareness and prevention efforts launched in the local and global community so that not one more child is lost in this manner. We need to give our children a voice. We need to take them seriously when they come home and try to tell us things that are happening to their friends that do not seem right. Education about what abuse is and how it operates needs to be put forth in our schools, which encourages friends or family members to speak up. Abuse can only exist if those suffering from it and those who witness it are scared silent, and this needs to end. We need to stop this hideous cycle of abuse, bullying, and public shaming. Each of us on an individual level can start by speaking up when we observe anything out of the ordinary with a child.

If you or your children observe something going on that is not right, report it. Also, we need to take a look at our current Child Protective Service (CPS) measures and find more effective ways to protect our children when a report is pending. As legislation is right now, children are generally left in the home when a report is pending investigation and some investigations take months to resolve.

From a psychological perspective, it is my hopes that practitioners band together to launch efforts to educate our youth and society about classic signs of abuse and to end this silence and fear about speaking up. In this sense, we can get “Justice for Izabel” by insuring that we make changes in our current systems to minimize the chances of something like this happening again.

Blaming and pointing fingers at each other and individual agencies is not an effective use of energy. Rather, we need to band together with police departments, school districts, legislation, and media who have the power to make change, and say “Enough! We are not losing one more child!” Let’s end the silence!

My deepest condolences to all who have been touched by this case…especially friends, family, and others who knew her.

If you would like to open up further dialogue about this, I can be contacted at doctorfracasso@hotmail.com. Please note, I am not interested in rehashing the details of this case. If you have further information, report it to the proper authorities. However, I do welcome suggestions on how social change efforts can be put in place to prevent future tragedies like this from occurring.

My sincerest regards,

– Cheryl L. Fracasso, Ph.D.

Dr. Fracasso is a psychotherapist based in Kent, Washington. She has served as a Psychologist with the State of Washington, Department of Social and Health Services, Developmental Disabilities Administration at Rainier School. She’s also worked as Case Manager with the City of Seattle, Office of Aging and Disability Services.

I’d like to thank Dr. Fracasso for sharing her thoughts with us. It’s important to talk and we’re interested in your comments. I’ll be approving any comments that aren’t insulting or accusatory.

– Jack Cameron

Special Comment: Regarding My Recent Coverage of a Local Girl’s Suicide

I’ve been writing some version of Tacoma Stories since 2006. In those years, I’ve learned quite a bit and come up with a style that works for the site. I report the facts.  Then I report what I think of those facts. My article about the young girl who jumped off the South 48th Street overpass has been viewed almost 300,000 times by people in over 130 countries. It has resulted in dozens if not hundreds of other articles including one in the Washington Post. Yesterday a radio station from San Diego called me to talk about it.

Our local media however has been fairly quiet. During the weekend after I wrote the article I was contacted by three TV reporters and a newspaper reporter from The News Tribune. I talked to the News Tribune reporter on the phone. She wanted to know what I knew, wanted a link to the shaming video, and for me to pass along her contact information to my sources.

Yesterday, nine days after the incident, The News Tribune came out with its firstsubstantial piece on the young girl’s death. It included new information such as the fact that the girl left behind suicide notes. But it said she wrote them on an iPod which made no sense because iPods are for listening to music. It said that the trouble started on May 3rd when the girl sent a photo of herself to a boy which resulted in her father cutting her hair as a punishment two days before she jumped, but doesn’t explain the three weeks between those two incidents. So I thought better of adding another update to the original article because their information didn’t make a lot of sense.

Today The News Tribune came out with an unsigned editorial attacking the online coverage of this girl’s death and defending their near silence. It accuses us of spreading rumors as facts and attempting to publicly shame the victim’s family. I cannot speak for other websites or their coverage but given the sheer volume of traffic and the number of sites linking to mine about this, I feel these untrue accusations demand a response.

One of the primary purposes of Tacoma Stories is to put the victim and the victim’s family first because traditional media tends to lead with the killers rather than giving a thought to the victim or the victim’s family. This is why in the case of the young girl who jumped off the bridge I felt it was appropriate to not mention her or her family’s names. This is where the accusation that we’re publicly shaming the father falls flat. You can’t publicly shame someone you refuse to name.

As for the accusation that I’m spreading rumors as fact. This is also absolutely untrue. I said that a public shaming of the victim made by the victim’s father was released online, that days later she jumped from her grandparents’ car, and jumped off the S. 48th Street overpass. Not one of those facts are in dispute. After that I start talking about public shaming and its consequences and I point out this tragedy as an example.

The News Tribune has gone out of its way to say that the video had nothing whatsoever to do with the girl choosing to jump off the overpass. This is as much speculation as saying that the video was the sole reason for her choosing to jump. Tacoma Stories makes neither assertion. I believe that the video was a contributing factor and I’ve said so. I don’t believe that the father or the family wanted the victim harmed in any way. These are my opinions on the matter.

I also believe that the family of the victim is going through something unimaginable and deserve privacy during a time I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Of course they shouldn’t be publicly shamed. This is why I never named them. It’s also why I took down offending comments and closed the comments section of the original post when the family asked me to do so.

To be clear, I do agree with the News Tribune that some coverage of this story has been reprehensible and deserving of criticism. Though I would argue that lack of coverage is worth criticizing as well.

Traditional media has spent years trying to understand the online world and how to monetize it. They scoff at bloggers and other ‘citizen journalists’ who write because we have an interest and a passion in something. And yet we’re among the first people they contact when they’re looking for a source.

– Jack Cameron

Update 06/14/15: The News Tribune has posted yet another editorial about this. I’ve decided that it’s inappropriate to continue to respond to the local paper’s accusations on this page. For my response, go to the TacomaStories Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/tacomastoriesofficial

The Last Tacoma Homicide of 2014 Joshua Sullivan Jr.

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I do my best to write about every homicide that happens in the city of Tacoma. Mostly I rely on media reports and a few other sources to confirm events or information. Occasionally there will be a homicide and almost no media coverage whatsoever. That was the case in the short life of Joshua Sullivan Jr.

Joshua Sullivan Jr. was born on May 16, 2013. Seven days later he was brought into Tacoma’s Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. His injuries, mostly around his head concerned the staff there. They contacted the Tacoma Police Department.

After initially denying that they knew anything about their son’s injuries, Joshua’s father admitted to being ‘frustrated’ with the baby.

Sixteen months later, in September 2014 Joshua Sullivan Jr. died from his injuries. Since then the two other children in the home have been placed in foster care and the father has been put in prison. Today Pierce County prosecutors have charged his father with the homicide.

These are my least favorite homicides to write about. Newborns can be very difficult for some people to deal with. Washington State has a Safe Haven law. Anyone can drop off their newborn at a Hospital or a Fire Station safely and anonymously no questions asked and no judgments given. If you need help with a baby, please call the National Safe Haven Alliance at 1-866-510-BABY (1-866-510-2229).

My thoughts go out to the family of Joshua Sullivan, Jr.

– Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With Alex Ziegler From Northwest Float Center

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One of my favorite things about 5 Question Friday is that I occasionally get to interview people who talk about things I know nothing about. Alex from the Northwest Float Center is one such individual. He contacted me a while back and asked if he could be a part of 5 Question Friday. Having no knowledge or experience with float tanks, I was eager to learn. Alex even offered me a free float. (I’ll be talking about that particular experience on an upcoming podcast.)Here’s Alex:

1. What is the North West Float Center?

Northwest Float Center is a 4 tank float center that offers a clean & comfortable environment for each of our floaters to help them achieve complete mental and physical relaxation.  Each tank is filled with 10 inches of water and 1000 pounds of Epsom salt. In that environment your body is completely weightless; you are gravity free. Inside the tank it is dark & quiet, allowing your body and mind to completely unwind without any distractions. We think of the float tank as the only place you have your brain & your body to yourself at the same time, and being in that environment, without your brain having to process any sensory information & without there being any pain in your body, great things happen.

2. How did you get started in the Float Tank industry?

We heard about floating through Kriss’ brother who floated for his first time at a float center in Arizona. He suggested flotation therapy to Kriss as he had injured his back while working. We both took a float during the Float Conference in Portland in 2012 & immediately knew this was a form of therapy we needed in our lives, and in our area where there was nothing like it being offered. We pooled all of our resources and hit the ground running so to speak, and couldn’t be happier to be where we are today; growing as a business while serving our community.

3. What’s the most misunderstood thing about using float tanks?

Very commonly our clients are concerned with feeling claustrophobic or being faced with claustrophobia issues during their float. In over a year of business, not one client has gotten out of the tank because they were feeling too “claustrophobic”. When you check in to the shop, you will be escorted to your private room where you have your float tank & private shower. So, during the float you can leave the door open if you would like. Most commonly, people start floating with the door open & soon realize that they don’t need it open at all. There is air that comes through vents in the tank, and while floating you are in such a state of openness & calm that it’s almost impossible to feel “closed in”.  It is also worth mentioning that you can exit the float tank at any time during your float. You are in complete control of your entire experience.

4. What advice would you give someone thinking about their first float?

If you’re thinking about floating we advise you to try it!! Come in anytime to take a tour of our center. This helps to get you more comfortable with the experience.  Choose a time to float that you don’t have to rush off to the next task on your list, so that you can truly connect with how floating has benefited you.

5. What makes your float center different than others?

Being Tacoma’s first float center, we have had some time to work out the kinks of a new business. We recognize that floating itself is a new concept to many people, and we feel confident that not only our facility is first class, but our owners & staff are all avid floaters who are here to ensure that your float is nothing but perfect. We love the float community that has been created and we guarantee you won’t find a group of people more relaxed and unique than you will at our float center.

I’d like to thank Alex and everyone over at the Northwest Float Center for being completely awesome. The Northwest Float Center is located at 3907 6th Ave., Tacoma, WA 98406. Their phone number is 253-212-0360.  You can also find them online at http://northwestfloatcenter.com/

If you or someone you know would like to participate in 5 Question Friday, email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com

– Jack Cameron

Talking About Suicide

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An entire community is hurting because a little girl jumped off a freeway overpass on South 48th Street. Most media outlets have been silent about this. When it comes to suicide, they are very cautious. Talking about suicides it’s said can inspire others to also commit suicide. The same is true of other violence. Copycat criminals are a real thing. But that doesn’t stop the media from reporting that. Every day we hear about gun violence on the news but two out of three gun deaths are the result of suicide and still more often than not, when it comes to suicide we are silent.

I can’t think of a problem that has gotten better by not talking about it. And so I choose to talk about suicide. I’m not going to pretend that a girl didn’t jump off the South 48th Street overpass. I am going to say that regardless of what was going on in her life I think she made the wrong choice. I think if she were still here and could see the community’s reaction to her death, she’d agree.

My previous post pointed out that public shaming was one of the likely causes of her decision to end her life. I’d like to also point out that it couldn’t possibly have been her sole reason. People who choose to kill themselves rarely do it because of one event. Much has been said about what else happened to her. Much has been said about the signs and how the school or her parents should have done something to stop it.

When I worked for the police department in police records, I transcribed a lot of suicide reports. The first one was a 13-year-old boy who shot himself. His note was full of thoughts I think everyone who has ever been thirteen has had. Over the next two years, I’d write up dozens more. Friends of mine have killed themselves. I’ve been suicidal at times myself. In every single case, there’s a part of me that wishes for one more conversation. I’m not a trained counselor or therapist, but I know that conversations change and sometimes save lives.

I’ve received numerous emails telling me that I shouldn’t be talking about suicide and pointing out the guidelines for talking about suicides. Some of those guidelines I agree with. Others I don’t. What I hope you get out of this article more than anything else is that if you’re feeling depressed or thinking of suicide, talk to someone. And keep talking.

If you have no one to talk to, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Personally, I’ve always felt that suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. Things pass. There was a time when Robert Downey Jr. was a drug addicted prison inmate. Now he’s the highest paid actor in the world. That’s not likely to happen to most of us, but our lives can turn around in major ways when we least expect it. 2012 was probably the worst year of my life, but 2013 was arguably the best.

I started Tacoma Stories because I value everyone who lives in Tacoma and I wanted to talk about those that leave us. Every death impacts our city. If you’re from Tacoma or ever lived in Tacoma, then you’re a part of our city and we need you. We can only imagine what the young girl who jumped off the overpass last week might have brought to our city had she lived. It’s my hope that her reactions inspire people to live rather than die. And for public shaming to be viewed in the same way we view all other child abuse.

– Jack Cameron

Public Shaming May Have Led to A Young Girl’s Suicide

A few days ago a 15 second video showed up online. It showed a young girl who appeared to be twelve or thirteen years old. She’s standing in a room looking at the phone camera. She appears to be afraid. The camera then shows the floor where there is a pile of long black hair. A taunting male voice says, “The consequences of getting messed up? Man, you lost all that beautiful hair. Was it worth it?” The girl stares at her hair on the floor. She very quietly says, “No.” “How many times did I warn you?” She almost inaudibly says, “Twice.” He then says, “Okay.” as if he has proved a point. The video ends.

A screenshot from the video her father took after cutting her hair as a punishment.

A screenshot from the video her father took after cutting her hair as a punishment.

Yesterday this same young girl got out of the passenger seat of her grandmother’s car on the South 48th Street overpass. She climbed over the railing and jumped, landing on a car. She’s since been transported to Harborview Medical Center where her condition is unknown. There are those who believe that public shaming is an acceptable form of parenting. As this incident clearly shows, it’s not. It’s a form of abuse and it has consequences. The victim in this incident is a minor and I have no intention of mentioning her or her family’s name. I’m also not going to share any more than the screenshot of the video as there’s really no reason anyone needs to see her face. I don’t have much interest in increasing the public shaming her father has already given her. I’m writing this article because all too often, suicides and suicide attempts are ignored. The News Tribune had one small article about it. The local TV sites have almost nothing.

We pretend suicide attempts don’t happen. Or we pretend that no outside factors contributed to a person’s choice to try to end their life. We need to stop that. We need to pay attention. We need to stop acting like there’s nothing we can do. Public shaming is a form of abuse. There are those who will say that it teaches a lesson. So does punching someone in the face. That doesn’t make it okay to do to your children. My thoughts are with this young girl. I hope that she gets the help she needs. I also hope her father gets the help he so clearly needs and that her family can heal from these traumatic events brought on by public shaming. Please do your best to remain civil in the comments section. I moderate all comments and will delete comments I feel are insulting, inflammatory, or otherwise non-conducive to civil dialog. I think we do need to talk about this and I think it’s important that we do so without attacking people.

If you or anyone you know needs to talk to someone about suicide, you can contact the national suicide hotline for free 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

Jack Cameron

Update 05/31/15: I have heard from multiple sources that the young woman passed away at Harborview Medical Center this evening. My thoughts are with the family and friends of this young girl. I am sorry for your loss.

Update 06/02/15: After over 250 comments and another hundred or so that I deleted because were offensive or inflammatory, I’ve chosen to close the comments section after requests from multiple family members of the victims.

Update 06/06/15: This story that started as a little two paragraph article in the News Tribune is now being reported by Daily Kos, Jezebel, the New York Daily News and many others. This is thanks in no small part to the vocal readers here. Thank you for not letting this story go away. There has also been some new information worth sharing.

Tacoma Public School has issued a statement regarding rumors that the victim was not allowed to run for student office. They said that while it’s true she was unable to run for student office because her parents did not sign a permission slip, rumors that there was a public announcement that she couldn’t run are untrue. The statement also said that the principal was aware of the public shaming video and had contacted Child Protective Services when he learned of it.

According to Tacoma Police spokesperson Loretta Cool while the video was taken by the father, he was not the one to upload it online. It was leaked by a ‘third party’. The video was allegedly for her to keep to remind her of what she’d done as “part of the discipline process. So she would remember and not do it again.” according to Cool.

Update 06/09/15: My coverage of this story has come under scrutiny. Here’s my response. http://tacomastories.com/2015/06/09/special-comment-regarding-my-recent-coverage-of-a-local-girls-suicide/

Guest Post. Concert Review: Stephanie Anne Johnson

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On May 22, 2015 I had the pleasure of listening to Stephanie Anne Johnson in her performance entitled, Jazz Life Evolution at the Tacoma Youth Theater, located on Broadway in Tacoma. The intimate performance began before a small audience as she sang favorites such as The Girl From Ipanema, Henry Mancini’s Moon River, Billie Holiday’s Them There Eyes, and a moving performance of Georgia On My Mind. As she invoked the musical stylings of Ray Charles and Billie Holiday, her smooth and melodic voice rang. She ended the first act with a song from her Portland Opera performance of Show Boat, Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine. The first half of the concert provided audiences with delightful songs that provoked them to dance in their seats when she kicked up the pace and sway to and fro when things slowed down.

In addition to performing jazz classics, Johnson also entertained the audience with performances from musicals such as Porgy and Bess and The Wiz. It was hard not to mouth the words to Summertime. Her stand up bass player, Nate Omdal, collaborated with Johnson to arrange a stylistic version of My Man’s Gone, taking George Gershwin’s song and adapting it to their cool style of jazz. Omdal had also wrote charts for the show.

The jazz quartet accompanied perfectly with her soulful voice. In addition to Nate Omdal on the stand up bass, the jazz quartet included: Chris Carlson on the drums, Todd Hollenhorst on keyboard and Navarre Herrara on guitar. Their performance synced with Johnson’s amazing voice and provided excellent stage presence before the audience.

No one in the audience would be able to forget Johnson’s incredible closing song from the musical, The Wiz as she sang Believe in Yourself. With heart and soul, her love and passion for music filled the air from the beginning to the end of her final performance, moving eager listeners to hear the message in the song. Applause lingered as she exited the stage, hoping for an encore performance. With her second album entitled Hollatchagurl, and her appearance on The Voice, one can expect to see an up and coming successful career for Stephanie Anne Johnson.

– Renee Lishka

Renee Lishka is a graduate from the University of Washington Tacoma. She lives in Tacoma with her husband of twelve years, two daughters Laura and Emmy and a cat named Bentley.