DOJ Says It's Investigating 10-Year-Old's Suicide After Bullying Allegations at Her School

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said it is investigating the death of a 10-year-old girl in Utah who died by suicide after allegedly being repeatedly bullied at school, the Associated Press reported.

Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor was repeatedly picked on in school for being autistic and for being the only Black student in her class, among other things, her mother Brittany Tichenor-Cox alleged.

The DOJ said in a statement Wednesday that the department is saddened by Izzy's death and is looking into what happened to her, but did not confirm it was probing the school bullying allegations.

Izzy died by suicide on November 6 after Tichenor-Cox allegedly told the teacher, the school and the district about the bullying.

The Davis School District has agreed as part of a settlement with the DOJ to provide more training and create a new department to handle complaints of bullying. The DOJ said it is ensuring that the school district will follow through with its plan.

"I want her to be remembered of how kind she was, how beautiful she was, how brilliant she was and intelligent she was," Tichenor-Cox said. "Because if I keep thinking of what happened, it's just going to put me back, and I'm trying to be strong for her."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Utah, Child, Suicide, Bullying
The Department of Justice says it is looking into the death of a 10-year-old girl in Utah who died by suicide after allegedly being repeatedly bullied at school. Above, Brittany Tichenor-Cox holds a photo of her daughter, Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor, during an interview Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Draper, Utah. Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Izzy's shocking death triggered an outpouring of anger about youth suicides, racism in the classroom and the treatment of children with autism — issues that have been highlighted by the nation's racial reckoning and a renewed emphasis on student mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Utah, the suicide also intensified questions about the Davis School District, which was recently reprimanded by the DOJ for failing to address widespread racial discrimination.

The district, where Black and Asian American students account for roughly 1% of the approximately 73,000 students, initially defended its handling of the bullying allegations but later launched an outside investigation that is ongoing.

"When I was crying out for help for somebody to do something, nobody even showed up for her," Tichenor-Cox alleged this week in an interview with AP.

Being autistic made it difficult for Izzy to find words to express what she was feeling, but her mother sensed her daughter was internalizing the messages from school. She asked her mother to get rid of the beauty mark and shave her unibrow. Her mother told her those features made her different and beautiful. She told her mother her teacher didn't like her and wouldn't say hi or help with schoolwork.

Izzy's mother, 31, placed responsibility for her daughter's well-being at school on the teacher. Prior to this year, she said, Izzy and two of her other children liked the school.

Tichenor-Cox has also called out deep-rooted racism in the predominantly white state of Utah, where she said the N-word that kids called her when she was a child in the 1990s is still hurled at her children three decades later.

But she doesn't want fury to be her only message. She vows to make Izzy's life matter by speaking out about bullying, racism and the importance of understanding autism so that no other parent has to suffer.

As she looked at a picture on her cellphone of Izzy smiling with fresh braids in her hair from last May, Tichenor-Cox teared up as she realized that was her last birthday with her dear daughter who dreamed of becoming a professional dancer.

"No parent should have to bury their 10-year old," she said. "I'm still in shock. ... This pushes me to get this out there like this. Mommy is pushing to make sure that this don't happen to nobody else."

Davis School District spokesman Christopher Williams declined to provide an exact timeline on the investigation, reveal the employment status of Izzy's teacher or respond to any direct accusations.

He did say in a statement Wednesday that an independent investigative team is working "urgently" and that findings will be released when finished. In a previous statement from last month, when the district pledged to do an outside investigation, it said it would review its "handling of critical issues, such as bullying, to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all."

The DOJ investigation uncovered hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets over the last five years in the district. The probe also found physical assaults, derogatory racial comments and harsher discipline for students of color.

Black students throughout the district told investigators about people referring to them as monkeys or apes and saying that their skin was dirty or looked like feces. Students also made monkey noises at their Black peers, repeatedly referenced slavery and lynching and told Black students to "go pick cotton" and "you are my slave," according to the department's findings.

Tichenor-Cox told the AP she doesn't trust the district's investigation and said the district has zero credibility. Instead, her attorney, Tyler Ayres, hired a private investigator to do their own probe as Tichenor-Cox considers possible legal action.

She and Ayres also said the DOJ is aware of allegations that Izzy was harassed because of her race and autism.

Youth suicides in Utah have leveled off in recent years after an alarming spike from 2011 to 2015, but the rate remains sharply higher than the national average. The state's 2020 per capita rate was 8.85 suicides among 10- to 17-year-olds per 100,000, compared with 2.3 suicides per 100,000 nationally in 2019, the latest year with data available.

Tributes to Izzy are scattered on social media under #standforizzy. The Utah Jazz basketball team honored her at a recent game, and players Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, who has an autistic son, both expressed dismay over what happened, calling it "disgusting." Other parents from the school district have sent letters to the school board, accusing the district of "dismissive actions."

Tichenor-Cox and her husband, Charles Cox, have five other children to focus on, so they're doing all they can to handle the grief while trying to remember the sparkle Izzy brought to their lives for a decade.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours every day.

Utah, School, Bullying, Suicide, Child
In this photo provided by Brittany Tichenor-Cox, her late daughter, Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor, smiles for the camera last year. Tichenor-Cox says she doesn't trust a Utah school district's outside investigation into allegations of bullying against her daughter and will rely on a separate probe by her own attorney. Brittany Tichenor-Cox/AP Photo