This world can be a terrible place. Every time we turn on the television, there are new stories of violence. But nothing is worse than the death of a child, especially when it could have been stopped.
Gizzell Ford was a bright 8-year-old girl. She was a straight-A student and kept a rainbow-colored journal — a journal that would tell a horrible story.
Gizzell lived with her father and grandmother, Andre and Helen Ford, in Chicago, Illinois. Her father was bedridden and was cared for by the grandmother. Both Andre and Helen had felonies in their backgrounds.
Gizzell’s body was discovered in their trash laden apartment, tortured and strangled months after her father was granted custody of the child. Her journal told the story of her life, one filled with abuse at the hands of her father and grandmother.
Andre had been granted custody eight months before her death, claiming that Gizzell’s mother, Sandra Mercado, was homeless. According to Mercado, this was not the case. She explained how she tried to tell this to the judge during the custody hearing but he ruled in favor of Andre.
Gizzell’s journal told the terrible story. Being denied food and water, punishments that included standing or squatting for long periods of time and being tied to a bed for days are just a few of the excerpts. When Gizzell’s body was discovered, it appeared that her hands and legs had been bound and there was a gaping wound on the back of her head.
Video footage was also found as her father recorded Gizzell being punished. “She’s getting defiant,” he said in the video. “Stand up! Do your squats!” It’s enough to break anyone’s heart.
Adding more fuel to the fire of this terrible story is that, at a doctor’s visit 16 days before her death, there were warning signs of abuse. The doctor never reported it. After her daughter’s tragic death, Mercado filed a separate law suit against the doctor, claiming that his actions could have possibly removed Gizzell from an abusive home before her death.
A Chicago jury awarded the family of Gizzell a $48 million settlement. Mercado felt led down by a system put in place to help victims of abuse. DCSF acknowledged that there needs to be an overhaul in the system, focusing on intervention sooner.
Andre and Helen were arrested for their crimes against a helpless little girl. Andre died of a heart attack while awaiting trial while Helen was convicted of murder.
In court records, Ford tried to portray herself as a kind grandmother, taking care of her grandchildren and helping them with homework. But the pages of the 8-year-old girl’s journal didn’t lie.
“I am going to be a beautiful smart and good young lady,” wrote Gizzell of herself in her journal. There is no doubt that given a full life she would have accomplished everything she set out to do. “Gizzell was one of those who I knew would make a difference in the world … maybe as a teacher or writer,” said Kathryn Wanicek, one of her teachers.
The jury was in tears as they heard Gizzell’s story. “We just wanted justice for Gizzell, and in our eyes we got it,” said Mercado.
Ford was recently sentenced to life in prison.