An 8-year-old Chicago girl who was routinely beaten and starved by her grandmother wrote about the abuse she endured up until her final day.
“I hate this life because now I’m in super big trouble,” Gizzell Ford wrote in her rainbow-striped diary on July 11, 2013.
The next day the 8-year-old was dead.
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) March 2, 2017
Her grandmother, Helen Ford, 55, carried out horrific abuse during Summer 2013. The 8-year-old described how Helen would force her to do squats all day and stand for hours on end. According to Yahoo News, Helen tied her granddaughter to a bed and withheld food and water. The starving girl was further punished when she tried to drink from the toilet.
“[Gizzell] had a terrific smile, beautiful, full hair, and wonderful penmanship,” Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Romito said during her opening statement. “What Helen Ford did to her reduced that child to something completely unrecognizable.”
Prosecutors revealed how Gizzell was used as a “punching bag,” by Helen, often beating her with a belt. Though her official cause of death was strangulation, an autopsy showed the child endured blunt force trauma, neglect, and abuse prior to her death, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Judge Evelyn Clay described the 8-year-old’s body as “pulverized from head to toe” before finding Helen guilty of murder on Thursday.
“That child suffered a slow, painful, agonizing death.”
Police found the deceased 8-year-old in the filthy Illinois apartment. She had an untreated head wound filled with maggots, the New York Daily News reported. Prosecutors suspected the wound came from rubbing on a metal pole when she was tied to her father’s bed.
The topic matter of Gizzell’s diary abruptly changed—going from writing about school, friends, and teachers to how she longed for a day she wasn’t battered. At points, the straight-A student seemed optimistic about starting the fourth grade and being able to escape the abuse—two things that never happened.
— Chicago Sun-Times (@Suntimes) March 2, 2017
“I know if I be good and do everything I’m told I won’t have to do punishments,” Gizzell wrote.
One especially hopeful diary entry reads that she planned to be “great all day.”
“I am going to be a beautiful smart and good young lady. I can do anything I put my smart mind to. People say I’m smart and courageous and beautiful. I hope that I don’t mess up today because I really want to be able to just sit down, watch TV, talk, and play with everybody. I am going to be great all day.”
The same day, she took to her diary with an update: “Not true. I failed.”
Gizzell came to live with her father, Andre Ford, and grandmother eight months before her death. A judge took custody from her mother, Sandra Mercado, because they were constantly homeless and found walking the streets at 2 am. Andre was a felon and unemployed when he won custody of his daughter.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Andre, who was bedridden from chronic scleroderma, cheered on the abuse. Cell phone footage showed the father and Helen berating Gizzy for breaking the rules while a sock was in her mouth and she was forced to stand.
Gizzy’s half-brother testified that Helen also beat him and subjected him to brutal punishments. The 10-year-old also said his father never abused him.
Andre died in 2014 of a suspected heart attack associated with the rare skin disease while awaiting trial.
Prosecutors alleged Helen was after child support or state aid that came with having Gizzell. However, Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Hodel painted a different story, claiming this was a case of an overwhelmed grandmother. In addition to taking care of her chronically sick son, Hodel said Helen tied up the 8-year-old because she attempted to stab her father and cousin and jump out of a window.
“She was a tragically troubled young lady,” Public Defender Judie Smith said. “She coped by injuring herself.”
The Tribune found that an investigator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) visited the residence a month before the 8-year-old’s death. A child-abuse doctor, who examined Gizzell weeks before her murder, discovered a suspicious injury on her buttocks but never reported it.
“What happened to Gizzell was an abomination…It makes you lose faith in the human race,” Romito said. Referring to the diary entries, the Assistant State’s Attorney added, “She [Gizzell] didn’t fail. The system that gave her to those people failed.”
[Feature Photo: Facebook/Cooks County Sheriff’s House]