TACOMA, Wash. -- Just hours after 13-year-old Izabel Laxamana jumped from an Interstate 5 overpass in Tacoma, Wash., on May 29, rumors began to circulate on social media about what drove her to suicide.
At the center of those rumors was a 15-second video posted on YouTube. In it, Izabel is seen with her hair cut short. Her once long, black locks were on the ground in a pile. Her father could be heard speaking off camera.
“Man, you lost all that beautiful hair,” he said. “Was it worth it?"
The video went viral and led to the most prevalent rumor about Izabel’s death -- that the Giaudrone Middle School student killed herself by jumping off the South 48th Street overpass because her father had posted the clip online to shame her. Some called for her father to be prosecuted criminally.
Within days, the story became global news and rumors made their way into headlines all over the world.
“What I saw in this particular incident was news media reporting what was being put on the Internet by citizens who had no idea about the facts,” said Tacoma Police Department spokeswoman Loretta Cool, who urged patience until a full investigation could be done.
Police say the real story about what led Izabel to take her own life is nothing like the tale being spun online.
Cool said Izabel’s father never posted the video online, but sent a copy to his daughter so she could have a reminder of the consequences for misbehaving. According to police, Izabel’s parents did not want her using social media and cut her hair after she was caught sending a suggestive photo to a boy.
Police say it was Izabel who shared video of the punishment with several of her friends.
Tacoma Public Schools said it became aware of the video on May 27 and that Izabel was given counseling at school on the morning of her suicide.
It wasn’t until later that day, after Izabel jumped from the South 48th Street overpass, that police say a friend posted the video to YouTube. It now has more than 4 million views.
Based on eight notes Izabel left behind before she died, investigators believe she took her own life because she was ashamed of her own actions on social media and worried the photo she had sent to a boy would haunt her for the rest of her life.
In one note, Cool said, Izabel told her father how much she loved him and that he wasn’t to blame for her death.
In addition to rumors about whether the video contributed to her death, classmates said Izabel was being bullied at school and was upset because she couldn’t participate in student government.
“I think it just pushed her too far to where she wanted to do what she did,” said one of Izabel’s friends, who was at a memorial set up along the overpass in her honor.
“She just felt like she couldn’t take it anymore,” said another friend. “There were a lot of things going on in her life.”
In a statement, the Tacoma Public School District responded to rumors surrounding Izabel’s death:
"The death of Izabel Laxamana … has taken an emotional and traumatic toll on the staff and students at Giaudrone Middle School.
"The crisis response arranged for the Giaudrone community – and other Tacoma schools where students and staff had a connection to Izabel – is one of the most extensive in recent memory. On Friday, May 29, a team of district administrators responded to the school to assist in the immediate aftermath. On Monday, June 1, eleven district guidance counselors trained in crisis counseling were on hand at Giaudrone, as well as some of our close partners, including leadership from the Tacoma Police Department, six therapeutic counselors from Comprehensive Life Resources, five members of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chaplaincy and two representatives from Trinity Church. That day, approximately 150 Giaudrone students met with counselors. Crisis response staff were also present at other schools to support students and staff connected to Izabel.
"The Tacoma Police Department contacted those who might have knowledge of the after-school incident on Friday, May 29. Staff and students from Giaudrone continue to cooperate with the investigation.
"Here is what we know and what happened in response. When Giaudrone Principal Billy Harris became aware of and viewed a concerning social media video that week involving Izabel – a video not related to any other students – it was responsibly and professionally addressed. A Child Protective Services report was made and Izabel received counseling support at school.
"Since Izabel’s death, a number of detrimental rumors are spreading that misrepresent the actions of the dedicated staff at Giaudrone. The perpetuation of these rumors creates additional trauma for students and staff members, and undermines the caring response to this tragic event.
"The allegation that the principal or any staff members at Giaudrone shamed Izabel is false. Many of these rumors center on whether Izabel was prevented from running for an ASB office. Izabel did not have parental permission to participate as a candidate – a necessary requirement. No announcement was made regarding Izabel’s lack of participation in elections.
"Additionally, Giaudrone and district staff were unaware of any current student-to-student harassment, intimidation or bullying of Izabel at school.
"Grieving is a process, and we will continue to support our community as we move forward from the initial shock of this tragedy. Notably, the ASB student leaders at Giaudrone distinguished themselves by taking leadership, an example being establishing and maintaining a memorial site in Izabel’s honor. They also planned healing activities.
"We urge our larger community to support our Giaudrone school family as it continues to grieve, cope and move towards healing from this heartbreaking event."
The Tacoma Police Department is expected to close its investigation into Izabel's suicide as early as Wednesday. Cool said it is unlikely that criminal charges will be recommended against anyone in connection to her death.
Attempts to reach Izabel’s family by phone and in person were not successful.