Big Mama is supposed to impart wisdom and yell at you when you aren’t home by the time the street lights come on, but for a little girl in Chicago, her grandmother would help end her life. In 2013, eight-year-old Gizzell “Gizzy” Ford’s tortured life ended when she was strangled to death.
Gizzell was living with her mother, but a court awarded her father, unemployed felon Andre Ford, temporary custody when he made allegations that the mother was homeless. Gizzell’s mother tried to helplessly get her daughter back, but for eight months Gizzell remained with Andre and his mother, 55-year-old Helen Ford.
Before Gizzell’s death, there were signs that things were not right in the household. Just one month before the tragic murder, an investigator from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services visited their home. Gizzell was also taken to the hospital for mysterious injuries, but even though doctors were suspicious, they didn’t place any report the Fords.
There was no way of knowing the horror that Gizzell was facing — not until prosecutors got a hold of her rainbow-colored diary.
It was there that Gizzell wrote about how her grandmother was torturing her. She described being beaten, chained to a bed, and being made to sit a squatting position for hours on end.
“I hope that I don’t mess up today because I really want to be able to just sit down, watch T.V., talk and play with everybody,” she wrote in her diary. “I am going to be great all day.” Later in that entry, she said, “Not true. I failed.”
“I hate this life because now I’m in super big trouble,” she wrote in her last entry on July 11, 2013.
The next day, Gizzell’s 70-pound body was found among the debris inside of her family’s trash-filled apartment. She was badly beaten and bruised, and maggots were coming out of a head wound. She was strangled, but an autopsy showed that Gizzell was already dying due to kidney failure. The Fords wouldn’t let her sleep and refused to give her any food or water, which took a deadly toll on her frail body.
Andre and Helen were arrested and charged with Gizzell’s murder, but Andre would never pay for his crimes. He died of a heart attack in jail while awaiting trial— if you believe in a Higher Power, he’s facing a different kind of justice. Helen faced a judge who watched recorded cell phone videos of Gizzell’s tragic abuse as a sock was stuffed in her mouth to hold back the heart-wrenching screams.
While the grandmother carried out the terrible actions against Gizzell, Andre would direct her on what to do to his daughter. Gizzell’s 10-year-old brother took the stand during his grandmother’s trial to detail the abuse that both he and his sister endured. He sobbed while telling the court that his sister was a “very nice” girl who liked to “play and make friends.”
Helen didn’t take the stand in her own defense, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t try to use her attorneys to offer up a weak explanation for Gizzell’s injuries. Helen said Gizzell would throw herself around and injure herself because “she was a tragically troubled young lady,” according to Helen’s public defender. The judge didn’t buy it (and frankly, neither do I). Helen was sentenced to spend the rest of her natural life in prison.
“Helen Ford did know how to say ‘no,’ ” Judge Evelyn Clay said. “She knew how to say ‘no’ to Gizzell — no water, no food, no sleep, no praise. She did not say ‘yes’ to the basic requirements of human care.”
Rest in peace, baby girl. You deserved so much better.
Please share this story of Gizzell Ford to continue the conversation about child abuse and the need to protect our babies. She was our sister, and her life matters.