Last year my son Gabriel tried out for his sixth grade basketball team and made the cut. He was never a star player – he has hustle and heart, but isn’t very aggressive – and I don’t know if he’ll do it again this year, but I was proud of him.
I liked the way his coach, a young man named James Izumizaki, handled the team. “Mr. I.,” as the kids call him, also coaches girls’ volleyball and teaches 6th grade. He looks like a kid himself to me – he could pass for 19 (actually he’s 28), but he ran the team with a quiet, firm hand: Gabriel often complained of the endless sprints. At the end-of-season celebration, at a Chinese restaurant owned by one of the player’s parents, I sat next to Mr. I. We chatted. He’s a very sweet, shy guy, and the kids all loved him.
On Monday, October 1st, Mr. I killed himself.
He was found dead in his car around 10:30 a.m., and there was a note, but its contents haven’t been made public.
Five days earlier, on Wednesday, September 26th, our local on-line newspaper reported that James Izumizaki had been arrested on suspicion of lewd acts with a minor. He was arrested from his home at 7 a.m. without incident and was placed on paid administrative leave by the middle school.
He posted $100,000 bail on Thursday.
Four days later he was dead.
When the news first broke of his arrest, I was skeptical. I was skeptical because a year ago, a local parent, a father, had been accused of inappropriate contact with a friend of his teenage daughter. He, too, was arrested and jailed – but when county prosecutors looked at the evidence, he was immediately released.
Doesn’t mean the man’s reputation wasn’t ruined, though. Whenever you search his name on-line, I’m sure the first thing that will pop up are accounts of his arrest. Can you imagine explaining this to extended family members, to employers, to anyone who happens to look you up?
I have zero sympathy for pedophiles, but I felt this guy, and probably Mr. I., had been smeared.
But after what unfolded with Mr. I., I’m not so sure. His reaction wasn’t outrage and defiance, it was suicide. And because he is dead, there will be no trial, and evidence will not be made public.
My gut says he probably did what he is accused of doing.
It’s a case of Occam’s razor…
…which is the more likely explanation – that you took your own life because you were caught, and the shock and guilt and humiliation of it all overwhelmed you; or that you took your life because you were innocent of the accusations, but the accusations alone shamed you into such a desperate act?
Remember: he hadn’t even been charged yet. For all anyone knows, this whole affair could’ve amounted to nothing, as it did with the other parent who was completely exonerated.
My son Gabriel, who is now in 7th grade, remembers Mr. I fondly. “He ran us hard, but he was really nice. More like a friend than a teacher.”
James Izumizaki taught at the school for 5 years, and was much loved. The day after his death was made public, teachers wore black arm bands and many tears were shed. In spite of the nature of the accusations, a makeshift flower memorial to Mr. I was made in front of the school. I can tell you nothing of the alleged victim, as her identity has understandably been kept private.
A candle light vigil was held that night.
Gabriel cried that day at school, but he wasn’t as close to Mr. I as some students who had him both as a teacher and a coach. One of Gabriel’s team mates, David, had seen a counselor five times in the two days following Mr. I’s death, and Gabriel never saw him not crying.
There’s been a strange mood in the air in the small town where we live, a glumness and general anxiety in spite of the beautiful fall weather.
No matter what really happened, no matter what angle you view it from, it’s a tragedy.
If he did do it, he scarred some young girl terribly – “I don’t blame the girl for saying something,” Gabriel told me (this may sound obvious, but Mr. I. was so well liked that a lot of people were upset with the girl, and said so in blogs and elsewhere).
If he did it, he needed to pay, and pay dearly. This is a twelve or thirteen year old girl we’re talking about.
And if he didn’t do it, then it’s even more horrific that a fragile young man exited this world in such anguish.
On Tuesday, the whole school made tributes to Mr. I which they sent to his parents. A lot of kids made origami animals, and Gabriel and a friend made a little poster with a basketball on it and a grave stone below it reading “Rest in peace,” and underneath that, “for the guy who always makes people smile.”
The ripples cast by this – the pain to be endured by his victim and her family, and by his family, friends and colleagues – are ghastly and will not be fading anytime soon.