Elisa Izquierdo was a beautiful little girl born to Gustavo Izquierdo and Awilda Lopez. Gustavo, a Cuban immigrant, came to America in May of 1980 to teach dance. He took a job as a community aide in a homeless shelter in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn,NY. In 1987 he met Awilda Lopez, a shelter resident with a drug problem. They had a relationship and two years later their daughter, Elisa, was born at Woodhull Hospital. Custody was given to Gustavo, who at 34, found himself a single father with a newborn baby girl. On the first day that he brought Elisa home from the hospital, he made lots of panicky calls to female acquaintances to get advice on how to take care of her. Co-worker, Cynthia Nuldrow, recalled,"we helped him with formula, we showed him how to change diapers,comb her hair...He caught on fine, he loved that little girl". Anytime baby Elisa was in distress, her father attended to her every need. Once, when she ran a slight fever, her father panicked and called Ms.Nudrow who advised him to cover her with a blanket and give her baby medicine. When she was teething and in pain, her father again called for help and was told to buy a special gel for her gums. Gustavo took parenting classes at the local YWCA and after he got the basics down, it was said that he thrived in his new role as father. Gustavo worked long hours at the shelter everyday and every other weekend earning $1,675.00 a month to take care of Elisa. While he was at work, he left Elisa with neighbors and friends. Sometimes he'd bring her to work with him and have co-workers watch her.
In 1990 when Elisa was one year old, her father enrolled her in the YWCA's Montessori Preschool. Every morning he would get up and iron a new dress for her and fix her beautiful hair into pigtails and braids and buns. Barbara Simmons, Elisa's teacher at the preschool, recalled,"How many men brush their little girl's hair and part their hair in a perfect straight line"? Elisa was described as having a special enchanted aura, a brilliant smile and flashing black eyes. Everybody loved her.The school's director, Phyllis Bryce, recalled,"she was beautiful, radiant. She had an inner strength and alot of potential for growth".
Elisa and her father Gustavo had many happy times together. They went on outings to the circus, to the park, to the movies. He had stacks of pictures of her in his wallet. Once when Elisa turned four, Gustavo rented a banquet hall, complete with chandeliers, to celebrate her baptism into the Catholic church. Barbara Woodruff, who lived next door to Gustavo and Elisa, recalled,"when you saw this man walking down the street with his kid, he was a proud daddy. He was really proud. She was just as proud being his daughter as he was of being her father". Gustavo's friend, Mary Crespo, recalled, " she was his life. He would always say Elisa was his princess".
In 1991, Elisa's mother, Awilda Lopez, petitioned the courts for unsupervised weekend visitations with her daughter. The petition was granted and on weekends Elisa would go to her mother's apartment on Manhattan's lower east side. Awilda had married Carlos Lopez, a maintainance worker. She already had two older children, Rubebcito and Kasey. Elisa was her third child. Awilda would go on to have three more children, Taisha, Carlos and Rafael. During these weekend visitations, Elisa was being abused. In 1992, Gustavo Izquierdo petitioned the courts to have Awilda's parental rights terminated. The weekend visits stopped for awhile and Elisa was back full time with her father.
When Gustavo fell behind on tuition payments at the Montessori Preschool, the staff was so fond of Elisa that they recommeded her to Prince Michael of Greece. The Prince was a benefactor of the school. Prince Michael recalled meeting Elisa, "she jumped into my arms and she was sweet and she wouldn't leave my hands the whole time of the visit". Prince Michael erased Gustavo's $1000.00 debt and in 1993 offered to finance Elisa's entire private school education all the way up to college at the prestigious Brooklyn Friends School. At Christmas, Easter and on her birthday, the Prince would send her gifts and during his visits to the school, the Prince would bring her stuffed animals and clothes. The little princess responded with thank you notes and pictures.
In 1994, Elisa celebrated her fifth birthday at the Montessori Preschool. She took the Brooklyn Friends School screening exam and passed. She was scheduled to start classes in the fall. Gustavo, who became sick with cancer, was concerned that Awilda would regain custody of Elisa. He devised a plan that he shared with his cousin, Elsa Canizares, to send Elisa to Cuba. Gustavo Izquierdo died of cancer on the day he was planning on putting Elisa on the plane. The tickets were already purchased.
After Gustavo died there was a custody fight for Elisa held at Brooklyn Family Court before Judge Phoebe Greenbaum. Gustavo's cousin, Elsa Canizares, had petitioned the court for custody of Elisa. Phyllis Bryce, the director of the Montessori school and Prince Michael of Greece, wrote letters to the judge recommending Elsa Canizares be given custody. Judge Greenbaum awarded custody of Elisa to her mother. Elisa, who was use to being the apple of her daddy's eye, now found herself to be one of six children living in a crowded apartment. On November 22nd, 1995, a year and a half after the death of her beloved father, six year old, Elisa Izquierdo was murdered by her mother.
The community raised money to bury Elisa but never used it because the funeral was donated. Her funeral was held at the Ponce Funeral Home in Brooklyn, N.Y. More than 300 people were in attendance, including the then mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani. The Izquierdo side of the family wanted Elisa buried with her father but the mother's side of the family objected. The funeral home sided with the mother's side, who choose to bury Elisa on top of someone else.
After Elisa's death, a law was enacted in New York State called, "Elisa's Law" The law loosens the veil of confidentiality surrounding child welfare cases. Prior to this law, state and local officials were prohibiting from discussing details about child welfare cases. As a result, responsibility for errors or incompetance were rarely fixed. Elisa's law holds child welfare agencies publicly accountable for their actions by allowing the public to know the details of what was done and by whom. When the public can see where the mistakes were made, the mistakes can be rectified.
In response to the death of Elisa Izquierdo, the mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, created an agency called the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) in January of 1996. This would be the first free standing agency in the city's history devoted only to child welfare services and reporting directly to him.
Elisa's death also launched a crusade to open up juvenile court proceedings to the general public in New York City. With the intense media attention surrounding her death, the media wanted access to the then private juvenile court hearings that would determine the fate of Elisa's five brothers and sisters. The media launched a crusade to open up the hearings and ultimately were successful.
Notice: This memorial is being managed in abeyance until a proper manager requests control of the memorial. As a general rule, immediate family members, grandparents, and other close family members can request and will be transferred management of the memorial.
Bio by: Dovesblood