NAUGATUCK — About 200 people gathered at Linden Park on Tuesday evening to remember 12-year-old Jada Ivory, who drowned Monday in the Naugatuck River.
The crowd released white, blue and purple balloons into the air by the river’s edge just after 6 p.m. Immediately following, family member John Teague addressed the mourners.
“I know this is a sad occasion and it’s very difficult for all of us,” he said. “But we know that we’re not standing here in vain because Jada was loved by everyone who is standing here right now. Our hearts are broken. We’re torn apart. This is very difficult; a child has been taken back to God. But know this — that a child from God is at peace now.”
Support resonated throughout the community Tuesday for family and friends of the City Hill Middle School seventh-grader who was remembered as a quiet but sometimes spunky child who was kind to everyone and often stood up for children who were being bullied.
Naugatuck police officials have set up a Go Fund Me account called “Jada Ivory Burial Expenses” to help the family pay for burial costs.
Jada’s bright smile and big brown eyes, which were often tucked behind her black-framed glasses, were on everyone’s minds in the schools on Tuesday, school officials said.
Melissa Cooney, principal of Cross Street Intermediate School, where Jada attended last year and the year before, said teachers and staff met before school to plan for how they would talk to students, which was a strategy implemented at many Naugatuck schools. She said each teacher spoke to their classes about what happened and let students ask questions.
“Our kids were pretty good and resilient,” Cooney said. “I think children are more resilient than many adults, and they were already thinking of ways to help the family.”
Cooney said people tend to glamorize those who pass, but that Jada’s positive attributes cannot be overstated.
“She genuinely was just a sweet little soul who was really kind to everyone,” Cooney said.
Melissa Selitte, whose son, 11-year-old Jacob Drost, was with Jada when she drowned at about 4:30 p.m. Monday, said her son and other children tried to save Jada after she drifted into water and was pulled downstream.
“Jacob grabbed her and all he keeps saying is, ‘Mommy, I had to let go; I couldn’t hold on because the current was too much,’” Selitte said. “I told him, ‘you were brave and did what you could, but I didn’t want to see the river take you too.’ We could have lost all seven children who were swimming.”
Ivory’s mother, Cassandra Houston, thanked emergency responders who tried to save Jada. Dozens of police and firefighters searched up and down the river for more than 90 minutes Monday before a diver pulled her from the water — she was unresponsive and was pronounced dead at Waterbury Hospital.
“I just want to say, please be careful with your kids,” Houston told the crowd gathered at Linden Park Tuesday. “Tell your kids this is not a place to swim at all. I lost my baby. I wouldn’t want to see another kid lose their life.”