Tuesday night, around 70 students from Southwest Early College Campus (SWECC) attended the school’s final graduation ceremony at Unity Temple. They entered the room to "Pomp and Circumstance," dressed in traditional black gowns.
As they took their seats, one seat remained empty in the front row.
“Towards the end of the year, we lost one of our special students,” principal Earl Williams said in the welcome address.
On March 21, 18-year-old Daizsa Laye Bausby was found dead in a room at the 4 Acre Motel in south Kansas City.
Williams told the students much of the night would be dedicated to her, but he could hardly finish his sentence before someone in the crowd yelled “Daizsa!” and the upper and lower balconies burst into cheers and applause.
Bausby was at the top of her class at SWECC. She was an honor student, a member of the cheerleading squad, and set to graduate with enough credits for an associate’s degree from Penn Valley Metropolitan Community College, where she had been participating in an early college program.
“She was so remarkable, so special...inhuman,” says Wasiba Hamad, one of Bausby’s best friends. “She just does things that a normal person in her situation wouldn’t do.”
Friends remember her as the life of the party, always up. And she loved snapchatting selfies.
“I remember my memory card got full off of her selfies,” Hamad laughs.
At Bausby's open-casket funeral, Hamad says her friend was barely recognizable. The service was packed — even the aisles full, many had to stand in the back. The procession was held on April 1; April Fool’s Day.
“She’s such a jokester, I was like, she’s going to hop up anytime, ‘I was just playing you guys,’” Hamad says. “It didn’t happen. She never got up.”
It was the day before the funeral when the first news came out about Bausby; an article in the Kansas City Star. That was 10 days after her death. Local television stations didn’t cover it. To be fair, neither did KCUR.
The first follow-up by the Star came over a month later. This past week, the Kansas City Police Department finally released confirmation that the case was a homicide, and that she died by suffocation.
“This is a Kansas City, Missouri school girl, who was an honors student. She got murdered, and you don’t have her story on the news? That doesn’t make sense. It’s unfair,” Hamad says. “I feel like if it were a suburban white child that went through the same thing Daizsa did--finding the body in a motel room, with an unsolved murder… I feel like the whole media would cover it."
Some friends and mentors think if it had been covered earlier, the investigation might be further along.
“They’re acting like it didn’t happen, or her murder doesn’t matter. Or it’s not newsworthy," Hamad says.
Diane Burkholder of activist group One Struggle KC says she’s not surprised by the lack of coverage by mainstream media.
“[This case] is very similar to the narrative we’ve seen across the country,” Burkholder says. “Wherein, we’ll maybe get a blip but it will take the community and the family advocating and pushing for that narrative to be told and for justice to be served.”
Justice hasn’t been served yet. But Bausby’s death has transformed the lives of those who knew her.
“When Daizsa passed, it was like everything snapped,” says Bausby’s friend Hatiayan Watkins.
Another recent graduate, Nyla Brown, says the school was shut down.
As the end of the school year approached, many SWECC seniors were losing motivation. On top of that, their school was going to close. Then Bausby, who had been accepted to more than 12 colleges, who used to offer to help students she’d never even met before write papers… She died. The students mourned for days, but with graduation merely a month away, they had a lot left to do.
“She wouldn’t have wanted us moping around,” Hamad says. “So we were like, ‘You know what? We need to get our heads up and finish this school year with a bang. Because that’s what she would have wanted.’”
Hamad says, after that, the number of students on track to graduate jumped from around 20 to over 60.
“I kid you not,” she laughs.
The senior class pulled together and made it to graduation, because, they had to; for Daizsa.
Andrea Tudhope is a freelance contributor for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @adtudhope.