DENVER — The last year has changed Ana Hernandez Thallas profoundly. She still waits to hear her daughter Isabella’s car pull up to their Denver home, to walk in the door and to sleep in her room.
The death of her daughter on June 10, 2020 is still too much to comprehend.
“You're never at peace with it because you don't understand it. You cannot comprehend. So, it keeps the wound open, and you're never fully able to move on,” Ana said. “That's why I say I'm not going to ever move on. I'm going to try my best to move forward and take those baby steps to move forward. But moving on, I'll never let my daughter go.”
So much has changed. June used to be the happy month for this mother of three. All three of her children, Isabella, Lucia and Jacob were born in the month of June. Burying a child was not part of the plan.
“It's changed me tremendously. Some of it good, some of the bad. The way I view things now is completely different. The way I speak, the people in your life. Even the way people have responded to me has been, you know, there's some people... friends that just completely distanced themselves and dropped off because they too don't understand this, and it scares them,” Ana said. “And so nobody knows how to deal with it, and that's the first thing that they tell us. You know, one of the groups I'm in, ‘The fastest way to clear a room is to tell someone you have a murdered child’. People don't like what they don't understand and what they fear, but there have also been other people that have been faithful through the whole thing and loving and supportive. And then there's also been another side where they see opportunity, and I won't address that.”
Isabella, whom her family refers to as Bella, was born at Rose Hospital. She was a Brownie, a gymnast, a cheerleader at Cherry Creek High School, a student at Metro and a server at a Denver restaurant called Mexico City Lounge.
“I mourn her every day,” Ana said.
One of Ana’s places of peace and comfort is a park known as Bella Joy Gardens, near the ballpark neighborhood where her 21-year-old was killed. A large mural of her daughter’s face adorns one of the walls. Next to it is a bench with an inscription that reads:
Isabella Joy Thallas
Forever Beside You
We Love you
To The Moon And Back
Mommy, Lucia And Jacob
Ana was deeply candid when asked what she thinks about while sitting at Isabella’s park.
“Honestly? Why? Because I look around and I see people walking their dogs. I see people riding their bikes at all hours of the night, and I just have to wonder. And I look around at the buildings and the windows and the apartments. And I wonder why. Why? Why did it happen? Why her? That's what I can't get out of my head,” Ana said.
Ana also recognizes the support she’s felt.
“Yes, I'm so grateful for everything that the City and County [of Denver] has done. They have been such a phenomenal support through Isabella's death and all of this, and the people that have worked on that park have been so kind and put in extra hours there,” Ana said.
She was candid about who her daughter was, too.
“She was definitely a free spirit, and she was a woman that could not be chained and extremely independent and sympathetic, kind, loving, forgetful. She'd come home at least three times before she would actually leave the house. Little ditzy, yeah, but she was smart. And there was this intangible spirit about her that attracted people to her,” Ana said.
Now, Ana waits for a murder trial to begin for the man who, according to court documents, admitted to his friends he shot Isabella and her boyfriend Darian Simon. Denver police say the accused shooter was irritated by the way Isabella’s boyfriend was disciplining his dog while the couple took the animal out for a walk. The man pulled out a semi-automatic rifle and shot at both, injuring Darian and killing Isabella.
The hardest part for this mom still in mourning, is to sit in court and listen.
“Watching her murderer... seeing the pictures. As a mom, it's one thing to watch a movie and see that. But when you see your child, it's not a movie anymore. It's real life, and believe me, I never in a million years thought, dreamt that this would be something that would happen to us. Never. Never ever. But yet here I sit,” Ana said.
She describes the day it happened as one of the worst days of her life. She had been texting with her daughter that morning, and they were going to meet for lunch.
“I was on my way to go see her. And I was in my car, and her friend called me, ‘Mom, I think something happened,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘I think something happened to Bella.’ And I said, ‘What? I just got off the phone with her.’ ‘Mama, something happened.’ I said ‘I just got off the phone with her. Are you sure? Like an accident? What are you talking about?’ Something happened? You need to be more specific. You can't just tell me that and hang up the phone.’ And he said, ‘Let me call around and let me double check and see before I say anything else.’ And by that time, I'm frantic, and I'm like hauling down there. And I called her sister and I said, ‘Have you heard from Bella?’ And she said, ‘No, I haven't.’ And I said, ‘Do you have her location on her phone?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Where is she at?’ She said, ‘I think she's at Darian's house,’” Ana said.
Ana was frantically calling Isabella’s phone and no answer. Then, Bella’s friend tells her to look at the news.
“And then I just started getting, just my phone was just going off, and I was getting screenshots of Twitter, and then I saw the news: one confirmed dead and one in surgery. And I'm like, ‘Oh, dear God,’” Ana said.
Ana drove herself to Denver Health and was calling 911 to get information.
“And I'm like, ‘Somebody tell me something. For Christ's sake, tell me.’ And I'm crying. And I'm. like, frantic and I hauled as I got there. ‘Can you confirm if Isabella Thallas is in surgery?’ ‘No, we have no one here by the name of that patient.’ And I just sat there for a moment, and I prayed. I felt it. And by that time, her sister was already — she had texted me — And her sister was already sending me messages,” Ana said.
Ana then got back in her car and drove herself to the scene.
“I felt like I was having a heart attack. My chest was burning. I had to sit down. I was crying. I knew, and I just kept crying, and I just kept saying in Spanish, ‘My daughter's dead. My daughter's dead,’” Ana said. “And I begged, I just wanted to hold her. They wouldn't let me near, and they finally put a tent up over her, and it was about 95 degrees outside, and you're standing on black asphalt. And I stood there eight hours, maybe, people were kind enough to come out of the apartments and bring us waters.”
Ana says as far she knew, Bella didn’t know the accused shooter.
“She just always said that there are sketchy people down there, they always have issues. And she never told me anything else,” Ana said.
We learned days later the gun used was the personal weapon of then Denver Police Sgt. Dan Politica, who had been longtime friends with the accused shooter Michael Close.
Politica was not charged with any crime. He resigned from the Denver Police Department March without giving a reason.
We asked the Denver Police Department for an interview to ask about that and other issues related to the investigation, and the interview was declined due to the pending trial.
Regarding the use of a firearm, according to the Denver Police Department statement “IA [Internal Affairs] initially completed a review of the information pertaining to Sgt. Politica’s personal firearm being stolen, and given no apparent policy violation occurred, an IA case was not opened.”
While Ana continues mourning the death of her daughter, she is now also preparing herself for the trial ahead.
“I want to keep the case dignified, and I want to keep it on track. For the sake of God, this is hard. I want to keep it on track for the sake of just conviction and convicting and justice for my daughter.” Ana said. “What I do know is that we will seek justice, and we will get justice for Isabella, and it will come to light everything.”
She has considered what kind of punishment she would like to see for the man accused of killing her daughter.
“Oh, he needs to be in prison for the rest of his life. I don't want him to see the light of day ever. And definitely not in isolation.”
And for the man whose gun was used?
“I don't want anything for him. As far as to him. Plenty. Leave it at that. Plenty,” Ana.
The family does take some comfort in knowing they have helped change Colorado laws. Called the Isabella Joy Thallas Gun Act, now people who lose or have a firearm stolen have to report it.
“I don't want to take away from people owning guns and people, you know, your rights to have your firearm. But for fully automatic weapons to be in the hands of civilians, in city limits and within the city. And just not even having to report your gun lost or stolen within a reasonable amount of time. I was floored that that was not already a law,” Ana said. “It's been harder for me to get a puppy than it has been for me to get a gun. Why is that? Do you realize what you have to do to get a dog? I would like to have my own support animal. Right? There are so many hoops and so many interviews and so many things you have to jump through. But to get a gun. Give me a day.”
Bottom line, Ana is not looking forward to seeing the accused shooter sitting in a courtroom. But she wants the truth to come out.
“Seeking justice for Isabella and Darian period. And that's where it should stay,” Ana said. “And in order to do that, the focus needs and the support needs to be with the prosecution, everything that falls thereafter. Because things will come out in court, I can guarantee it. I will fight to the bitter end for my daughter and to seek that justice to the fullest extent of the law.”