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Cheektowaga playground honors slain 5-year-old girl

Five-year-old Isabella Tennant loved swinging on the swings and sliding down the slides at Stiglmeier Park in Cheektowaga. Always smiling and laughing, she didn’t mind that her favorite playground was actually designed for children ages 6 to 12.

Her father, Michael Tennant, took her there often – it was near their home on Como Park Boulevard. And though “Bella” will never play at the playground again, she will always be there in spirit, thanks to the efforts of her family and friends.

Next to the playground where Isabella played, another playground – specifically designed for children ages 5 and under – now stands, and a sign in front reads, “This playground was built in memory of Isabella Sara Tennant.”

Isabella was killed in Niagara Falls last August, allegedly by a family friend. Her body was found in a trash can a few blocks from her great-grandmother’s home, where she had been staying. After she was laid to rest, family members wanted to do something positive in her memory. So they held a fundraiser in September, raised $30,000 and approached the Town of Cheektowaga about building the playground.

“I want people to know how proud my family is that we’ve accomplished something in her memory that other children can enjoy, as Isabella would if she were still here,” said Debra Tennant, her aunt.

She works at LoVullo Associates for Dave Pietrowski, who helped the family with some of the logistics. Pietrowski said the playground was entirely privately funded.

At a dedication ceremony Tuesday, Michael Tennant unveiled the sign to a round of applause.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I’m glad that everybody came out and showed support. I know Isabella would be happy. And I’m glad that the kids are going to have somewhere to go in rememberance of her.”

But otherwise, Michael Tennant said, he is holding up “horribly.” He can’t even bring himself to closely follow the murder case.

“They keep me posted on it and everything,” he said of his family. “But Isabella was my whole world. This destroyed my whole world, my whole life.”

John Freeman, 17, of Niagara Falls, has been accused of killing Isabella with his bare hands. He is charged with second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence. Falls police have said Freeman confessed on the morning after Isabella was killed. Freeman was a neighbor of Isabella’s great-grandmother, Sharon Lascelle, and a frequent guest in her home. When Lascelle went to bed on the night of Aug. 26, she reportedly asked Freeman to look after the little girl. The next morning, Freeman’s friend Tyler Best, 19, came to Police Headquarters after Isabella was reported missing and took officers to the trash can where her body had been dumped. Police think Best helped Freeman dispose of the body, and he has been charged with tampering with physical evidence.

Jury selection is to begin Aug. 19.

“We’re still on an emotional roller coaster,” Debra Tennant said. “I still can’t believe she’s gone. And I just hope that the judicial system does what they have to do.”