ALBANY, Calif. (Bay City News Service) — Parents, students and staff gathered outside Albany Middle School Oct. 2 to mourn the passing of a sixth-grade teacher who was found dead of an apparent suicide on Oct. 1 after being arrested on suspicion of molestation.
Dozens of people stood in the front of the campus at 1259 Brighton Ave. before the school day started, some hugging each other and crying.
A makeshift memorial had been set up at the base of the school’s flagpole, where people were placing flowers and candles in honor of teacher James Izumizaki, 28.
Izumizaki was arrested Sept. 26 on suspicion of committing a lewd act on a minor after police began investigating a report that he had an inappropriate relationship with a former student. He was booked into the Santa Rita Jail, but was later released on bail. His body was found in a car on Via Alamitos in San Leandro at about 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 1.
Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said that, based on the nature of the death and a note that was left, it appears Izumizaki took his own life.
Stan Tamaki was among those who showed up outside the middle school that morning to pay tribute to Izumizaki. Tamaki, 55, said he has three daughters who have had Izumizaki as a teacher, and that he loves Izumizaki “like a brother.”
He called the death “mind-boggling” and said he thinks Izumizaki was under too much pressure because of the allegation he was facing.
“I guess he thought he was going to lose everything,” Tamaki said.
Tamaki said Izumizaki was extremely dedicated to the students, and would arrive at the school at 7 a.m. and stay until 9 p.m., leaving the gym open so students could use it.
Kathy Meyer, 53, has two daughters who have been in Izumizaki’s class, and said he was a close family friend and “a great young man.”
“He was a kind and sensitive man,” she said. “Maybe too sensitive.”
Those gathered outside the school overwhelmingly said they were stunned by Izumizaki’s death and that they believed he was innocent.
“I was looking forward to his exoneration,” said Lori Endo, 49, whose son and daughter have been in Izumizaki’s class.
She said she believes the accusation against him was “a big mistake.”
At a news conference at the Albany Unified School District headquarters on Oct. 2, Superintendent Marla Stephenson said the focus that day was on helping students cope with the death. “Today is not business as usual,” she said.
Stephenson said there were grief counselors on campus, and special activities were planned to help students process their grief. The school day was set to end early, at 12:30 p.m., she said.
She said Izumizaki was the school’s athletic director and coached seventh-grade girls’ volleyball and eighth-grade boys’ basketball. He was also a co-leader in student government. He grew up in the area, and attended schools in the Albany Unified School District, she said.
Stephenson said the past week’s events have “shaken us to the core of who we are.” However, she added, “We will recover.”
Stephenson said the school district learned of Izumizaki’s apparent suicide early afternoon on Oct. 1, and students were informed at the end of the school day.