First grief, then questions about teen's death at Iowa Mennonite School

'All the kids there are like family'

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IOWA CITY — The family of an Iowa City teen who died Friday after being injured at Iowa Mennonite School in Kalona will grieve first, then ask questions later, a family member said Monday.

Teresa Cardenas, 15, was described as an outgoing student who played soccer and basketball, sang in the school choir, wrote poetry and enjoyed spending time with friends and family.

“She was a joy to be around,” said Gloria Villatoro, Cardenas’s aunt and pastor at First Mennonite Church in Iowa City. “My daughter is very quiet, but Teresa would make her laugh. She was her best friend.”

Cardenas died at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Friday night, where she was transported after falling off a ladder at an all-school social event at the school Friday night, IMS announced Saturday. Principal Steve Schrag said he could not talk about the circumstances of the incident, which the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said Monday he heard Cardenas and some friends had been in an area of the school they were not supposed to be in when the accident happened. Schrag declined to comment on this. The Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy Monday.

The IMS calendar for Friday listed an “All-school sibling family YCO/Yearbook Party.” The school has a tradition of grouping seniors with younger students in “sibling families” to give students an opportunity to interact with students in other grades. Villatoro said the students had pizza and were playing games.

“Right now, we don’t know exactly everything that happened,” Villatoro said. “Her mom went and talked with some of the kids and saw the space. Maybe after the funeral we will start asking questions. We need to process.”

Cardenas, a sophomore, started attending IMS in ninth grade, Villatoro said. Several members of their extended family go to the private school with 83 students in grades 9 through 12, she said.

“We wanted to send them because of the employees there and the good education they provide,” Villatoro said. “All the kids there are like family.”

A prayer service for Cardenas will be held in IMS’s Celebration Hall at 6 p.m. Tuesday, followed by funeral services at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Burial will follow at the Lower Deer Creek Cemetery in Johnson County.

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