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One Mother Bravely Making Meaning from Tragedy in Sarasota

One Mother Bravely Making Meaning from Tragedy in Sarasota

| Laura Bell Adams |

Tawanna Spann should never have been forced to grieve the tragic and unexpected loss of her fourteen-year-old son, Jabez. Jabez Spann was a respected young football star, with a promising life ahead of him when he suddenly disappeared on September 4, 2017.

His devastated family cooperated with authorities; waiting with inconclusive answers for eighteen months. Jabez Spann’s skeletal remains were finally discovered on February 19, 2019. Dental records were required to identify him.

Jabez Spann, grieved by his family and friends in Sarasota, FLAfter Jabez’s sudden disappearance, the ruptured Spann family were left shocked in a frozen space caused by complicated emotions and grief. Their emotional experience, known as physical ambiguous loss and anticipatory grief, occurred alongside one another. Some theorists purport ambiguous loss as the most traumatizing experience because it occurs in situations that lack closure. The grieving Spann family struggled psychologically without answers to adequately explain Jabez’s senseless disappearance, all the while praying for his safe return. Their loss resulted from the non-normative ‘disappearance,’ of a healthy teenager and their sincere hope for his safe return.

Today the bereaved family struggles with complicated grief that may be compounded by the thought that Jabez’s murderer(s) is presumably free and living life at large. “No words can capture the depth of my pain,” says Tawanna Spann. She bravely goes about her daily life making the necessary adjustment to a world, which will never include her beloved Jabez. Traumatic events, such as the unexpected loss of a loved one, disrupt a person’s life, shattering their ‘assumptive worldview’ and belief system.



Tawanna Spann found herself searching for ways to reconstruct meaning out of her grief. With the support of her friend, Kanani Kekahuna, a Streets of Paradise volunteer, they established the Jabez Spann Foundation. They offer support and much-needed resources to families that are searching for their loved ones. Tawanna understands firsthand the emotional and financial toll searching for Jabez took on her and her family, however, she is motivated to turn her loss into action.

Tawanna Spann spoke at Stop The Violence event in Sarasota, FLTawanna Spann spoke from her heart at Stop The Violence, a community event proudly sponsored by Streets of Paradise, about the negative influence violence plays in the community and her desire to see an end to it. Tawanna recognizes that Jabez’s senseless murder unequivocally challenges Sarasota residents to reevaluate and process any previous assumptions that Sarasota, this beautiful coastal city, is a safe place for a healthy, male teenager of color.

Please visit and make a donation to Jabez Spann Foundation 

If you are able, we would love it if you could make a donation to help us achieve our mission here at Streets of Paradise. To donate time and/or money, please visit our website at Streets of Paradise 

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photos courtesy of Tawanna Spann and Colin Reisner.


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