Before suicide, raped teen loved life
Mother remembers artistic, curious Montana teen
Cherice Moralez wasn't the type to wait for the storm to pass. She preferred to dance in the downpour.
"When a big rain would come, she'd always get out and dance in the rain," the teen's mother, Auliea Hanlon, said. "She taught me how to dance in the rain."
Hanlon was used to her daughter's eccentricities. This was a teen who once painted herself green "for sport" and "set booby traps," sticking wads of gum on the bathroom door handle as a child, her mother said.
"If the world wasn't entertaining enough, she would entertain herself with the world. She used to do all sorts of crazy stuff for sport," her mother fondly recalled.
It was when that playful nature waned that Hanlon suspected something was wrong. Cherice's teachers saw it, too, as her grades suffered and her gregarious personality dimmed.
"She just didn't laugh as much, you know? And she had the most beautiful laugh," Hanlon said.
One of Cherice's peers at a church counseling group broke the news to Hanlon in 2008: Cherice, then 14, had been raped by Stacey Rambold, a business teacher at Billings Senior High School. He was 35 years older than Cherice.
Hanlon set aside her disappointment that Cherice hadn't confided in her and called the police. As news of the sexual assault disseminated through their hometown of Billings, Montana, Cherice was ostracized and bullied. Her mood grew darker.
As Rambold's case traversed the court system -- during which the teacher confessed to repeatedly raping the girl in his home, car and office in 2007 -- Hanlon came home one day to find Cherice in Hanlon's bed, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
It was February 6, 2010 --2½ weeks shy of Cherice's 17th birthday.
This week, hundreds of protesters converged on a park adjacent to Yellowstone County Courthouse, armed with a petition thousands of signatures strong, demanding that the judge who handed Rambold a 30-day jail sentence after Cherice's suicide step down.
He would recant and apologize later, but Judge G. Todd Baugh defended the sentence at the time by saying that Cherice looked older than her age and that the 14-year-old was as much in control of the situation as Rambold.
Cherice was tough, determined and certainly strong-willed, her mother said. Her raw honesty often offended people, and she rarely shied away from telling someone how she felt.
But how could she be in control? Especially being two years younger than Montana's age of consent? Her mother wonders.
Hanlon has done numerous interviews in her quest to unseat Baugh from the bench he's held since 1984 and prompt a judicial review of the case. On Friday, she took a break from rehashing the rape, suicide and sentencing to look back on her daughter -- not the victim, but the older sister to John, Buck and Aulyicia who believed in unicorns and loved strawberry cheesecake, camping and making sandwiches.
"She could probably out-cook Subway -- vegetables on everything," her mother said.
In many ways Cherice was a typical kid. Her mother called her "Dada," a play on "daughter," while everyone else called her Cherry, the name her aunt gave her the day she was born.
She enjoyed walking the family's pit bulls, Demon and Kitty, one named for a character in "Snow Dogs," the other named for fun. A 15-year-old Cherice banged up a car and the backyard fence trying to take the canines for a ride, Hanlon said.
Mother and daughter were always introducing each other to new things. Cherice gave her mom the "Cirque du Freak" vampire series, and Hanlon reciprocated by acquainting Cherice with Stephen Donaldson's "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant."
Hanlon's fondness for the supernatural went only so far, though. Cherice would have to go elsewhere to watch her scary movies.
"I don't do horror flicks," Hanlon said.
The two shared plenty of other interests, though -- namely music. Hanlon enjoyed listening to Puddle of Mudd, Will Smith and Cherice's favorite band, Nickelback, while her daughter grew to love Pink Floyd and Melissa Etheridge.
"We'd be down in the living room -- crank it up, open the windows, open the doors and she danced," Hanlon said, recalling how she and Cherice listened to their favorite tunes. "She was a pretty good headbanger, and she had the hair for it."
Cherice also loved the outdoors. She'd climb "the Rimrocks," the scenic sandstone bluffs overlooking Billings from where Hanlon, as a kid, would try to throw rocks at airplanes leaving the nearby airport.
When the family went to Delmo Lake or Red Lodge -- two of Cherice's favorite camping spots -- she'd refuse to take shelter in the motor home. She and her close friend, Tiffany, would stay outside in Cherice's battered tent, which leaked. The pair got soaked several times, Hanlon said.
In school, Cherice often excelled. Her teachers described her as gifted -- both academically and artistically -- and an energetic hard worker. She was insatiably curious, and if she didn't know the answer to something, "she was the type who was going to look it up," her mother said.
Yet despite her intelligence, her grades would occasionally flag, not because she couldn't grasp the subject matter but because it didn't interest her, her mother said. The arts, thankfully, always intrigued her, whether it manifested itself in dance or her abstract doodles.
She also enjoyed poetry, and Hanlon described her daughter's style as "darker," reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe. But that wasn't always the case.
Hanlon recalls Cherice's last gift to her. Her daughter asked what she wanted for Christmas, and Hanlon replied that she'd like a poem. Cherice scribed an ode to her and her mother's relationship.
Asked to describe the sonnet, Hanlon hesitated before finding the words.
"We scrap. But in the end, we love, no matter what -- that sort of thing."