Zaadii, age 3. (Photo: Zaadii Foundation)
Zaadii Tozhon Tso always wore superhero capes.
His life revolved around superhero movies such as “Ultraman” and “Batman.” But he never had the chance to become a real-life superhero. His life was cut short by a distracted driver on Feb. 22, 2015, when Zaadii was only 3 years old.
Zaadii died at the hospital of injuries from the accident. His mother, Rachel Tso Cox, said the doctors said her son felt no pain. She attributed that to the superhero cape that Zaadii was wearing during the accident, saying that it always made him feel strong.
Now, more than five years after his death, he is getting a cape of his own as one of the first Navajo comic book superheroes.
Zaadii is the hero of the new comic book “Zaadii: The Legend of Z-Hawk,” revealed at New York Comic Con’s virtual event Thursday morning.
The birth of Batman: Every great superhero needs a cape
Zaaditozhon, or Zaadii, was born 11 days late on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 2011, so his family nicknamed him Mr. Eleventy, according to Cox.
Zaadii: The Legend of Z-Hawk, the backstory for Zaadii Tozhon Tso. (Photo: Unfinished Stories)
He grew up with two older sisters and attended Star Charter School in Flagstaff, which educates kids as young as 3. Cox said Zaadii loved school more than anything. Except maybe superheroes.
He also loved his sisters. His older sister, Bahozhoni, had an Elsa cape from “Frozen,” and Zaadii would always wear it, running around like a superhero.
“I had to get him a cape of his own,” Cox said.
She opened Amazon and scrolled through the costumes with Zaadii hugging her side.
“Then I found Batman, and we saw it had a cape and he just loved it. So I ordered it,” Cox said.
Cox also ordered the “Batman” movie starring Adam West, which she said piqued Zaadii’s interest in superheroes.
“The costume came a few days after the movie,” she said, “He put it on in the beginning of October, and the child did not take it off,” she said laughing.
According to Cox, Batman became Zaadii’s identity.
Zaadii dressed up in his favorite Batman costume. (Photo: Zaadii Foundation)
“As soon as he put the mask on … he would go into the Batman voice, and boy, he was a character!” Cox said.
The family even had to come up with creative ways to get him out of the costume to wash the suit. On one occasion, the only way Cox could get Zaadii to take a bath and wash the suit was to bathe him in the costume.
“At the time I was so frustrated, like he had to get clean, the costume had to get clean, I just said, ‘Ugh! I’m just bathing you two together,'” she said, laughing about the memory.
Batman leads a drummer’s dance at school
Zaadii arrived at school in his Superman costume, as usual, on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. The school had a cultural assembly that day that featured an African drummer, according to Cox.
“As soon as he started drumming, Zaadii jumped up off the bleachers in his Batman costume, ran up to the drummer, and started dancing,” Cox said.
Zaadii’s teacher went to chase and return him to sit peacefully with the other kids; however, the drummer encouraged Zaddii to keep dancing, Cox said. The drummer asked for his name, and the teacher told the drummer that his name was Zaadii.
“I’m not Zaadii, I’m Batman!” Zaadii hollered, according to Cox.
“Well, everybody, be like Batman,” the drummer said. “Get up and dance!”
The entire school, including teachers and administration, danced to the beat of the drums, according to Cox.
“I feel like that is such a perfect ending for him at that school, leading everyone in a dance,” Cox said with tears in her eyes.
The fall of Batman at the wheel of a distracted driver
It was storming on the followingSunday.
Cox teaches video journalism at Northern Arizona University, and she was working tirelessly on a documentary project. It just needed one more shot: the storm.
She needed a specific lens for a quality time-lapse shot and was headed to Best Buy in Flagstaff for the perfect one.
Cox remembered Zaadii and Bahozhoni begging to come with, and she saidit had to be a quick run, in and out.
“He put his shoes on, and he put them on the wrong sides with no socks,” Cox said. Zaadii was also wearing his infamous Batman costume.
The trip inside Best Buy was quick, and Cox said she remembered Zaadii being extremely well-behaved. To reward both his and his sister’s good manners, she treated them to pink soda at a nearby market.
“After, we walked back to Best Buy, where I was parked. It would have been faster and easier to walk through the parking lot, but I was veryadamant about teaching the kids how to cross streets properly … so we walked across the crosswalk,” Cox said.
Cox remembers making her kids look both ways, and the three of them held hands crossing the street.
When they were almost to the sidewalk, a distracted 66-year-old driver made a sharp right turn in the wrong lane, swiping Cox and Bahozhoni onto the hood of the car and pulling Zaadii beneath the tire, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.
“I felt his hand get pulled out from me,” Cox said, crying.
Bahozhoni suffered injuries to her hip and pelvic bone, and Cox suffered injuries to her right side including a broken leg.
As Zaadii was in the hospital, his family, friends and school staff came to the hospital to sing the traditional Navajo traveling song.
“His very last heartbeat was at the last beat of that song, and it was almost like a movie. It was so tragic and traumatic but beautiful at the same time because he was surrounded by so many people who loved him,” Cox said through tears.
She believes he passed in the most peaceful way he could have.
“I know he wanted to live, I know he loved his life so much,” Cox said. “A kid raised with so much love and support. I just expected him to change the world, honestly.”
Cox grieves over her fallen hero
“It felt very unfair, it still feels very unfair. We were doing everything right, we were holding hands, we were using the crosswalk,” Cox said.
In the nine days following the death of her son, Cox followed Navajo practices to help guide his spirit.
She also found support in the MISS Foundation, which helps families grieving the death of a child.
Now, Cox serves as a MISS group leader for others in Flagstaff or on the Navajo Nation.
“I don’t think I would ever say the grief gets better, all I would say is that you just get stronger,” Cox said.
“Zaadii believing that he was a superhero helped because now I feel like I have to be that for him,” she said. “And I have coped by trying to be the person Zaadii believed me to be.”
Cox lives out Zaadii’s purpose every day through the Zaadii Foundation, which works to raise awareness about distracted driving. She does kindness campaigns and book drives, and speaks at high schools to discuss the importance of mindfulness when driving.
The Zaadii Foundation encourages others to take a pledge against distracted driving.
Zaadii Foundation supporters taking a pledge against distracted driving (Photo: Zaadii Foundation)
The Rise of Z-Hawk: Bringing Zaadii’s legacy back to life
“To the innocents of this city and the bad guys that try to hurt them … I have another name. They call me Z-Hawk … and I am a protector,” reads “Zaadii: The Legend of Z-Hawk.”
The comic novel was released on Thursday through Travelers’Unfinished Stories series, which tells the stories of those killed by distracted driving.
Zaadii: The Legend of Z-Hawk comic cover, released Oct. 8, 2020. (Photo: Unfinished Stories)
“It is a grieving mother’s dream come true,” Cox said. “It just feels so good because it allows his life to keep shining, and for him to live on in a great way.”
The comic was written and illustrated by Gail Simone, J. Calafiore and Jeffrey Veregge, three notable names in the comic book community.
“We hadn’t seen anybody take the approach of ‘what might have been,’ so what we found in Zaadii’s story … is a story that resonates with people broadly but certainly in the eyes of their families, friends and loved ones. It’s an effort to honor their memories,” said Michael Klein with Travelers.
The book is available in PDF format and on the Travelers website (https://www.travelers.com).
Cox is grateful for the company’s work to bring about awareness to the issue of distracted driving, and for helping Zaadii’s memory live on.
“I actually took the comic book out to the gravesite, and read each page down on the grave … so that he could see it, I guess,” Cox said crying. “I know he would have been really happy.”
Reach breaking news reporter Katelyn Keenehan at Katelyn.Keenehan@ArizonaRepublic.com or follow her on Twitter @KatelynKeenehan.
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