TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Pagan community lost one of its members in an apartment fire early Monday morning. Leticia Gill, also known as Tisha Gill, and her mother Rhonda Gill were killed after becoming trapped in the burning building. According to the most recent reports, the fire has been ruled arson, set by a downstairs neighbor. Because of that designation, Tisha’s and her mother’s deaths are being treated as homicides.Born Feb. 15, 1975, Tisha was a solitary Hellenic Dianic Witch who had just begun reaching out into the local Pagan community. She was a member of the Coven of the Sacred Moon located in Topeka, and she helped to create Topeka Pagan Gatherings, attending the group’s local “coffee events” when possible.
Kansas Pagan Jeannie Hazelwood said, “I met [Tisha] while working on the Pagan Pride committee a couple years ago. We spent a good amount of time together as part of that effort and got to know each other. We met for coffee a couple times. I had invited her to join us for ritual a couple times. She had never been to festival so we invited her to join us at Heartland this year, loaned her a tent, shared our camp, and watched as she bloomed and blossomed with the new experience.”
Tisha lived with her mother and two cats Castor and Pollux, both of whom also are presumed to have been victims of the blaze. In an interview with a local news station, Tisha’s aunt Jessica Jones said Tisha and Rhonda were very close, calling the two “inseparable.” Jones added, “I really feel like I am in a nightmare, a nightmare slash dream, I’m here I’m kinda numb.”
Tisha was the oldest of five children and graduated from Topeka West High School in 1993. She was employed at Math Tutor, and studying to be a forensic scientist at Washburn University.
She was also known as a poet and musician, and was involved with several online poetry forums. She published some of work directly on her Facebook page. One of her last poems, titled Moonfire, begins:
“A Silver Flame
Ignites my heart
Its mercurial heat
Searing my skin
Bringing a vitality
A quickening within…”
– from Moonfire by Tisha Gill (July 8, 2016)
Tisha had recently attended a workshop given by ritualist, artist, teacher and performer Shauna Aura Knight, who was “saddened to learn” of her death. Knight said, “I did not know her very well, I had only met her that night, but she had lots of plans for her life and was very excited to be reaching for them.”
Knight added, “[My] workshop was about finding your personal magic and reaching for your dreams so this is a little heartbreaking especially because of that.”
Tisha had also promised that she would bring her violin to the next ritual that Knight held in the Topeka area. Knight said, “Many blessings on your journey, Tisha. I wish we’d have gotten that chance to musically jam together.”
“Higher, higher- I am lifted
Of lost Happiness- I am gifted
Blessed by the Divine
I am given what is truly mine.
The vision of the tungsten blaze.
Enlightening my eyes with its glaring gaze.”
– from Moonfire by Tisha Gill
According to investigators, the fire was intentionally started by the Gills’ downstairs neighbor in her own living room. Some speculate that the neighbor’s motive was suicide, but no official reports have been issued confirming that theory.
The morning blaze quickly spread upward, trapping the Gills in their home. The mother and daughter were unable to escape through their only means of exit, the front door. They hid in a closet in a back bedroom with the hopes of surviving.
The Topeka Fire Marshall told local media, “Fire crews arrived to find heavy smoke and flames coming from the rear of the apartment building, with flames engulfing all exterior stairways and four apartments.” Neighbors did reportedly attempt to rescue the women, but were unsuccessful. The downstairs neighbor. who allegedly started the fire, was also killed in the blaze.Since family, friends, and community members received the tragic news, there has been an outpouring of support. Topeka Pagan Gatherings will be hosting a Pagan Passing Blessing and Candlelight Vigil in Tisha’s honor. Members will be gathering at the rose garden in Gage Park Sunday at 5:00 pm to “offer blessings and stories about Tisha among fellow Pagans and friends.”
Later that same night, family and friends will be gathering at 10:00 pm for another candlelight vigil – this one at White Concert Hall located on the Washburn University campus.
A friend, who asked to remain anonymous, explained, “Tisha and her mother would take nightly walks. Just Sunday evening Rhonda was telling me about the fox that visits them when they are sitting on the steps of White Concert Hall. So what better place to honor their memory but where they got such great enjoyment with the moonlight and nature.”
In addition, family member Chelcee Gill has set up a “Rhonda and Letitia Gill Memorial Fund” to help with the funeral costs.
In remembrance, Jeannie Hazelwood said, “[Tisha] was the kind of person who loved every new experience and had an innate curiosity. She was extremely intelligent, but at the same time had an innocence and naive quality that allowed her to fully experience the wonder of new knowledge and experiences.”
Close friend and fellow classmate Joy Spicer posted on Facebook, “Tisha was clever, exquisitely beautiful, so funny, earthy, a lover of G’d and nature, and a gentler, truer friend is hard to find.”
Another friend, Adolphus Coleman, posted, “Such a beautiful spirit. When I had nothing to write about you gave me inspiration. When I battled depression you were there with encouragement. When ever I thought about giving up you’d send me a quick inbox.”
And, in Tisha’s own words:
Sweat begins to fill my pores
Coolness covers me
I am drenched from head to toe
The inferno grows bigger,
whiter It now consumes me.
My transformation is now complete
The old self is long and gone
Purged and shed away
Liveliness has granted me Rebirth
I have become anew.”
– From Moonfire by Tisha Gill
What is remembered, lives!