Untimely End to a Turbulent Life : Memorial: Death of Channon Phipps, who as an HIV-positive hemophiliac fought to attend public school, is mourned.


The family and friends of Channon Lee Phipps gathered here Wednesday to mourn the 20-year-old’s death and reflect on his tragic, well-publicized odyssey as a hemophiliac who had to battle AIDS, a school system that did not want him and the guardian who betrayed him.

Phipps died early Tuesday of complications associated with his hemophilia and AIDS.

He was a gap-toothed fifth-grader when he contracted the AIDS virus via tainted blood products, and he quickly gained statewide attention in 1985 when he became the first California student barred from a public campus for being HIV-positive.

Phipps’ struggles were overshadowed nationally by the drama of Ryan White of Indiana, a youngster whose earlier campaign to return to school and speak out for the rights of people with AIDS drew far more publicity. While White enjoyed the company of celebrities, Phipps was dealing with an increasingly difficult home life.


Deborha Franckewitz, Phipps’ aunt and guardian, was by his side in 1986 when he won his courtroom fight to return to school, but seven years later the pair returned to the legal arena on different sides. In May, 1993, Franckewitz was sentenced to nine months in jail for siphoning $52,000 from her ailing nephew’s trust fund.

“I just want her to leave me alone,” Phipps said at the time. His travails were not over, however. Later that same year, Phipps pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine, his second drug offense. Awaiting sentencing, he told a Times reporter that the drugs were a way to escape his bouts with depression.

“I’d really like to go away somewhere where nobody knows me and start over,” he said.

Phipps had been buffeted by misfortune since his birth to teen-age parents grappling with drug addictions. Raised instead by his aunt, he wasn’t reunited with his parents until his teen years. Both his mother and father died shortly thereafter. His aunt, who was 18 when she took Phipps in, died this year at age 38, family members said.

Even Phipps’ triumphant fight to attend Rancho Canada Elementary School eventually ended sourly. As he moved on to junior high, the taunts of new classmates, the threat of a germ-filled environment and his own failing health pushed him toward resignation. A fistfight in seventh grade was the final straw. Phipps quit school.

On Wednesday, about two dozen mourners, including Phipps’ fiancee, Lisa Shultis, attended the memorial service at McCormick & Son Mortuary. The family declined to comment, but a circle of young friends milling about after the brief service smiled through tears as they recalled Phipps’ bravery and fun-loving personality.

“You’ll never meet anybody like him again,” said Darin Lopicolo, 20, of Laguna Hills. “He was one of a kind, the best.”


Other mourners spoke of the skateboarding enthusiast’s zeal for life, his sense of humor and his bravery in the face of his eroding health.

“He always went out of his way to help others,” said Shauna Burlin, 19, a close friend of Shultis. “He was very strong.”

Irene Emerson of Lake Forest attended the service wearing the T-shirt of a summer camp for hemophiliacs that Phipps once attended. Emerson said she lost two sons, Steve and Richard, when the AIDS epidemic began ravaging the population of hemophiliacs in the 1980s. Her younger son, Steve, was among Phipps’ best friends, Emerson said.

“Most of the hemophiliacs are dead; almost all of them have died,” Emerson said as she left the memorial service. “When I heard Channon had died, I began thinking of who I should call to let them know. But there isn’t anybody. They’re all dead.”

Phipps is survived by his grandparents, Glenn and Doshia Brents of Caliente. The family has requested a private burial at an undisclosed site.