‘Mother of all Saints’: How Cassi Tejeda taught the world to laugh


Cassi Tejeda and Courtney Kendall take an adventure to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco. Photo taken by Cassi Tejeda

Cassi Tejeda, 22, and her partner Courtney Kendall, 24, lost their lives in Chico on Jan. 30 when an allegedly drunk driver crashed into their stopped vehicle near Neal Dow Elementary.  

Cassi was a Chico State student from Visalia set to graduate in May. Courtney attended Louisiana State University and lived in Slidell, Louisiana. The two met online in 2017 and traveled on many adventures together during the pandemic. The tragedy of their deaths is felt by their many friends and family whose lives they changed for the better. 

The Orion reached out to Cassi and Courtney’s friends and family to learn more about their legacies.  

Cassi Tejeda loved to be around people and dreamt of becoming a teacher. She did not know what she wanted to teach but was willing to teach anything to fulfill her dream of helping others. Cassi chose history after some encouragement from a highschool teacher who had a profound impact on her.

Cassi made a pact with her hometown best friend, Lindsey Jones, after attending Chico Preview Day — promising they would enroll at Chico State and become Wildcats together. They both enrolled at Chico State, but as high school graduation arrived, Lindsey got accepted to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and decided to go there instead. She and Cassi remained friends.

Cassi had a fun personality: she was goofy, a trickster — a person who loved playing innocent pranks on people to make them laugh. Cassi’s mom, Jennfer Sanchez, said Cassi could make a joke out of everything and always tried to lighten the mood. She brightened any room.

Sanchez became pregnant with Cassi at 15 years old and gave birth a month after turning 16. Cassi was raised by her maternal grandpa and with her aunts while growing up alongside her mom. She was five years older than her sister Chelsea and 10 years older than Madison. 

Young Cassi Tejeda and her grandfather Paul on a soccer field
Cassi Tejeda and her grandfather Paul take a photo together while Cassi is on the soccer field. Photo taken by Jennifer Sanchez

“Everybody just looked up to her, not just her nieces and nephews, but her aunts, too,” Cassi’s aunt Ashley said. “She was so brave, everyone just admired her and everything she did.”

Cassi’s stepdad, Josh Justice, was a part of her life since age 3. He said her confidence and prankster personality came from her mom, but her love for video games came from him. She loved to play “Call Of Duty,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “Saints Row.” Lindsey said Cassi liked to snack on hot Funyuns and candy while gaming. 

Cassi played many sports but had a special love for soccer. Sanchez said she loved working as a team and serving something bigger.

“We tried to put her in everything and let her try everything, ” Sanchez said.

Cassi loved DIY projects and carpentry. Sanchez said that Cassi would frequently pick up discarded furniture and refurbish it into something beautiful. 

During football season, her aunts and uncles would rally for the New Orleans Saints. Cassi was a die-hard fan who would fly out for games. As the oldest of 14 grandchildren, all Saints fans, Cassi earned the title and was deemed “Mother of all Saints.” 

“She’s always been a Saints fan,” Sanchez said. “She picked it up at an early age before she had met Courtney.” 

Cassi came out her freshman year and brought Courtney Kendall home to meet her parents for Thanksgiving in 2018. They met online and instantly hit it off: Courtney was from Slidell, Louisiana, and shared Cassi’s love of the Saints. 

When not in school, Cassi traveled to Louisiana. The pandemic allowed her to spend more time with Courtney, so she wasn’t in Chico that often. She made month-long visits to the South and attended classes online through Zoom. She dreamed of seeing the world. 

Lindsey traveled with Cassi to Louisiana to visit Courtney in August 2020. They ate Cajun food with Courtney’s friends and enjoyed a fun adventure. 

“They would go out with their friends and they would eat at all the local Louisiana kitchen places,” Lindsey said.

They also had some good times in Chico. 

“I tried to get her back here as much as I could, her and Courtney,” said Serra Wells, Cassi’s former roommate and college best friend. “I loved them together.”

Cassi and Serra first met when university housing randomly placed them together. Cassi tried teasing her the first day saying she wasn’t even enrolled at Chico State so how could they even be roommates. 

The two would scooter around downtown trying different food spots. Cassi made it hard to feel sad, Wells said, and she never let anything bring her down.

Cassi was always down for a spontaneous adventure — no matter the time. They would drive up the ridge on Highway 32 in the middle of the night just to stargaze and talk about life. 

Cassi first introduced Courtney the summer going into the second semester of that year.

“Courtney was the one who had Cassi’s back when Cassi didn’t even realize that she needed her back to be had,” Serra said. ”Courtney was always the one who wanted to protect her.”

Cassi carried a contagious smile and positive energy.

“She was confident and unapologetically herself,” Serra said. “She was her own person, but her family was her world, her mom especially and her sisters.”

Cassi’s family held a “Celebration of Life” service at The Gardens in Tulare on Feb. 22, and Chico State lowered its flag in her memory on Feb. 4. 

Cassi is survived by her mother, Jennifer Sanchez and her father, Jerrod Tejeda. She is also survived by her sisters, Chelsea and Madison Sandoval and her grandparents, Paul Sanchez, Raquel Castano, Terry Patel and Joe Tejeda. 

Any tributes or condolences can be left at the Miller Memorial Chapel.

Ava Norgrove and Melvin Bui can be reached at [email protected] or @AvaNorgrove and @MelvinBuii_ on Twitter.