How does a Boy Scout, who is considered to be a good swimmer, drown in front of 31 schoolmates and nine adult chaperones and no one notices? That is the question on the mind of Tomari Jackson’s mother.
Freshman student of North Cobb High School, 14-year-old Tomari Aliijah Jackson, was to have the time of his life on a week long mission trip to Belize with 31 other schoolmates. The well loved talented flute player of the school’s freshman band arrived in Belize on Saturday, February 13, and headed west to the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where the team would have spent five days on a field trip. Plans were also in place to celebrate Tomari’s 15th birthday on Monday, February 15. Unfortunately, the trip went tragically wrong just hours after the students landed in Belize.
Soon after they arrived at the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary the students went for a swim in the Sibun River at Tiger Sandy Bay. Mathew Miller, Managing Director of the Sanctuary, said there were three tour guides along with the six chaperones to watch the children. “It is a known bathing spot, Miller said, “It’s a shallow area; there is not a strong current; it’s even a little back eddy where there is calm water. Tomari was swimming with his Go Pro camera, his swimming goggles, his grey shirt and his blue shorts—going under and coming up.”
No one even realized Tomari was missing until the group was heading in and a head count was conducted. When he could not be found, the tour guides and chaperones searched the area and river. Police were called to the location at around 5 p.m. They requested assistance from a search team of the Belize Coastguard. An extensive search was conducted in which a team of Coastguard seamen, tour guides and local swimmers combed the area for any sign of Jackson. It was not until a few minutes before 3 a.m. that local divers found Jackson’s body some 25 feet below the water. An autopsy report issued on Jackson’s birthday, Monday, February 15, stated that he died from asphyxia as a result of drowning.
Jackson’s mother, Adell Forbes, was informed by United States Embassy officials that her son was missing shortly after Belize police were called to the sanctuary. She had already began preparations to travel to Belize to help look for her child when she received a call early Sunday morning informing her that Tomari’s body was found under water. Needless to say, Forbes is demanding some answers. She wants to know how it is that no one noticed that Tomari was missing before they boarded the bus. She sent her child with 31 other students and six chaperones and no one even missed her son in the water. Forbes also informed the American press that Tomari was a Boy Scout and a pretty good swimmer so she was surprised to find out that he died while swimming shallow water. Forbes said she trusted officials at her son’s school to keep him safe during the week-long trip.
The rest of the mission team returned to Georgia on Monday, February 15, six days earlier than planned. The school has already put in place counseling sessions for the distraught students. Tomari’s mother says she is hoping that someone will come forward and shed light on what happened in the moments leading to his death because it is still a mystery to her.