The mother of a teenager who drowned during a school trip to Belize is suing the Georgia school district, nine of the trip chaperones, the trip organizer, and his company.
In heartbreaking irony, the camera that the mother bought for her son to record the adventures of his trip ended up recording details of his death instead.
Tomari Jackson, 14, drowned while swimming in a river among 31 other North Cobb High School students. Despite crying, “Help! Help!” splashing another student, and grabbing a muddy riverbank where others were playing, the teen drowned.
Two months ago, Jackson’s mother, Adell Forbes, watched a video of his drowning recorded from the camera that had been strapped to Jackson’s head during the incident. The video, shown during the trial, has not been released to the public.
Forbes’ lawsuit claims that the school and the owner of Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize who planned the trip did not take enough precautions to prevent her son’s death or monitor the students who were not wearing life vests.
Due to the litigation, Forbes was not allowed to watch the video of the drowning when she received the camera. She delivered the FedEx package to her attorneys who recorded the opening of the parcel to prove there had been no tampering with the footage. They also recorded Forbes watching the video for the first time.
“She just wanted to know what happened to her child, and the video gave her that answer, but it was a bittersweet pill,” Hoffler said.
The nearly 40-minute video began with Jackson taking off his Crocs, going into ankle-deep water, and floating downriver 30 or 40 yards with other students where the water became 25-feet deep.
“He was swimming, then he’s getting out of breath,” Hoffler said. “He just couldn’t do it anymore.”
When the staff took a headcount an hour later, Jackson’s Crocs were still on the riverbank. His body was found by divers the next day—February 14, 2016.
Forbes’ attorneys do not know why the camera was not returned with Jackson’s body and personal belongings, although it is believed that farmers in Belize found the camera, gave it to the owner of Monkey Bay, who then forwarded it to the U.S. Embassy, which notified Forbes.
“I’m led to believe from after looking at the video that his safety was never a priority or a concern and that is just beyond amazing,” Forbes said. “It breaks my heart a thousand times more just from looking at it.”
Forbes was not present in the courtroom during the showing of the video.
“Today marks 14 months, 14 months. Yesterday was 14 months of his death, but today marks 14 months that I woke up with the realization that I will never see my son again,” she said.
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