Boston has launched a review of protocols at all its summer camps after a young boy was found drowned at a beach after disappearing from a South Boston day camp.
On Tuesday, July 26, 2015, at approximately 7:09 p.m., 7-year-old Kyzr Willis was recovered by police in the water behind the L Street Bathhouse at the Curley Community Center after he wandered away unnoticed from camp.
“My heart goes out to the family,” Police Commissioner William B. Evans told reports at the scene. “This is a tragedy.”
Willis was attending a drop-in summer day camp at the Curley Community Center when he went missing. The South Boston community center where the camp is held includes a bathhouse at Carson Beach where the boy was last scene at around 2:15 p.m. He could not be found when his mother came to pick him up less than an hour later.
According to Evans, at 2:49 p.m. police received reports that a child had gone missing from the Community Center.
Upon arrival, police began an intensive interdepartmental search of the neighborhood including the area around the boy’s home in Dorchester, they further searched near the water and shoreline on the ground as well as from the air. Four hours after the initial police call the boy’s body was located about 15 yards from the shore of the bathhouse.
An autopsy will determine how long the boy was in the water, but early estimates state that Willis’ body had been in the water for at least 3 hours.
After receiving reports of the tragic drowning, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh issued a statement Tuesday. “The City of Boston is devastated to learn of the tragic loss of Kysr Willis, and I will be working closely with Boston Centers for Youth and Families and the Boston Police Department until we know exactly what happened,” he further stated, “My heart is broken for the Willis family and my thoughts and prayers will be with them.”
Walsh, who was returning from the Democratic National Contention in Philadelphia, meet with the family of the young boy Wednesday afternoon. “I can’t imagine the sadness, the anger, what they have today in their hearts,” Walsh told reporters.
Boston city officials and police have launched a major investigation to determine what happened. Investigators are trying to determine when the community center first realized that Willis was missing. There were no surveillance cameras in the area.
“We don’t have all the particulars of what happened. There’s a lot of unanswered questions that we still have to figure out,” Walsh said.
The day camp where Willis was enrolled is drop-in program run by the Boston Center for Youth Families (BCYF), a city-run agency. The drop-in program is held year-round and, unlike the city’s summer camps, does not require enrollment. Therefore, the number of children in the program can change on any given day.
The South Boston day camp had approximately 52 children on Tuesday and was staffed by 25 trained teenage assistance as well and 2 supervisors and 1 director.
Investigators are trying to determine when the community center first realized that Willis was missing. When police questioned the teenage supervisors during the search, no one had any information about Kyzr’s whereabouts.
One family friend, Sherie Seymore, asked the question on the minds of many in the South Boston Neighborhood: why, if someone saw him go alone into the bathhouse, did no one check to ensure he safely left the bathhouse?
Summer camps have a duty to reasonably supervise and monitor children with adequately trained staff. Massachusetts’ courts have recognized the risk of serious injury and death whenever a young child is unsupervised. This danger is heightened when the child is unsupervised anywhere near an open body of water.
Sadly, drowning accidents are an all too common occurrence. According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, fatal drowning remains the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death to children ages one to fourteen. Risk factors for drowning include lack of swimming ability, lack of proper barriers (generally around swimming pools), location, medical issues, and as happened in Kyzr Willis’ case: lack of close supervision.
In a press release, Walsh announced that the city would be reviewing protocols at community centers throughout the city, as well as assessing all summer camps and drop-in centers run by the city.
The director of the community center where Willis had been reported missing has since been placed on paid leave pending the investigation. Mayor Walsh vowed that “[w]e’re going to find out what happened and when we do, we’ll take appropriate action.”
In the meantime the South Boston BCYF’s day camp will be closed until further notice.