In July of 2016, Kyzr Willis, a 7-year-old boy who was participating in a city-sponsored drop day camp, went missing at Carson Beach in South Boston, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, a few hours after he was discovered missing, his body was found in the water. The Boston Police Department (“BPD”) is investigating Kyzr Willis’s death, but has not provided Willis’s family with his autopsy report or returned his personal effects.
Kyzr was one of 56 children who was dropped off on July 26, 2016 at the South Boston’s Center’s for Youth and Families at the Curley Center. The camp ran between 10 AM to 3 PM, Monday through Friday. It was supervised by 25 teenage counselors, two supervisors, and the director of the Curley Center. Carson Beach also had eight lifeguards, two of which were assigned to the section of the beach that was partitioned off specifically for the use of the camp’s children. Unfortunately, neither the camp supervisor nor the two life guards at the beach noticed when Kyzr Willis wandered away from the group.
After Kyzr Willis went missing, the camp called the Boston Police Department, but according to Kyzr Willis’s mother, did not inform her of her son’s disappearance. Instead, her nine-year old niece called her to inform her that Kyzr Willis was missing. A BPD officer reported that the camp counselors were completely unaware of where Kyzr Willis was. As such, BPD initially focused on a land search, believing that he had wandered off to his home in Dorchester.
It is possible for families to recover damages when their children are injured due to the negligence of counselors at summer camps. In these cases, the theory of negligence would be negligent supervision. In Massachusetts, regulations require that teenage counselors must be trained and there needs to be at least one supervisory staff person for every ten campers over six. Regulations also state that “each recreational camp for children which conducts specialized or high risk activities, either on or off-site, including, but not limited to, horseback riding, hiking, scuba diving, rock climbing, firearms, canoeing and aquatic events, shall conduct such activities only under the supervision of a counselor who has evidence of appropriate training, certification and experience in each activity under his or her supervision. Said counselor shall be present during periods of such activity.”
It was clear in Kyzr Willis’s case that the counselors breached their duty of care when they failed to know his whereabouts. Their failure allowed Kyzr to wander off and caused his death. Unfortunately, there are some summer camp cases where parents sign waivers that release camps for their negligent actions. For example, in Sharon v. City of Newton, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts determined that waivers that release the city for any negligence that may cause the injury of a participant in a city-sponsored program are enforceable, thereby precluding the family of the injured from attaining any personal injury recovery. In addition, waivers were found not to be in contravention of public policy but also not in contravention with Massachusetts Tort Claims Act.
The circumstances behind Kyzr Willis’s death is unclear. However, city officials have placed the center’s director on leave and have launched an internal investigation. The family’s lawyer has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the investigative report. The BPD has not provided them with any information regarding their investigation as of yet.