Civil rights activists rallied for answers Thursday in the drowning of an 8-year-old Hephzibah boy, saying that if Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree does not launch a full investigation, a “national movement” will come to Augusta.
Gathering in front of John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said it was serving notice to the sheriff that justice will be had for Jon Stevens. The McBean Elementary School second-grader drowned April 13 while cleaning a residential swimming pool, according to sheriff’s Investigator Ashley Pletcher.
“This is serious business,” said the Rev. Charles Steele Jr., the president emeritus and CEO of the SCLC, based in Atlanta. “We are not going to let a city like this sit idly by and not find out who murdered this young man. We are getting ready to march. We are getting ready to demonstrate. We are getting to raise hell and go to jail.”
More than 25 people protested outside the courthouse, holding signs that read “Justice for Jon,” “Operation Incomplete” and “Answers for April 13, 2013.”
The boy’s mother, Jeannette Stevens, told the crowd that her top priority is learning the truth about his death, which she believes resulted after the child, who was not a swimmer or a fan of water, was pushed or injured in or near
the pool in his Hunters Mill neighborhood.
Among the questions the SCLC and the Stevens family want answered:
• Why is the shirt Jon was wearing when he died missing, and why did police wait three weeks to seize the boy’s shoes as evidence?
• Why have sheriff’s investigators ruled the case an accidental drowning despite the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s saying it would be three months until an autopsy is completed?
• Why did sheriff’s deputies wait four hours after Jon was reported missing to search the pool in which he was last seen?
• Why haven’t detectives conducted individual follow-up interviews with witnesses to verify the
events leading up to the drowning and debunk any suspicion of a cover-up?
“This is not a black-and-white issue. It’s a wrong-and-right issue,” said Stevens, her hands trembling and face streaked with tears. “My son was murdered, and I want someone to give me the truth … instead of ignoring the case.”
Stevens said investigators have not contacted her since visiting her home May 6 and promising to re-interview key witnesses, whose accounts of the deaths reportedly have changed.
Lt. Calvin Chew, a sheriff’s office spokesman, said that the case remains under investigation and that the agency “will not comment further until its completion.”
Neighbor Brooke Johnson was among the first to dive into the pool in search of Jon on April 13, going in about midnight, 90 minutes before authorities pulled the boy from the muddy water.
“From what I know of Jon, he being in my house, he would not have gotten in that pool, being the way it was,” said Johnson, whose daughter attended school with Jon. “The stories have changed since the drowning, and we need answers.”
Kisha Thomas, Jon’s godmother, said a lack of answers and flurry of suspicion have made finding any closure hard for the family.
“Jon was a very bright and gifted child,” said Thomas, who added that Jon helped her 12-year-old daughter with school work at times. “This is not in his character, and we are shocked the sheriff’s office has not done anything further. It’s almost like they do not care.”