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Hephzibah mother asks for investigation into son's drowning

Monday, May 6, 2013 8:08 PM
Last updated 10:53 PM
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Suspicious circumstances surrounding the drowning of an 8-year-old Hephzibah boy has the mother asking the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the death as a homicide.

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Jeanette Stevens holds a photo of her son, Jon Stevens, 8, who drown recently in a neighbor's pool.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Jeanette Stevens holds a photo of her son, Jon Stevens, 8, who drown recently in a neighbor's pool.


Jeanette Stevens met with a county investigator for more than an hour Monday at her Hunters Mill home to raise questions that, in the three weeks since the death of her son Jon Stevens, have remained unanswered and, in her opinion, ignored.

Among Stevens’ chief concerns were why deputies waited four hours after she reported her child missing to search the swimming pool in which he was last seen on the evening of April 13 and why detectives have not conducted follow-up interviews to corroborate eyewitness accounts of the death.

Ashley Pletcher, the lead investigator in the case, said Monday that the investigation into the child’s death, initially ruled as accidental, remains open and that she plans to conduct a second interview with a key witness to determine whether foul play or a cover-up was involved.

A three-month backlog of autopsies at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Atlanta, however, could postpone any closure for the grieving woman.

“I am a mother, and this was my little sweetheart, my little baby,” Stevens said of Jon, the youngest of her four boys. “I have a feeling – no, I know – there is more to this story.”

Stevens last saw her son alive about 3 p.m. April 13, when she said the boy approached her to ask to go play with an 11-year-old friend.

Jon left the house wearing pants, a red SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt and unlaced sneakers. The T-shirt remains missing, and the sneakers – sealed in a plastic bag after the drowning – were seized Monday as evidence.

It is unclear what happened after Jon went to play.

The only thing that is certain is that he went across the street to a residence on Hunters Mill Court that was equipped with security cameras.

About 7:20 p.m., surveillance video at the house shows the child going inside.

Between 6:30 and 9:35 p.m., according to a police report, Jon and the friend went into the backyard, where two teenagers were using a net to gather rocks and debris, which had eroded into a pool – its water brown and cold – from a large hill behind the house.

After watching the two older children clean the pool, Jon entered the shallow end to help collect dirt, eyewitnesses said in an account that Stevens and others strongly contest.

Those with Jon remember seeing the boy in the pool, but after they went underwater, they reported hearing the metal gate to the backyard latch shut, leading them to believe Jon abruptly left without saying anything.

Stevens said her son did not know how to swim, always wore inflatables on his arms to stay afloat and avoided water, even at the beach.

Ally Gentile, the boy’s second-grade teacher at McBean Elementary School, said that Jon was clean and orderly and, as a student who was within one point of testing into gifted education, was not the type to carelessly go swimming in a muddy pool.

“I personally do not believe he got into that pool by accident,” Gentile said. “It’s out of his character.”

Stevens said the family first realized something was awry when the boy’s oldest brother could not find Jon about 9 p.m., the usual time he went to get his sibling after work.

Although an investigator said that she interviewed all those with Jon separately and they had consistent stories, the family disagrees, saying that one account of when Jon went home changed several times.

Stevens reported her child missing at 9:38 p.m. Two deputies responded, and with the help of 15 neighbors canvassed the neighborhood and searched the Stevens household, fearing the child had been abducted. A dive team was not called until 1 a.m., around which time Jon was pulled from the pool’s deep end.

“Why not search the pool first?” Stevens said.

The final autopsy will not be available until August, when coroners in Atlanta finish studying the child’s tissue and blood for the presence of drugs.

“Unfortunately, that is true,” Richmond County deputy pathologist Johnny McDonald said of the four-month wait to get tests completed. “It takes a long time.”

Jon’s death has hit the Hunters Mill neighborhood and the Hephzibah community hard.

“Jon really was an exceptional child who was always very friendly and willing to help others,” Gentile said. “His loss certainly will be felt.”

Neighbors and members of Ebenezer Rock Church in Hephzibah, where the Stevenses worship, have rallied around the family, demanding investigators uncover the facts about Jon’s death.

“This needs to be rectified,” said Angelo Hatcher, the pastor of Ebenezer Rock Church. “There are too many gaps and questions.”

Comments (8) Add comment
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nocnoc
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nocnoc 05/06/13 - 07:53 pm
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Sometimes things look different through a mothers eyes.

Ever way whatever the final outcome, it will be difficult for ANY mother to accept.

palmetto1008
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palmetto1008 05/06/13 - 08:03 pm
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Yes, nocnoc....I grieve for
Unpublished

Yes, nocnoc....I grieve for the mother and for the loss of that beautiful son...but mom will always be looking for answers to ease her pain...which, I'm afraid, may only become more distant but never go away.

CobaltGeorge
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CobaltGeorge 05/06/13 - 09:20 pm
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palmetto

You could not have made a more accurate statement.....I Know.

palmetto1008
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palmetto1008 05/06/13 - 09:42 pm
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I know, Cobalt, and I just
Unpublished

I know, Cobalt, and I just deleted an insensitive comment that I made on another thread...because I interpreted your comment on there to be just that. Apologies.

CobaltGeorge
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CobaltGeorge 05/07/13 - 06:49 am
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palmetto

No problem, understood.

I'm Back Again
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I'm Back Again 05/07/13 - 06:54 am
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As a father of 4 kids, I will
Unpublished

As a father of 4 kids, I will have to say this. I know it's always easy to point fingers at others when something bad happens. However, if I knew that my child was missing, and several neighbors told me they saw him/her playing in or near a pool, I would have jumped in head first looking for them. I would not have waited for the sheriffs office to show up and call the dive team.
I know this mom is extremely upset and I feel really sorry for her. But there are things parents do as parents, that others won't do as quickly for your own children. And as a former deputy, if I had gotten that call, and had I been given the information from the neighbors about the little boy playing near the pool, I would have jumped in myself, no matter what color the water was.
And as a side note:I would never allow my 8 year old boy to play until 9 at night with neighbors, knowing I haven't seen or checked on him in over 3 hours. But that's just me I guess.

augrichgal
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augrichgal 05/07/13 - 08:49 am
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Being a mother I agree with

Being a mother I agree with her. Someone would have to prove that there was no foul play if my child could not swim, decided to get in murky water and multiple people didnt see my child leave but said he left. Just doesnt sound right.

General Disarray
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General Disarray 05/07/13 - 09:12 am
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Good luck. When Richmond
Unpublished

Good luck. When Richmond county decides something isn't suspicious they don't really investigate it well. Just ask the family of Eva Nicole Markyna how much they care about suspicious deaths....

kaylakaren
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kaylakaren 05/07/13 - 04:50 pm
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Go with your gut feeling

Jeanette, don't second guess yourself. Anyone who followed this story knows that it doesn't add up. Be patient on the coroner's report, pray on it, and what is hidden in the dark must come to light. Be strong and remember that God never gives us more than we can bear. The truth must prevail.

JeannieD
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JeannieD 05/07/13 - 08:26 pm
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Pointing the finger

So, who was responsible for the supervision of the 8-year old between 3PM and 9:38 PM?

Pops
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Pops 05/08/13 - 09:20 am
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JeannieD

You nailed it.......game, set, match.....

Sweet son
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Sweet son 05/08/13 - 10:19 am
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@JeannieD and Pops

I too was thinking that hours of not supervising an 8 year old contributed to this senseless tragedy. When I was 8 it was ok because we lived in a different world; not today!

Also, CGee knows all about this kind of a situation and definitely understands Mom's grief!

JSTEVENS
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JSTEVENS 05/15/13 - 11:10 am
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JeannieD and Pops ... to

JeannieD and Pops ... to answer your question .. what this article does not tell you is that YES his brother went looking for him aroumd 4pm, 4:30pm; with the family still saying he was not there. It does not tell you that his mom and broithers had been looking for him, it doesn't say the the other surrounding neighbors, except the house in which he went to play, were all searching for him, then finally included the police =, who joined in the search around 9:30pm. So while you are insinuating that he was left outside UNATTENDED .. let me .. HIS AUNT tell you .. he wasn't.

JSTEVENS
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JSTEVENS 05/15/13 - 11:18 am
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NOCNOC and palmetto1008, YES,

NOCNOC and palmetto1008,

YES, my sister will grieve, his whole family will grieve the loss, however, we will not accept the explanation being given. Its hard enough to deal with his death but even harder when no one is held accountable for what happened, all we're looking for is the truth.

kaylakaren

I assume you know my sister, thank you for your words of encouragment, she needs all the support she can get.

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