According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Jon Stevens, a second-grade student from McBean Elementary School, “accidentally drowned” on April 13, while cleaning an in-ground pool off Hunters Mill Court in Hephzibah.
Although the report remains unofficial until approved by Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten, local officials said the state medical examiner’s findings likely will hold, despite concerns by the child’s mother, the Hephzibah community and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference about how the case has been handled.
“Our investigation is complete and we have no reason to believe that any foul play was involved,” Lt. Calvin Chew, spokesman for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, said in a statement. “No additional witnesses have come forward with any information that would lead us to believe that this was anything more than a tragic accident.”
Some Hunters Mill residents sent a letter to Sheriff Richard Roundtree on Monday, asking him to meet with them so they could give their statements, “since nobody ever questioned us,” said Kelli Miller Pierson, of the neighborhood.
Jeannette Stevens, the boy’s mother, said a SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt he was wearing when he drowned was seized as evidence last week, two months after his death.
“The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office said their investigation is complete, but they really have not had an investigation,” Stevens said. “They have not subpoenaed evidence. They have not conducted follow-up interviews to corroborate stories. There is too much suspicion surrounding this case to close it.”
Stevens said the timing of the investigation also does not “add up.” Sheriff’s deputies waited four hours after Stevens reported her son missing at 9 p.m. to search the pool in which he was last seen, despite surveillance video and eyewitness accounts confirming that Jon entered the shallow end of the pool about 7:30 p.m. to gather debris in the water.
Ashley Pletcher, the investigator assigned to the case by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, said deputies “assumed” Jon was in the pool, but opted to search the neighborhood and Stevens’ house to confirm the child had not been abducted.
A dive team was not called until 1 a.m. Jon was pulled from the pool’s deep end.
Stevens said the delay does not sit well with her, and she wants the truth.
Pletcher said all witness statements were consistent and Tuten said he felt the investigation’s findings were solid.
“If the state medical examiner determined the drowning was accidental and the sheriff’s office believes there was no foul play involved, I’d probably go with accidental drowning,” Tuten said. “But right now, the case is pending review.”