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River tragedy plunges Dinthill Technical fraternity into mourning

BY JEDIAEL CARTER
Staff reporter
carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What a group of high school students thought would have been a time of relaxation at the river, quickly turned to tragedy when one of them drowned last week.

The lifeless body of 17-year-old Dinthill Technical High School student, Jason McDonald was fished from a section of the Rio Cobre in St Catherine close to dismissal on Tuesday afternoon.

The Jamaica Observer understands that Jason and a group of boys played truant, evaded teachers, and made a trek to the river that runs to the rear of the massive school compound.

“I recognise that they probably just thought that it's a place to go and chill. Exams are now starting, so it was more revision taking place [in the classes missed], so they may have thought that they could miss it. I've spoken to the coordinator and she said that the boys mentioned that they were just going to chill out and clear their head space for exam,” Vice-principal Monica White said, pointing out that grade 10 examinations began last Thursday.

To successfully make it to their place of rest, the boys reportedly devised an elaborate plan to evade the would-be security measures implemented. Preliminary reports from one of the students state that the group spilt up and travelled two different paths to reach their destination, which the vice-principal pointed out was strictly out of bounds.

“They travelled the watershed area. It's densely populated in the farm area [with bushes]. They actually hid and headed down through there. So they made their way in areas that they should not have been in, because they knew that if they'd gone the other way they would have been seen,” White explained.

“They planned it because they didn't go in one group. From the report we got (from one of the boys involved), they broke up, two went together one way and the other four went in the shrubs,” she added.

But the secret trip became public when the boys noticed that Jason entered the water but had not resurfaced. They got worried. With administration now aware of the situation, the emergency services were summoned and staff members made a hasty trek through the bushes to the scene.

“When we went I was asking what was going on and because, you know, I knew they should not have been there. So I was saying 'boys what is happening, tell me what's happening' and they said he (Jason) went down... and did not resurface,” Wentworth Kelly, the school's dean of discipline said, relating that the boys were crying by this time.

“Soon after, the police and the emergency services came and did their search. There was a diver that came with the Fire Department and so he went and found the body. They tried to resuscitate — the school nurse and the emergency persons, they tried CPR and they said they would have to carry him to the hospital and verify that he had died,” he added.

Now wiping tears from his eyes, Kelly noted that “it was quite an experience, especially when I saw that body being pulled from the water. I had to cry...when I saw they finally found the body and the emergency services pulled his body, and they tried to resuscitate”.

“We were hoping that we would have heard a cough or something when they were doing the CPR thing,” added Kelly as he stared into space. “I was just hoping to hear a cough, and that wasn't coming. And then the tears just started coming because Jason was really gone. Sometimes you would have devotions and speak to them [and say] listen, we have experience, we have been there, you would have hoped that all of them would just listen when we speak.”

Jason was described as a troubled student who would often miss classes. His mother, Beatrice McDonald, revealed that he started smoking ganja and “that was how his problems started”.

“He always went to school but he wasn't always in class, that was the major problem I had with him. But he was a very intelligent child,” she said. “I took him to counselling last year, right through the summer, and he spent most of the summer going to counselling and then he went back to school. Things were good, you know. I didn't have any problems; I didn't even know that he was still skipping some classes. But the dean tried with him. Since last year, when he had the problems, he (the dean) has been trying, he has been trying.”

“Jason is like my son. I have him in my office and would just speak with him. I don't know what was happening with him, but my concern was that he wasn't going classes and he would be taking his deep breaths [while we spoke],” Kelly said, pointing out that a letter was drafted for him to be sent to receive counselling externally. Jason was to have collected that letter the day he died.

Despite these challenges, he was remembered as one who was supportive of his peers and always willing to lend a listening ear.

“He was pleasing. He's one of those that you can approach. He's not an aggressive person. I've never had him reported for fights and anything like that,” Kelly said.

“Popular with the students, very popular,” an administrator chimed in.

“Believe me, a lot of people, many of the young people in the community where we used to live, his cousin [are feeling it]. They had to send the cousin to the doctor, because they share a room. He was a loving person. He was that type of person the young people gravitated toward; him know everybody,” Jason's mother stated after a heavy sigh.

As he looked toward the ground, Kelly shook his head in disbelief and repeated, “I just wished somebody had seen them, I wish somebody had seen them and just called me. I still have his bag in my office.”

According to the educators, this incident is the first to have happened at the school, and has served as a lesson to students.

“Now you see this as a result and everybody is saying, 'Boy Mr Kelly, trust me, we need fi listen when you talk.' That's the type of feedback now, and everybody seems subdued. It's really sad,” Kelly stated.