Every time she closes her eyes, Adell Forbes imagines her son’s final minutes, alive and alone in waters 2,500 miles from home. The Cobb County mother can only imagine her terrified son calling for help.
“I’m almost afraid to go to sleep or attempt to, because that’s when my mind starts to wander,” Forbes said.
Forbes worried about her son remembering to take his vitamins and use his mosquito repellent while on a weeklong school trip to Belize. And she hoped her son enjoyed celebrating his 15th birthday while he was gone. But she never imagined he wouldn’t return home alive.
Tomari Jackson, a freshman at North Cobb High School, died Saturday in Belize while on a school-sponsored field trip. Forbes still questions how her only child drowned within hours of arriving at the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me at all,” Forbes said in an interview The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Early Sunday — the day before Tomari’s birthday — divers found his body 15 feet under water, just yards away from where he was last seen in a river with his classmates, according to the Belize Coast Guard. Tomari, who had been using a GoPro action camera, was still wearing goggles when he was found, Monkey Bay director Matthew Miller told reporters in Belize.
“He was going under the water to look and to film, we assume,” Miller said. “And at some point, he did not come up. At no point did he stray away from the class. He went under and did not surface.”
Forbes said her son was a Boy Scout who know how to swim.
He was a freshman at North Cobb High School, part of a group of 32 students and six chaperones that planned to spend a week exploring part of Belize, on the eastern coast of Central America. It was the same trip that the North Cobb School for International Studies, the magnet school on the North Cobb High campus, had taken three previous years.
From the moment he heard about the trip, Tomari wanted to go, his mother said. He loved to travel, having spent about three years in her native country, the Bahamas. Tomari was mature beyond his years and loved nature, often taking time to admire landscapes and colorful skies, Forbes said. Every night, he fell asleep to the soothing sounds of jazz music.
“I have so much trust in school and what they are doing, I had no reason to question (the trip),” Forbes said. “I wasn’t concerned about his safety.”
After arriving Saturday in Belize, Tomari and the others hiked before stopping to splash in shallow water near a river bank, the Cobb County school system said. Monkey Bay guides accompanied the group and instructed students on boundaries for swimming.
When the group was done and boarded the bus, a headcount came up one short. Tomari was missing.
“What do you mean?” Forbes said she asked when she got the phone call.
She was preparing to go to Belize herself when she got a second phone call from the U.S. Embassy. Tomari’s body had been pulled from the water, but Forbes said she was given very few details.
“Once they told me what what had happened, there was nothing else,” Forbes said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Belize declined to release information on Tomari’s death over the phone. An email to the embassy was not returned.
Tomari’s classmates and chaperones returned to Atlanta on Monday on what would have been his 15th birthday. Forbes has been told it will be at least Friday until her son’s body will be returned.
Until then, Forbes is hopeful someone will give her more details on what happened to Tomari. She has one question she needs answered. “Why wasn’t he missed until later, until after the fact?”
Funeral arrangements had not been made Tuesday, though Forbes plans to bury her son near the family’s Powder Springs home.
“I need to be able to visit him. I need something physical to go to,” Forbes said. “I need to visit his grave. I need to be able to do that when I need to.”
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