‘Man of conviction’: Coach remembers Atlanta athlete killed in elevator collapse

Credit: GoFundMe

Credit: GoFundMe

JauMarcus McFarland had a heart for football. With a towering stature — 6-foot-2, just shy of 300 pounds — he was “hungry” to improve himself in both the sport and in his mind, according to Michael Carson, his coach at Champion Prep Academy.

McFarland had started attending the metro Atlanta school in early August, with the hopes of improving his ACT score and applying to a college program by December, Carson said. And, though just 18 years old, McFarland “really understood what his purpose in the program was.”

“He was a man of conviction,” Carson said. “He was very respectful. Very humble.”

It’s devastating, Carson said, that he won’t ever see McFarland fulfill that purpose. The teen was killed when an elevator collapsed on him Tuesday, pinning him between two floors of a northeast Atlanta apartment complex.

“We are at a loss and his family in Missouri is utterly devastated,” family friends said in a GoFundMe account following the teenager’s death.

McFarland and several of his teammates were inside an elevator at the 444 Highland Avenue apartment complex when it malfunctioned about 3 p.m. Tuesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. The others made it out, but McFarland became trapped.

A series of panicked 911 calls released by the Atlanta Police Department paint the chaotic and horrifying scene in the moments leading up to McFarland’s death. At least six witnesses called and reported that the teen was trapped between the second and third floors.

In some calls, clusters of frightened voices can be heard shouting for help while other voices try to calm them.

“The elevator just smashed on these football players and they need somebody up here on the third floor,” one caller told a 911 dispatcher through tears.

When the dispatcher asked the woman to clarify if the players were stuck inside the elevator, she replied, between sobs: “No, the top collapsed on them. I can’t even look at it.”

Another caller can be heard shouting reassurances to McFarland and telling him that he’s going to be OK.

“Do you know how long (first responders) are going to be?” the caller asks the dispatcher before shouting, “Come on J, you’re good. You’re good.”

“We have someone on the way,” the dispatcher says. “Has anything changed?”

“No ma’am,” the caller responds. “He’s unconscious right now.”

McFarland was lodged between the elevator and the floor when first responders arrived on the scene, according to an Atlanta police report obtained by the AJC.

“Mr. McFarland’s upper body was between the third floor and the elevator,” the police report said. A 911 caller said his feet were hanging from the top of the elevator, visible from the second floor.

Fire crews worked for an hour to free McFarland. As they tried to extricate him, they noted he had a faint pulse “but was not alert,” officials said. McFarland was taken to Atlanta Medical Center, where he went into cardiac arrest and died.

Originally from Maryland Heights, Missouri, McFarland was a starting tackle at Champion Prep, Carson said. The school, located in Rex in Clayton County, has a single-semester program with the goal of helping student-athletes leaving high school to navigate entering the world of college athletics and academics.

Carson said learning about McFarland’s death took the wind out of him.

“One moment we are getting prepared to travel to Arkansas — traveling later that same day — and then you get a call that you have a kid trapped,” he said. “It’s devastating. It’s a devastating loss to our program.”

A spokesman for Safety Fire Commissioner John F. King confirmed inspectors are investigating the incident. While the cause is not clear, the building’s property manager said it appeared to be a “domino effect of events leading to the unfortunate death of this young man.”

“The state inspectors will release their findings in due course, so it would be inappropriate for us to discuss full details until that report is complete,” the property manager said in a statement. “What we can say is the weight capacity of the elevator was 3,000 lbs. — but the 16 young athletes who were inside the elevator when this occurred pushed that limit to nearly 4,000 lbs.”

Friends are hoping to assist McFarland’s family with the cost of transporting his body back to Missouri.

“JauMarcus dedicated his life to honor God in all things, especially being a caring teammate,” the GoFundMe said. “His Georgia Prep Sports Academy colleagues will dedicate the season in his honor, and invest themselves towards achieving dreams in his memory.”

Carson said his team is working to come up with other ways to memorialize McFarland to “create a sort of legacy.”

“The student-athletes in our program — all of them — are like our children,” Carson said. “You value the time, the seconds, the minutes, the hours you have to spend with these guys. And I hope they realize the importance of every moment they have to breathe life.”