‘I miss my son so badly,’ mom of drowned Toronto teen says during symbolic walk to school
Published Tuesday, September 5, 2017 12:53PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, September 5, 2017 7:43PM EDT
The family of a Toronto teen who drowned while on a school trip in Algonquin Park walked his bike to the first day of school today in hopes of keeping the 15-year-old’s memory “fresh and joyful.”
Jeremiah Perry was swimming with classmates in Big Trout Lake on July 4 when he suddenly disappeared underwater and didn’t resurface.
His body was found the next day.
Perry’s parents, grandmother and friends joined his younger brother Tuesday on what would be a typical walk to the first day back to classes at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute.
This time, the walk was much more somber. Today would have also been Perry’s 16th birthday.
“As parents, this is how we find comfort in dealing with this situation,” Joshua Perry, the boy’s father, told CTV News Toronto.
The family said they’ve spent most of the summer trying come to terms with the tragedy and have been receiving daily support from family members living in Guyana.
“Day by day, we’re coping. Some days are good, some days have their challenges but for the most part the family is holding strong,” Joshua Perry said.
“But for the most part, we try to keep his memory as happy as we can.”
In August, an investigation by the Toronto District School Board revealed that Perry along with 15 other students failed a mandatory swim test prior to embarking on the trip.
If students did not pass the first round of testing, they were required by the TDSB to complete a series of swimming lessons. Perry did not participate in the second requirement either, the TDSB confirmed.
The school board implemented a list of new measures – effective immediately – to prevent similar tragedies.
As well, Ontario’s Education Minister Mitzie Hunter vowed her ministry would conduct a full review on school board policies surrounding outdoor education and trips.
Hunter told CP24 this morning that the board has reached out to Ontario school boards across the province to inform them that a review on school trip policies is imminent and “necessary.”
“I think that has prompted the boards themselves to take a look at the policies and to ensure that there are no gaps – we have to ensure that there are no gaps,” she said.
“My condolences, again, to his family and siblings. I know they’re facing the return of back to school without their brother and it’s very hard… It’s very hard for the school community as well.”
Hunter said the ministry has also increased funding to its Swim to Survive programs which focuses on teaching newcomers to Canada basic swimming skills.
As thousands of student in Ontario headed back to classes this morning, Hunter assured their families that the safety of all school-sanctioned trips is a “top priority.”
“School boards are certainly responsible when students are within their space – whether inside the school or outside of school – to ensure protocols are being followed in terms of safety,” she said.
Holding on to the arms of his brother’s bike, Nathan Perry said the “tradition” of the back-to-school walk “brings back memories.”
“Some nights I think about it and it keeps me up,” he said. “Yesterday I went into his room and I sat down, just looking at it. I cried and said, ‘Why, why did this happen?’ And then I started laughing (because) I was thinking about all the old stuff.”
The family said they haven’t received any other information from investigators or from the Toronto District School Board since last month.
Detectives with the Ontario Provincial Police have been assigned to look into the case.
Perry’s mother Melissa said today is a particularly difficult day for her because her son had been looking forward to celebrating his 16th birthday for a “very long time.”
“It’s too hard,” she said through tears. “I miss my son so badly.”