Mayor A C Wharton Jr. spoke in hushed tones Monday afternoon, offering his public condolences to the family of a teenage boy who drowned in a closed City of Memphis pool on Sunday.
It was the second time he had extended his sentiments to the family, the first in a conversation the night before. This time he was in the Hall of Mayors at City Hall speaking to media.
Cedric Walton, 13, died after he and a group of friends maneuvered through a wrought iron fence and then climbed over another fence at the L.E. Brown pool Sunday afternoon. The City has remote security cameras at the site and loud speakers through which Delta Surveillance can issue audible warnings to trespassers.
The mayor was asked to respond to reports that the Internet was down, affecting Delta Surveillance’s ability to monitor the site, and that a Delta representative had contacted someone with the City, although it may not have been the right person given the holiday schedule.
“I don’t want to tell you something one day and then come back and say [something else],” Wharton said. “But [the call] went to the wrong person. All we know is that we have an active contract with a security company that is by sight and by sound in terms of communicating with individuals who might gain access inappropriately.”
“We’re examining every aspect from personnel to equipment,” said Wharton. “Let’s find out everything that happened, then let’s move accordingly.”
Wharton said he visited the site and looked at the pool, adding that with a loss of life, it is appropriate to second guess.
“I second-guessed myself all last night; could we do something else?” Wharton said. “At this particular location, not only is there a fence around the pool, but there is an outer fence.
“I guess it’s just good that we second-guess ourselves.” he continued. “I never want to be so callous…stand up and say, ‘Hmmm, that’s tough.’ I’ll never say that. But as a practical matter, we don’t want our community to look like war zones with wires and lights so bright that they keep a whole neighborhood awake. It’s just a difficult situation.”
The pools being closed had nothing to do with budgetary cutbacks, with hours “having long been established,” he said.
“I don’t want to give anybody the impression that simply by keeping the pools open longer that no child will get in before we’re open or after we are [closed]. It would be misleading to say if we just keep them open longer children will not seek inappropriate access.It would be misleading to say if we just keep them open longer children will not seek inappropriate access.
On the preventive end, the city offers a number of free classes to teach children how to swim.
“I won’t offer any guess as to whether this young man [could] swim or not,” Wharton said. “This is why it is simply not enough to open up the pool. We go out of our way to offer free swimming lessons for those children who are under 13, they have to have a parent come with them. If they are over 13, you sign up for the card and you have to have your parent to vouch for you.
“Of course, in a situation like this, all forms of ID would not have made any difference,” he added.
Janet Hooks, the city’s director of Public Services & Neighborhoods, expressed her condolences, saying she could not imagine what Walton’s family is going through.
“The loss of a child is something that there is no preparation for,” Hooks said. “There is no getting over.”
Asked whether there has been any measurable progress in teaching African-American children to swim, Hooks said that swimming lessons at the Bickford Indoor pool attracted “99 percent participation” from students at the KIPP Academy across the street. But she said the biggest obstacle to overcome is youthful overconfidence.
“Most kids think they can swim,” she said. “They don’t realize you have to take lessons. We offer free lessons January through March. But as the mayor just said, we can’t guarantee that we’re going to have the kids that need it most to show up.”
After acknowledging that the best of swimmers can be caught in life-threatening circumstances, Hooks made reference to the companions who were with Walton.
“Imagine what they are going through,” she said. “It’s tragthey are going through,” she said. “It’hey are going through,” she said. “It’