The life of Fitz Alexander Campbell-Thomas was celebrated by family members, friends and lawmakers over the weekend, a year after the Loudoun teen’s drowning in the area of Confluence Park in the River Creek Community amid a delayed response by first responders.
The Riverside High School teenager, who was expected to graduate this year, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital after numerous emergency communication breakdowns delayed local first responders’ arrival, which came more than 30 minutes after the initial call for help.
But in the year since Campbell-Thomas’ tragic death in a tributary to the Potomac River, changes in policy governing how public safety emergencies are handled, continue to have an effect not just in Loudoun, but also across the commonwealth.
“He would always say, ‘Mommy you’re winning and you’re doing a great job,’” Michelle Thomas, Fitz’s mother and president of the NAACP Loudoun Branch, said during Saturday’s memorial walk.
“I plan to keep winning,” she said. “I plan to win this fight, to continue to fight for justice for Fitz and public safety for all.”
Thomas has received support from state legislators, which called on the governor’s administration to investigate the teenager’s June 4, 2020 death.
Eventually, the effort led to the creation of a working group to address the deficiencies with emergency 9-1-1 call routing in Virginia. In some cases, calls have been redirected to jurisdictions in bordering states instead of to emergency operations inside the commonwealth.
Last year, Dels. David Reid (D-32nd) and Roslyn Tyler (D-75th) introduced legislation that resulted in amended language in the state’s recent budget directing the establishment of an E911 Border Response Workgroup.
“The things that we do today, and the things that we do tomorrow, and into the future will be in memory of Fitz and the goals and the aspirations that he had,” Reid said at the memorial walk on Saturday afternoon.
Members of ADAMS Scout Troop 2019 led a few dozen supporters from Lansdowne Village Green to the African American Burial Ground for the Enslaved at Belmont, where Fitz Campbell-Thomas is buried.
Loudoun County upgraded its 9-1-1 call system to the Emergency Services Internet Network that is connected to jurisdictions in the National Capital Region and commonwealth, and is shared on all public safety agencies.
Further, EMS officials said they have updated “commonplace names” — such as Confluence Park — for all area parks and waterways in the computer-aided dispatch and county mapping system, installed water safety and 9-1-1 awareness signage at popular recreational swimming areas, and created an online “River Atlas” that includes points of interest which was made available to all jurisdictions that are part of mutual aid agreements for Potomac River response with Loudoun County.
EMS officials have updated training for dispatchers and call-takers, and are bolstering its emergency communications center staff with additional call-takers and a supervisor responsible for providing technical guidance and advice to ECC personnel, according to Rinehart.
As reported earlier, friends and volunteers pulled Campbell-Thomas from the water after he and other teenagers went swimming in the confluence of Goose Creek and the Potomac River on June 4.
Units from Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System were dispatched to the area where they found Campbell-Thomas unresponsive, according to local emergency services. Campbell-Thomas was then transported to Inova Lansdowne Pediatric ER, where he was pronounced dead.
The family has gained support from the community, which has taken such acts as renaming Riverside High School’s stadium after Campbell-Thomas and providing scholarships. 28 Loudoun County students have received scholarships totaling $43,000 in honor of the late teenager.
Legacy Orthodontics, Campbell-Thomas’ orthodontist office in Leesburg, named a scholarship in honor of the late teenager that is focused on helping youth in financial need and include comprehensive orthodontic treatment at no cost.
“The goal here is to give back to the community and allow Fitz’s legacy to live on through others smiles,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lombard, of Legacy Orthodontics.