Fitz Thomas was a thoughtful, joyous and optimistic teenager even to his last breath, his friends and family recalled Sunday night.
His grieving mother’s response to it all: He fulfilled his purpose.
“This was a purposeful man," Pastor Michelle Thomas, Fitz's mother and the president of the Loudoun Branch of the NAACP, said to a large gathering during a flashlight vigil for her son Sunday.
Pastor Thomas and her family suffered through an agonizing Thursday evening after Fitz could not be found during a swim with friends in Goose Creek. Prayers eventually turned into tears after authorities arrived and Fitz was taken to Inova Loudoun Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
At Sunday's event, friends and supporters followed the trail of red and blue balloons inspired by Fitz's high school to the driving range behind River Creek Club. The crowd slowly walked down a green hill to congregate. People wore Riverside High School apparel and masks as they consoled one another and paid their respects to the family. As the sun dropped, people flashed lights on their cellphones while holding vigil.
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) sat next to Michelle Thomas, hugging her and holding her hand.
Randall said this is not the time when strength is required. She said the goal should be to try to be a better person.
“We've heard already today people say he loved everyone. Well, if you don't love everyone, be better. Be like Fitz, love everyone,” Randall said. “Whatever you need to do, be better because that's how you honor him.”
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) was also on hand. He said to the family, “Thank you all for always being there for every single person, and right now, in your time of need, God is there with you and so are we.”
“If you look around and you think about what Fitz’s life has meant not just to this community, not just to all 8.5 million people in the commonwealth of Virginia ... but I think ultimately he is going to touch the world because of the impact of the man that you all have raised," Fairfax said to the family.
The Loudoun NAACP said in a statement that Fitz was “a shining beacon of positive energy to all those around him.”
“The NAACP Loudoun lifts up our beloved president, Pastor Michelle Thomas, her husband Delroy and their children, Adrian and Anna, in this time of their bereavement,” the statement reads. “His vigil tonight was an amazing moment for the community to come together to grieve, share stories and a few relieving moments of laughter and remind ourselves that each of us is precious to so many people. Our hearts are with the Thomas family.”
Delroy Thomas and Fitz’s siblings thanked everyone for their support.
The parents recalled the joy Fitz brought them, even with his messy bedroom.
“Fitz weighed 1.5 pounds when he was born,” Delroy said. “I took the night shift to feed him. I took the day shift, and I ended up with high blood pressure. Since Fitz was born, I’ve been taking high blood pressure pills.”
Michelle Thomas shared a story about Fitz’s impression of Loudoun County. He called Loudoun “the greatest place on earth.”
His mother countered his opinion with the opportunities across the world.
“Well, mama, you don’t know ‘em like I know ‘em,” Michelle quoted Fitz. “My friends are great. The people are great.”
Pastor Thomas said after seeing the outpouring of support in recent days, she realizes her son was right.
“We live in the greatest county in the world, but nothing has ever challenged me to see it like that,” the mother, a frequent critic of Loudoun County Public Schools and various inequities within the county, said. “I’ve fought many fights — very few if any for myself. I didn't have the same vantage point. I didn't always feel the love coming back, but this time I was wrong. Fitz, though, you were right."
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the drowning.
Authorities say the LCSO responded to the River Creek community in Leesburg to assist Loudoun County Fire and Rescue personnel for an unresponsive person in the water around 6:15 p.m. June 4.
Thomas and his friends were reportedly swimming across the confluence of Goose Creek and the Potomac River. As they crossed the water, Thomas's friends observed him go underwater, according to the LCSO. One of Fitz's friends eventually found him and pulled him from the river.
Thomas was taken by rescue personnel to Inova Loudoun Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
A GoFundMe campaign has been established as a memorial fund for Fitz Thomas. Click here to visit the page.