A Leesburg teenager’s death has sparked a change for future emergency responses and further questions about the accidental drowning.

Fitz Thomas, the son of NAACP Loudoun Branch President Michelle Thomas, was the boy who drowned in the area of Confluence Park in the River Creek Community on June 4.

At a news conference June 19, Michelle Thomas noted that a week after her son’s death, dozens of kids were out swimming in the area. She said it’s time for changes to be made, suggesting posting warning signs around the area and developing a map of the location.

At least 11 minutes passed before Loudoun Emergency Services obtained the location where the drowning occurred. More than 30 minutes passed before units arrived.

“Turn your attention to policy so that no other parent will be here,” Michelle Thomas said. “Do what you need to do, but don’t fail ‘Fitzy’ now. You failed him before. As a community, we’ve come together, and we’re going to hold your feet to the fire for this policy.”

On June 4 at 6:15 p.m., units from Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue were dispatched to the area where they found Fitz Thomas unresponsive, according to local emergency services. Fitz Thomas was then transported to Inova Lansdowne Pediatric ER, where he was pronounced dead.

Friends and volunteers in the area pulled Thomas out of the water after he and other teenagers were swimming in the confluence of Goose Creek and the Potomac River.

Loudoun units responded more than 30 minutes after the first 911 call following several exchanges with Montgomery County, Maryland’s emergency services, where the calls were initially routed.

“How are you not getting this ... hurry up,” one 911 caller said frantically.

Another said, “Please get someone here.”

Confusion and a lack of urgency was evident in the calls. One of the callers from Loudoun said they could see the EMS response across the river.

Under previous policy, Loudoun emergency services said calls from the Potomac River fall within the jurisdiction of Montgomery County, since that Potomac is technically part of Maryland. Calls within the Virginia shoreline or waterways leading to the Potomac River in that area are routed to Loudoun.

Loudoun EMS officials said all 911 operators have now been directed to dispatch Loudoun County units to any incident on adjoining waterways regardless of jurisdictional responsibility, including on the Potomac River.

“The intention of this policy is to ensure that such a delay in dispatch never occurs again,” EMS officials said.

Phillip Thompson, second vice president of the NAACP Loudoun Branch, said Fitz Thomas was a strong swimmer, and he questioned how Fitz could drown 10 to 15 feet from the dock. He said the area is between five- and eight-feet deep, quoting divers.

“What I’m here to say is that this investigation has to be done with transparency, it has to be done with immediacy and it must be done right,” Thompson said.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) urged anyone with knowledge of the drowning to come forward to help ensure justice.

“It is not enough simply for us to mourn the loss of a vibrant, young 16-year-old who this community continues to love and this family will always love,” Fairfax said. “We must honor his memory and his life by doing justice and justice delayed is justice denied.”

The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office says detectives assigned to the case have interviewed nearly two dozen people at the scene, including multiple interviews of Fitz’s friends who were with him that night.

“Since that evening, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has conducted a thorough, objective and impartial investigation into his death,” the LCSO said in a prepared statement.

During the investigation, authorities say they have: established a timeline of the sequence of events to include the response to the scene; deployed the agency’s dive team to analyze underwater currents, debris and the depth of the water; requested helicopter footage of the scene from a local news channel; deployed a drone to obtain aerial images of the area; and requested full autopsy results from the Office of the Medical Examiner as soon as they become available.

Anyone with information related to the incident is asked to contact Detective Shannon Coderre at 703-777-0475 or by email at Shannon.Coderre@loudoun.gov._______

Related:

-”Loudoun community comes together to honor the late Fitz Thomas

(19) comments

Peterrabbit

Simply unbelievable that people want to talk about jurisdiction. There was no jurisdiction problem just incompetent Loudoun County 911 operators who first didn't know where Goose Creek was, weren't smart enough to start Sheriff deputies and the closest rescue unit to Good Creek/River Creek. I am betting the firefighters and medics on the trucks knew where to go! What about the 911 supervisor? Why didn't he or she supervise? AND this incompetent Loudoun County fire chief from Fairfax County had no response mechanism in place BEFORE this incident happened? So much for his Fairfax County Fire training! TOTAL INCOMPETENCE! Just listen to the 911 tape as our fellow citizens called, screamed and cried for help and the incompetent Loudoun County 911 operator did nothing! Thank goodness there are brave Loudoun County citizens there who gave their all to try to save this boy but the idiots at 911 weren't coming! It's time for terminate every Loudoun County 911 operator on the call, the 911 supervisor who didn't supervise and this dummy who is the fire chief before another fine young man dies! I assure you...if I am ever in the position, I am rushing the boy to Loudoun Emergency in my private vehicle rather than trusting the idiots at 911 in Loudoun County. As for Randall, what is she doing today? Endorsing her female buddy for governor rather than demanding action and accountability from Hemstreet!

ChocolateDinosaur

Grief is an ocean, my heart to the Thomas family truly.

Putting up strongly worded warning signs is a good start. After all, people have died crossing here. Let's let their memories help future adventurers.

LoudounPulse

First is that anybody can drown in a cup of water. So statements about this being just 10ft of water is not a pass on being able to drown. Second is the family is looking for "somebody" to blame, but the reality is their son went swimming in an area that is the confluence of Goose Creek and the Potomac River. When two bodies of water meet, you get eddies and currents that come and go with the wind. It is very likely their son was pulled under by an underwater whirlpool and there was nothing anybody could have done about it.

I'm glad to hear Loudoun EMS and Maryland EMS will be working out responses for future incidents, but this isn't the cause our solution to what happened. What really needs to happen is that access to the creek should be blocked off at the park with fencing and warning signs. And if kids want to swim in Goose Creek, they should swim upstream near the W&OD Trail where it's safer.

I hope the family doesn't go down the road of blaming Loudoun EMS and focuses on the true cause of their son's death. Which is a lack of warning signs and barriers that swimming in that area is dangerous/deadly.

tolerantleft

I know Confluence Park VERY well. I attended the vigil too. It was an tragedy. Unfortunately, Fitz and his friends were trespassing at Confluence Park. They normally would have been in school that day. It's an area where teenagers congregate, often with drinking involved. One of the residents actually dove into the water and recovered Fitz unconscious. Up until a few years ago you couldn’t get descent cell service at the point. If Loudoun rescue arrived on time there's no saying Fitz would have survived. A press conference is not going to change things and no signs are going to stop kids from being kids. Just wait, River Creek and Loudoun will be sued.

David Dickinson

A key piece of info missing from the article is that, under a treaty between MD and VA that predates the United States, Maryland owns the entire Potomac River right up to the Virginia shoreline. Thus, the jurisdictional problem.

Voltaire

David Dickinson--thanks for the additional information. Yep, that information would have been very helpful for this piece. It would have required the LTM to do some research work.....

antennaTV

Correction -- Michelle Thomas.

antennaTV

"Fitz Thomas, who was the son of NAACP Loudoun Branch President Michelle Thomas, was the boy who drowned in the area of Confluence Park in the River Creek Community on June 4." -- Very poor journalism. Fitz Thomas will always be the son of Michelle Brown.

Fiscalconservative

This is truly a tragedy, but why must we always blame someone. We could blame Phyllis Randall for not opening the pools, we could blame the person who called 911 for not asking for Maryland 911 for everyone knows the river belongs to Maryland. Rather than just suggesting sighs, why done't the NAACP offer to pay for the signs and erect them? If we are truly a community why not help each other out and not blame each other? These two actions alone will help make Loudoun a better place to live. It's time to practice more acceptance of each other and take ownership in our actions.

amerigirl

Who said there was blame? They said that the current system needs change so it doesn't happen to someone else. You are the one blaming a group NAACP, for not posting signs which I doubt they could legally do. Do you really think that teens in Virginia know that the Potomac river belongs to MD?, especially where it meets with a Virginia river, Goose creek? There are plenty of adults that don't even know that.

WesternSky

From the article. “Turn your attention to policy so that no other parent will be here,” Michelle Thomas said. “Do what you need to do, but don't fail ‘Fitzy’ now. You failed him before.

amerigirl

You call that blame? Saying the system failed and needs to be fixed? Seriously? Most people would say that the system the way it is now doesn't protect the citizens and needs change so it doesn't happen again,

hardworkingamerican

It is very sad. But don't blame people who save hundreds of people throughout the year. This is not on them. Kids play and have fun and normally they would not be swimming there. Shutting everything down has had tragic effects on so many, but blaming EMS and others is just wrong. There has to be responsibility in other areas. Most of those type calls result sadly in being a recovery not a rescue resuscitation. I know this for a fact. It is tragic but again, how can people blame everyone else? If you want to blame people then fine. Blame the local government people and run them out of office. Right now most first responders and police are subject to hate and threats and attacks thanks to what people call a peaceful movement? Again very tragic, but don't make it even more tragic by targeting those that save lives everyday.

amerigirl

I don't think they are blaming as much as fixing the problem. I don't know why you would jump to that conclusion

Peterrabbit

Simply unbelievable that any one dies in the water because there is a stupid misunderstanding whose jurisdiction it is! DISPATCH EVERYONE IN THE AREA! Perhaps if the 911 operator did, this fine young man may have survived! It's time for the County administrator to fire the 911 operator and the Fire Chief!

Voltaire

Peterrabbit—you cannot say with certainty that dispatching every piece of fire and rescue apparatus would have saved this individual. First, if the individual drowned in the Potomac River, then the Loudoun County Fire & EMS wouldn’t have jurisdiction and therefore would have to activate a mutual aid agreement with Montgomery County, MD. That requires coordination and effective communication. You cannot dispatch every piece of equipment as that would put the entire community at risk because most of the Fire & EMS assets would be “out of service” by responding to this call. Further, as this incident would be a water rescue event, the deployment of normal fire assets would not suffice. You would need specialized water units that are capable of handling rescue operations with boats. It takes time to get those resources crewed/deployed. Responding to an incident like this is a little more complicated than a standard call in the community due to need for specialized units and cross-jurisdictional resources obtained through a mutual aid requirement. The response by Loudoun Fire & EMS was correct. Better coordination between Loudoun Fire & EMS and Montgomery County MD Fire & EMS is what needs to occur. No, the County Administrator should not fire either the 911 Dispatch Operator or the Fire Chief. There needs to be better protocols in place for use of mutual aid and mobilization of water rescue resources.

sterlingcl

Sadly, without pools being open, more deaths of these type will happen this year than most. We have already caught kids jumping the fence into our community pool; I can only imagine what will happen in areas where swimming is actually allowed or just discouraged.

amerigirl

It ha nothing to do with pools being shut. This has always been a popular spot for teens regardless of you political motives.

gtrunner

It’s exacerbated by the closures of pools and camps. It has already been reported that distress calls to the Potomac are up, double, year over year. This is also the first year, out of 15 prior, I have caught kids illegally entering and stealing use of our community pool in Loudoun county.

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