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._______