More than 50,000 people have signed a petition calling for Elijah Weatherspoon’s death to be investigated. The 18-year-old died on a boating trip in South Carolina. He was on the boat with seven friends, but little is known about what happened or why he died. His body was found in the water several days later and his family has said they’ve gotten conflicting reports about what happened.
Here is what you need to know.
Elijah Weatherspoon’s Body Was Found Several Days After He Went Missing on a Boat
Weatherspoon went missing on the boat on the Cooper River near Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, on Thursday, June 25. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources told Live 5 that they responded to a missing boater call that Thursday around 11 p.m.
The Coast Guard suspended its search for Weatherspoon on Friday night after searching more than 250 square miles, ABC News 4 reported.
#Breaking @USCG , local agencies are searching for a 18-yo black Male, 6-ft, 160-170lbs, with short hair wearing US flag swim trunks, no shirt, who went missing in the water near the Ravenel Bridge. If you see him, contact Sector Charleston at 843-740-7050 #USCG #D7 #Ready pic.twitter.com/2Je1ry1ZFo
— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) June 26, 2020
Weatherspoon’s body was found by Sullivan’s Island Fire and Rescue on Sunday, June 28, Fox 28 reported. His body was found on a sandbar near Sullivan’s Island around 9:40 a.m., Live 5 reported.
Family attorney Javaron Buckley Sr. told Live 5 that his body was found by people on the beach, not by rescue crews. He said people called him about finding the body when the police wouldn’t take their information. Captain Robert McCullough told Live 5 that Sullivan’s Island search crews found Weatherspoon’s body.
His Cause of Death Isn’t Known & an Autopsy Is Underway
Weatherspoon’s cause of death is not yet known. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said an autopsy is underway, Live 5 News reported.
Deputy Coroner Elizabeth Dobbins told Live 5: “At this time, the cause of death is pending awaiting autopsy.”
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said their investigation doesn’t indicate foul play so far.
Two online petitions have said that the Mount Pleasant Police Department isn’t investigating the case. The Mount Pleasant PD posted on Facebook that the case is under the jurisdiction of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR.)
The DNR posted an update about Weatherspoon’s case on Monday.
One Witness Said He Jumped from the Boat & Someone Who Tried to Help Him Had to be Rescued
The number of people on the boat with Weatherspoon ranges from seven to nine, depending on the source. An online petition says there were eight including Weatherspoon and officials told Live 5 they interviewed nine people.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said a witness told them that Weatherspoon had jumped off the boat and never resurfaced, Live 5 reported. Another witness said they made “contact” with him.
It’s not clear what “made contact” means or what happened immediately before Weatherspoon was in the water.
According to Live 5, the Coast Guard said another person from the same boat had to be rescued — an 18-year-old friend who had jumped in to try to help Weatherspoon. That person was in good condition.
Captain Robert McCullough, DNR spokesman, told Live 5: “The facts seem to indicate, that a young man went off the back of the boat into the water. One of the other boys in the boat went in after him, made contact but could not get him out… If anything comes up if there’s any foul play or anything that like that we will pursue it to the end… if anything comes up. I will say this too, accidents happen.”
McCullough added: “I really hate to say it, but I can’t tell you how many times somebody will jump in the water to either cool off or just never come up. It’s the weirdest. It’s very odd that that happens, but it does.”
However, the family and their attorney have said they’ve been told conflicting stories about what happened.
Buckley told Charleston City Paper that drowning was “far fetched.” He said Weatherspoon was a good swimmer and the family needs more information.
The Family’s Attorney Said They’ve Heard Conflicting Stories About What Happened
A friend of Weatherspoon’s aunt started a petition on Change.org to investigate his death. The petition notes that Weatherspoon was black/Puerto Rican and on a boat with seven white friends.
The petition reads, in part:
On the night of June 25th, 2020 Elijah, a Black/Puerto Rican 18 year old male, went boating in the Cooper River in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina with 7 of his white friends. Elijah did not come home that night. His body was found June 28th, 2020 in the Cooper River.
The events leading up to his death are unclear and are being treated as if he was just another black man who couldn’t swim and drowned. When, in fact, he can swim. The people who were with him have stories that do not match up.
He fell off the boat and hit his head on a rock.
He fell off the boat and his friend tried to save him and couldn’t.
He jumped off the boat himself and refused to get back in and drowned.
Those are just some of the circumstances his family has been told…”
As of the time of publication, more than 57,000 people had signed the petition.
Buckley told Live 5 that there were a number of inconsistencies and they are doing their own investigation. They’re asking anyone with information to come forward.
His Aunt Wrote That He Was a Great Swimmer & the Story of What Happened Doesn’t Make Sense
Weatherspoon’s aunt, Debbie Elisa Perez, posted on Facebook about some of the inconsistencies around what happened to her nephew. She said he was a football player and had been working hard to get his life back on track.
“He has a family that adored him, loved him, and misses him terribly,” she wrote.
She wrote that the family was told that he jumped into the water to use the restroom and a lifeguard told him not to panic, but then he did.
She wrote in a public post on Facebook: “Yes stories of what went down, and so many missed clues that were pointed out by us … Last story was that he so called back flipped over the boat to use the rest room!!! And they saw him go up and then down and didn’t see him again so the so called ‘lifeguard’ jumped in told him not to panic then he panics and idk the rest, literally it’s like the story stops there…and then all these ppl said he didn’t know how to swim….we ain’t stupid..:my nephew was like a fish the boy knew how to swim!” [sic]
Another relative commented that the family is not giving up until they learn the truth.
A second online petition, with more than 46,000 signatures as of the time of publication, was started by Laura Harwell. She said she started the petition at the request of his mother and her best friend, Melanie Perez. That petition reads, in part:
There have being [sic] several conflicting stories given to the police on what happened. Some say he decided to flip off the boat, along with another, and a “Good Samaritan” could only save one, but not Nicky, another story was the boat was docked and Nicky jumped off but couldn’t come back up due to his inability to swim, (He was an experienced swimmer) and another story was he panicked while another tried to help him and sank. We want answers…
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