American student drowns in Sibun 2 days before 15th birthday

By Marion Ali, Staff Reporter

Tomari Elijah Jackson, a high school student from Atlanta, Georgia USA, arrived in Belize on Saturday as part of a missionary group program and drowned the same day in the Sibun River – two days before his 15th birthday.

The group of 32 students had just arrived at the Philip S. W. Goldson airport and were shuttled to the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary near mile 31 on the George Price Highway at around 3:00 p.m., where they were scheduled to spend five days as part of the program. Jackson, described as a swimmer, drowned during their first activity – a swim in the Sibun River behind the sanctuary.

The youth was discovered missing during a headcount on the shuttle after the swim at around 5:00 p.m. Matthew Miller, the managing director at Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary said that the group was supervised but somehow Jackson slipped beneath the water surface unbeknown to anyone.

Miller said the group had six school chaperones, and three licensed tour guides who briefed the students about the area, and pointed out the boundaries. He added that the river was calm and shallow at the time Jackson drowned. He said Jackson had a consent form signed by his mother that he was prepared to swim and had no known medical conditions.

Miller told reporters that they started to call out for Jackson and when that yielded no response, they paired off and searched the farms roads that led to the river, and posted divers to look for him.

When local divers, with help from the Belize Coast Guard, retrieved the boy’s body at around 2:00 a.m. Sunday, he still had on his swimming goggles. He had been taking pictures when he disappeared under the water. A post mortem examination on Jackson certified he died of drowning.

The trip was cut short and the students returned to Atlanta on Monday, amidst concerns from their parents that their children were traumatized by the drowning.

Miller said this was the first time that someone has drowned during a tour at the site.

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