Mother slams Coast Guard over apparent slow response to son’s drowning

Jahmali Smith visited Pigeon Point Beach with relatives and friends on Sunday afternoon (Photo courtesy World Beach Guide)
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“The Coast Guard wasn’t planning on looking for my son until the morning when they could see light. They said that the guy that was supposed to come and do the search, it’s his day off.”

That was the recollection of Elka Jarvis whose 23-year-old son’s body was fished out of the sea near Pigeon Point Beach late Sunday night.

Jahmali Smith had visited the beach with close relatives and friends on Sunday afternoon and never returned home.

The mother said that after being told of his disappearance, she called 911 to make a report. Shortly after, the Coast Guard called her back but it was several hours before they arrived to help.

The Dockyard Police Station said the call informing of Jahmali’s disappearance was made at about 7.55pm on Sunday.

23-year-old Jahmali Smith was the victim of an apparent drowning at Pigeon Point beach on Sunday is being remembered as a caring person who had many friends. (social media photos)

According to a police statement, an immediate search was conducted in the area with the assistance of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force Coast Guard and the Antigua and Barbuda Search and Rescue (ABSAR).

They said that at around 11.23pm, Smith’s lifeless body was discovered floating in shallow water off the beach.

But the boy’s mother claimed to Observer that the authorities did not provide much assistance in locating her son’s body, and were reluctant to dive to look for him because it was late at night.

The mother said that while at the beach, she saw no police activity, and that “it was about 11’o clock that the Coast Guard showed up” – several hours after she made the report.

“The Coast Guard never found him. The police, they didn’t care,” she said, telling Observer that she had to wake a fisherman friend from his sleep who came to assist, along with another man who used an inflatable dingy to search for her son. It was these men who found the body, Jarvis explained.

She said that, meanwhile, the police were questioning the friend who went to the beach with her son.

Out of concern, she said she went to the police station at which time they released the friend who then helped her to identify the area where her son was last seen swimming.

The mother continued, “There were three persons – three of Jahmali’s friends in the boat – and they searched in the water with a flashlight and looked down in the water, and the guy found him.”

Jarvis said she had called for help out of panic, after seeing no police activity in the area.

“Maybe he drifted away on something because he can swim. I wasn’t thinking that he was dead. I had hoped that some current [had pulled] him away further and that he could get back,” she said.

Jarvis added that she wished the situation had been approached with more urgency.

“My son is already gone. I can’t do nothing about that, but what would have happened in a different situation when they could have done something different?” she questioned.

Lieutenant Commander Elroy Skerritt, of the Defence Force Coast Guard, declined to comment. A spokesman for ABSAR confirmed their team did attend, after receiving an alert at around 10pm Sunday.  

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