Through tears, the parents, grandparents and loved ones of a 7-year-old boy who drowned while at a Boston-run summer camp came together on Thursday to explain why they filed a civil lawsuit alleging "grotesque, reckless negligence" against the city of Boston and its mayor.
Kyzr Willis drowned in the water near the bathouse by the Curley Community Center in South Boston on July 26, 2016. The investigation showed Willis made his way back to the water without staff supervision and drowned. His body was found in about 10-feet-deep water.
The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court, argues the city disregarded a 2012 state law known as "Christian's Law," which orders camps to test children for their swimming profiency and to provide life jackets to children who are deemed "at-risk swimmers" or "non-swimmers." The law was enacted after 4-year-old Christian Frechette drowned at a camp in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, in 2007.
"Make sure that the camps have rules and regulations, everything's up to par, make sure they have life jackets, the buddy system, and just watch over each other," Kyzr Willis' mother, Melissa Willis, said.
Besides Walsh and the city, the 12-count wrongful death lawsuit names several of Walsh's subordinates as defendants, including William Morales, the commissioner for the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, and the Frederick B. Ahern, the Curley Community Center director and administrative coordinator.
Robert Griffin, an attorney for Kyzr Willis' estate, said the day care center also was not properly supervising children.
"These children were running around this camp, basically whereabouts unknown," he said Thursday afternoon. "Not a single head count taken on any given day to determine who was there and who was being watched by who ... that, in some substance, is the basis for the grotesque, reckless negligence that the city engaged in and the total disregard for the law that was enacted by the governor."
According to lifeguards, the tide was coming in around the time Willis was seen last, raising the water level and making the current stronger.
The Suffolk County District Attorney's Office has said there was no foul play in his death.
Willis was one of 56 children supervised by about 30 staff members. Boston Police Commissioner Williams Evans said Willis was taking swimming lessons with a counselor earlier on the day that he disappeared.
"He wasn't a good swimmer," he said. "He was only 7 years old."
The district attorney's office says the investigation was completed last year, but was extended after the Willis family reported a tipster claimed to have seen Willis with an unknown man across the harbor; however, investigations believe the child the tipster saw was not Willis.
Boston launched a review of protocols at all of its summer camps following Willis' death.
Walsh said Thursday morning that the city has had ongoing negotiations with Willis' family and would continue to do so.
"My heart goes out to the family," the mayor said. "I don't think you can ever fill that void in that family."