PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Investigators have found no evidence of Education Department wrongdoing in the death of a 16-year-old International High School student who drowned on a class trip to Bear Mountain late last spring.
Jean Fritz Pierre's body was found in 8 feet of water in an upstate lake about 14 feet from shore following the hike on June 24, police said. His family had blamed the school for putting him in danger by exposing him to water, saying that Pierre couldn't swim.
"We gathered evidence from many sources, including the New York State Park Police, the principal at International HS, chaperones, and students who attended the trip," Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District Richard Condon wrote in his report, released Tuesday. "The investigation did not find any misconduct or wrongdoing committed by a DOE employee."
The report describes how Pierre and a 16-year-old friend (described as Student B) broke from a group of hikers during the trip, stripping down for a dip in Hessian Lake against repeated explicit instructions from trip chaperones.
"It was very hot that day and all the students complained about the heat," the report says. "At various points during the trip, students asked about swimming, but the answer remained the same: absolutely no swimming was allowed."
A detective with the State Park Police told investigators that the part of the lake where Pierre had been swimming has a sudden, steep 8 to 9 foot drop-off.
"Student B asked Pierre whether he could swim and Pierre responded that he could. Student B did not know how to swim," the report says. "Student B went to collect his belongings when Pierre called out because he was in trouble. Student B held out his hand, but Pierre was too far out, and was pulling Student B out. Student B, who could not swim, let go of Pierre's hand."
Pierre's death rocked the small high school, hitting its Haitian immigrant community particularly hard.
“I saw him in the morning," friend Jessica Joseph, 15, told DNAinfo New York the morning after the trip. "We were talking, laughing, having fun. He was so friendly.”
Pierre's heartbroken father Jonas lashed out at the school the day after his son's death, telling DNAinfo he would never have allowed his son to go on the trip if he'd known they'd be near water.
"There was nothing about swimming in the permission slip to go to the mountain. My son died in a place he was not supposed to be," Jonas Pierre told DNAinfo in June. "If the paper had mentioned ocean, I would not sign. But it said mountain."