An educational trip to Algonquin Park for a group of high school students ended in tragedy Wednesday after the body of a 15-year-old classmate was recovered from a lake where the group had been swimming.
The teen has been identified by family and the TDSB as C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute student Jeremiah Perry.
“It’s with great sadness that we have learned of the passing of Jeremiah Perry,” TDSB Director John Malloy said in a statement released Wednesday evening. “Despite holding out hope that the 15-year-old C.W. Jefferys CI student would be found safe, police have now confirmed that they have located his body after an extensive search in Algonquin Park — the victim of an apparent drowning.”
Perry was swimming in Big Trout Lake at around 8 p.m. on Tuesday when he went under the water and did not resurface.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre conducted a preliminary search on Tuesday night but were unable to find the boy. The search then resumed this morning, with assistance from the OPP Underwater Search and Recovery Unit and the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The body was subsequently found in the waters of Big Trout Lake at around 3:25 p.m.
“It is not the outcome that we had hoped for,” TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz told reporters outside C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute on Wednesday afternoon. “You hear missing, presumed drowned and it is the presumed part that gives you hope all day.”
“It is very devastating for us,” added TDSB Trustee Tiffany Ford. “Our condolences go to the family and of course the students coming back. We are here to support them when they come here.”
In his statement, Malloy said “our thoughts are with Jeremiah’s family and friends during this tremendously difficult time. We are continuing to offer all the supports that we can to the family, as well as students and staff. These supports will remain in place for as long as they’re needed.”
Speaking with CTV News Toronto by phone, the boy’s father Joshua Anderson said he is “in disbelief” and that he keeps thinking his son will come home.
He said neither of his two sons who were on the trip knew how to swim and he wants answers.
Dozens of students on trip
Perry was among 33 students from C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute and Westview Centennial Secondary School taking part in an outdoor education and leadership program in an isolated part of Algonquin Park.
A total of six adults were supervising the trip, including two C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute teachers and four outdoor education specialists.
Speaking with reporters minutes after learning of the discovery of the body, Schwartz-Maltz said that the students on the trip have been informed and are being supported by a child and youth worker that is on site.
“Right now they need to be together,” she said. “The shocking reality is going to hit.”
Police have not said how far away the body was from the area where Perry first went missing.
Jeremiah's stepmother Jennifer Anderson told CTV News Toronto earlier in the day that her stepson and his 17-year-old brother left for the trip to Algonquin Park on Sunday.
On Tuesday night, she said the school's principal called to say Jeremiah was missing.
"They got the search party to start but they called it off because it was getting dark," she said. "At the moment, the police officer has mentioned to us that he was presumed under recovery. We are hopeful that we are going to find him."
She said she was told there were three lifeguards watching 22 children at the time Jeremiah went missing.
"How is that possible for him to drown right in front of three lifeguards?" she asked.
Jeremiah’s father told CTV News Toronto that he was not concerned about safety prior to his children leaving for the trip.
“That was the least on our minds thinking about the safety because we know the school is supposed to have proper supervision, proper protocol, everything in place,” he said.
Students had 'appropriate supervision,' TDSB says
Malloy said in his statement that the summer education course has operated for a number of years “with an excellent safety record.”
“We know all staff involved are committed to reviewing each and every aspect of this tragedy to assure ourselves and our communities of our safety procedures,” Malloy said.
However he said the school board will not be able to make any conclusions until the OPP have completed their investigation.
The TDSB also said the staff to student ratio on the trip went above the school board's standards.
“We would have the appropriate supervision,” TDSB Spokesperson Ryan Bird said on Wednesday morning. “There would have been swim tests prior to the trip beginning and that’s just part of the TDSB approach to trips of this nature.”
Students were originally scheduled to return home on Friday but are heading back early in light of the incident.
"We notified all parents last night to make sure they knew what had happened and to let them know that their children would be coming home early," Bird said.
All the teens were initially going to portage to an area where they would be picked up by a school bus but it was later decided that the process would be too lengthy.
A float plane was brought in to take 18 students to a staging area, where they boarded a school bus back to Toronto.
The remainder of the students continued on to portage and are expected to return home on Thursday, the TDSB said.
The TDSB says a child and youth worker will ride on the bus to help the students with counselling.
Shari Schwartz-Maltz said grief counsellors are also available at the school.
"We have a team here of social workers, people involved with the school and people we bring in specially, to talk to parents, to talk to kids," Schwartz-Maltz said.
"Schools are places that people come to during tragedy. They are much more than just schools. They are community hubs. We just want this to be a place people can come and express their grief and talk about how they’re feeling."