NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Questions still linger after two Nashville teens drowned at Cummins Falls State Park over the weekend. KeyVonte Cunningham and D'Donta Gray, both 13, were there with non-profit Backfield In Motion on a field trip.
“Keyvonte is a loving person,” his mother Shirlethia Adkinson explained. “You know he's 13 and he would still come up and lay on me for me to cuddle him.”
Adkinson is preparing to bury her 13-year-old son KeyVonte with few answers about exactly what happened.
“He said 'I really want to mom. I really want to go swimming. Please go ahead and let me go,'” Adkinson recalled. “When (Boots Donnelly) called me he was like 'the current just started pulling kids under it was so strong. It pulled adults under and we just couldn't get to him.'”
She said her son knew how to swim and had been with Backfield in Motion for years, so she trusted the program.
KeyVonte Cunningham and D’Donta Gray were part of a group of 39 students attending Backfield In Motion's weekly field trip.
“Just a great student,” KIPP Nashville Charter School Founder Randy Dowell said about Gray. “Anything you would want or hope for in a kid. A hard worker, (he) always brought a smile to school every day.”
Both KeyVonte and D'Donta were swimming in a popular area of the falls when somehow they both went under. Family said KeyVonte was trying to save D'Donta, who was starting to drown.
“KeyVonte used to tell me that there was a boy at Backfield that looked like him and it was his brother from another mother,” Adkinson said about how her son described his relationship with D’Donta.
NewsChannel 5 went to Backfield in Motion to find out more about what happened. CEO James “Boots” Donnelly said five chaperones with Backfield attended the field trip and four more with Great Outdoors University that hosted the group also provided assistance.
When asked if there were life jackets or any adults in the water, he said, “Well I'm not going to get into any of that at this time.”
When asked if the falls were a safe place for children to be he said, “We're just going to have to answer that a little bit later on. We'll have to evaluate the whole thing.”
Donnelly went on to say that his primary concern was to provide support for the families that were affected.
While questions linger a community is in mourning, including KIPP Nashville where D'Donta went to school.
“His peers loved him. His teachers really respected him and he respected them as well,” Dowell said.
KeyVonte’s mother is no longer comforted by his cuddles, but is leaning onto her faith.
“KeyVonte is a very loving and caring person,” she said. “He was a guy that laid down his life for a friend.”
Backfield in Motion stressed that it’s a safe program, saying it does not plan on suspending future field trips and will continue summer programming as planned.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is conducting an investigation and extended its condolences. But officials said the public swims at its own risk at State Parks.
A vigil and balloon release in honor of KeyVonte Cunningham is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at East Nashville Magnet’s football field.
His funeral is Saturday at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Bordeaux. The visitation starts at 10 a.m. and the funeral begins at 11 a.m..
Visitation and memorial services will held for D'Donta Gray at Greater Revelations Baptist Church on 12th Ave North. A public visitation will be held Wednesday from 1 to 6 p.m. with his funeral Thursday at 7 p.m. Burial will be held Friday at Greenwood Cemetery on Dickerson Road.
KIPP Academy Nashville will have three counselors available to provide support/grief counseling at the public visitation on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org