Community reacts to death of Manchester High student

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Nov. 30, 2012
Manchester High School freshman Malvrick Donkor died Wednesday, Nov. 21. He was 14. Photo courtesy of - Contributed Photo

A candlelight vigil was held in front of the Freshman Center at Manchester High School on Monday, Nov. 26, in memory of MHS freshman Malrick Donkor. In the chill evening, a large gathering of students, staff and parents stood around a memorial rock painted the colors of the Ghanaian flag - red, yellow and green - stunned by the sudden loss of the 14-year-old boy who had drowned during swimming instruction the day before Thanksgiving. Donkor was found unresponsive in the school's swimming pool during gym class, and was taken to Manchester Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Members of the Ghanaian community were present to mourn and support Donkor's family. Donkor's death is a tragic and uncanny blow to area Ghanaians, who are still mourning the loss of Marcum Asiamah, who died Jan. 11, 2012, in the East Hartford High School pool. Both Asiamah and Donkor were high school freshmen, originally from Ghana; both drowned in their school's pool during gym class.

“Marcum, and then him? What's going on?” cried a Ghanaian woman at the vigil. “You came to America, and this is what you get?”

Joyce Addo, a resident of Windsor and a native of Ghana, came to support the family. Her cousin's husband brought Donkor over from Ghana to Manchester, where he lived with his family. “They brought him here to have a better life,” said Addo. “It's sad. So very sad.”

Addo was also struck by the fact that two young Ghanaians had drowned in the same year. “It's very strange,” she said. “Twice in a year. Why the pool?”

Addo described Donkor as “smart, with high hopes.” He wanted to be either a doctor or an engineer. Addo said she brought her own children to America in part to receive a college education, which she calls the best in the world. “We're here to better their lives and have a better future,” she said.

Manchester High School Principal Matthew Geary told the crowd assembled at the vigil that the event was organized by students. It began with a prayer, followed by a trumpeter playing the Ghanaian national anthem. Donkor's older brother, Ato, spoke some words, which came with difficulty. “He was always there for me,” he said. “He always put a smile on my face.”

High school student Ashley Weeks read a poem in honor of Donkor. “This, for me, is hard to go through. Mourn one cousin before, now I have to mourn two.”

As candles were lit, the Roundtable Singers sang “Wanting Memories.” They sang, “I thought you were gone, but I know you're with me.”

An investigation into Donkor's death began immediately following the incident. “We're investigating it, and [will find out how to] make sure it doesn't happen again,” said Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy on Nov. 22.

At the high school, support staff has been available since Nov. 22 to help students and staff cope with the loss of Donkor.

The high school pool has been closed to students and members of the public since the incident. It will remain closed during the duration of the investigation by the school's attorney and state officials.

“We're going to think hard about the process of procedures that we're going to have to put into place to reopen the pool,” said Interim Superintendent of Schools Richard Kisiel. “The state has minimum requirements, and most of us are convinced right now that, not only do we need to take definitive action to ensure further safety of our kids, maybe we need to get some legislation in the state for all schools.”

After their assessments, they will reveal any safety issues that need to be resolved, but Kisiel said that at this point none have been cited. Kisiel said that the chances of the school system discontinuing swimming classes are “not likely.”

Until Kisiel receives word from the attorney that represents both the school board and the teacher who was on duty at the time of the incident, he can offer no further statements about the investigation. Nevertheless, he intends on being forthcoming with details as they are made available.

“I'm not one to hide information," said Kisiel. "As soon as we're able to provide information about what occurred in a factual way, so that people can have a clear understanding of what happened, I'm ready to do that,” he said. “The community deserves an explanation about what happened, and, ultimately, what our response will be.”

However, he does not anticipate a response regarding the process for new pool procedures before the end of December. “We need time to get through the next couple of weeks, and get through the funeral,” Kisiel said. “Then we'll get to the procedures at that point.”

Donkor was born Dec. 19, 1997. His funeral will be held Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Manchester High School auditorium, at the request of the family. Those wishing to make financial contributions to assist with the funeral can do so at Northeast Family Federal Credit Union.

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