By Rikki King Herald Writer
LAKE STEVENS — Fedrick Nifasha was 20.
He’d survived the refugee camp in Tanzania where he was born and raised.
He’d survived brain surgery for his epilepsy. He hadn’t had a seizure in years.
He was a source of joy and inspiration to his family, including several brothers and sisters, according to a family spokesman. They’d immigrated to the U.S. in part to get him better medical care.
Nifasha died Sunday at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. He’d been on life support since May 31, when he was found in the bottom of the Lake Stevens High School pool. The circumstances of the drowning remain under investigation.
Nifasha’s family released a statement Monday through attorneys. The school district also sent an email to parents, letting them know that young people may struggle to express their grief.
The family is grateful for the outpouring of community support since Nifasha was rushed to the hospital, said Sim Osborn, a Seattle attorney representing the family. The family is devastated, he said Monday.
“No parent should have to suffer the anguish of burying a child, and the lengths that Fedrick’s parents have gone to give their children a better life makes this even more heartbreaking,” he said.
The district learned of the death on Monday morning.
“Words cannot describe the difficult feelings associated with this, and the hearts of everyone in the school district community go out to Fedrick’s family and friends,” Superintendent Amy Beth Cook wrote in the email to parents.
She encouraged parents to seek help if their children need additional support.
Extra counselors were made available Monday to Lake Stevens students, their families and staff, district spokeswoman Jayme Taylor said.
A district investigation also is under way, the email said. The district is working with police.
“It is my hope that this will provide some insight into what occurred,” the superintendent said. “As always, the safety of all our students is a paramount concern.”
Nifasha was a special-needs student in a district program that focused on helping older students enter the workforce and learn life skills.
The family previously lived in a refugee camp in Tanzania after violence drove them from their home in Burundi. Nifasha’s father, a phlebotomist, lived in the camp for decades, Osborn said.
Nifasha could not swim. He spoke Kirundi, the native language of Burundi, and also some Swahili.
He could understand some English but didn’t speak it well, the family attorney said.
“Our hearts are broken by the loss of such a wonderful son and brother,” said Nifasha’s father, Emmnuel Dismis. “He’d already been through many challenges in his life and was looking forward to a bright future in the U.S. It seems so senseless that he could have been taken from us at such a young age.”
The family is struggling to understand what happened, including evidence that suggests he had been underwater for a considerable amount of time before he was pulled to the surface, Osborn said.
“Our preliminary investigation tells us that the only reason they discovered Fedrick at the bottom of the pool was because the school staff noticed a student missing when they prepared to leave the school,” Osborn said in a prepared statement.
“The more we learn about the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, the more it appears it was entirely avoidable,” he said.
The school district earlier said that students were getting into the pool at the beginning of a physical education class when a teacher noticed one was missing. The teacher and the school aquatics manager, a certified lifeguard, both were in the room at the time.
Nifasha was part of the district’s Transition Program, Taylor said. The program is a partnership with local community groups and is based off-campus.
The Transition Program revolves around vocational training for students with developmental disabilities, aged 18-21, according to the district website. They have completed high school but have not graduated.
Exact details regarding Nifasha’s condition haven’t been disclosed.
Students in the program generally have jobs outside of school, Taylor said. They receive additional educational support and go on community trips together.
About 15 students are in the program.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; email@example.com.