By Robert Kerrigan

Jesse Watlington
Taken Sept. 26,2012 – (7 – Days Before His Death)

Jesse was born on April 4, 2001, in Boca Raton, Florida. He was the 2nd child, and only son to Chuck & Alda Watlington. Jesse was a handsome, sweet little boy that had a smile that would light every room. He was always laughing and was full of life. But, also had a quiet and humble side, and never the one to boast or brag. A perfect example of this, is that hardly any of Jesse’s friends or classmates ever knew that he was only a few months away from earning his black-belt in Tae Kwon Do. While at the same time, Jesse’s parents didn’t know that he was recently promoted to captain of his school’s safety patrol. He was always quick to stand up and protect anyone who was being picked on or bullied. Which he did in such a quiet, sweet way. He went his entire life without having one fight.

Jesse’s favorite hobbies were miniature golf, bowling and going to the movies every Saturday night with his sister and parents. His family had annual passes for Disney World every year. So they went often since they lived in South Florida only 2 1/2 hours away.

Jesse had his own Bible and would memorize one Bible verse each week. He had a love for Jesus and attended Christian schools, all but one year of his entire life.

In August, 2012, Jesse started his 6th grade year at a Private Christian School in Ft. Myers, Florida. It was Jesse’s 3rd year at the school, and most of his closest friends were trying out for the middle school football team. Although Jesse never spent time watching football games on TV, he just enjoyed spending time with his friends. He especially liked being a “member” of a team that everyone looked up to. Even though Jesse was one of the smallest players on his team, he never lacked ambition or motivation.

Jesse Was #51

His First Game Of The Season

Florida is the lightning capital, and almost every single day from early June thru late October, at approximately 4:00 PM a violent thunderstorm will appear every afternoon. Where dark clouds will quickly move in, bringing with it severe lightning and torrential rain.

In Florida, every parent who has children that play outdoor sports, are very concerned about their kid’s safety, especially when it comes to lightning. Many parents have had a verbal confrontation with their children’s coaches for not calling off games or practices when lightning is dangerously closing in on their children’s sporting event. In many cases, coaches are accused of “pushing the envelope” a little too far, when lightning is dancing across the sky, and there are still kids on the field. Coaches are too reluctant to postpone or cancel games due to lightning.

Everyday at 5:30 PM, Jesse’s parents would take turns picking him up at school after football practice. Almost everyday, Jesse’s dad had to put a protective plastic bag over the car seat, because Jesse’s uniform was completely soaking wet and covered in mud. Jesse told his parents that his coaches said that practicing in the rain, and on a muddy field “toughened them up”.

Jesse’s parents, as well as others, feared that the coaches were taking too many risks with their children’s lives by practicing in bad weather conditions. Especially during the time of year, and time of day where dangerous lightning occurs.

But, the coaches at Jesse’s school reassured the Watlington’s that the school had a portable lightning detector (the size of a car battery) that was at every outdoor practice and game. If lightning were every detected within 10-miles of the area, their lightning detector would sound off a loud alarm, and all the kids would be transferred to the safety of the indoor gym, which was 700-yards from their practice field.

The first two games of the 2012-season were both played at their opponents home campus’s. Because of lightning, both games were delayed up to an hour. Both of their opponents school’s had a lightning detection system installed on the roof of both campus’s. All middle school football games were played on Thursdays at 4:00 PM.

Everyday for 10-straight days prior to the day Jesse was struck by lightning, his after school practices were interrupted when the school’s portable lightning detector sounded the alarm that dangerous lightning had been detected in the area. So the coaches had to move the kids to the indoor gym on their campus.

October 3, 2012 started out like every normal day for the Watlington family. Jesse said his daily morning prayer holding hands with his older sister, Mom and Dad in the family’s front foyer. After kissing each other good-bye, Jesse rushed off to school eager and excited, because it was “Picture Day” at school. Jesse got a haircut the evening before, and was wearing his favorite shirt. At 12:00 Noon, Jesse sat down for the final photo of his life.

Jesse’s dad worked at a furniture store just 4-miles west of Jesse’s school. At 4:00 PM, Chuck Watlington had a customer return to his store to pick-up a sofa with a neighbors truck. But when they looked out the front window of the store (in the direction of Jesse’s school), the sky was almost black. A violent thunderstorm was coming in from the east and the south. Bringing with it, a nasty lightning storm. The dark sky was so scary, the customer immediately decided to return to the store on the following day to pick-up her sofa.

At 4:18 PM, Jesse’s mother received a call from Jesse’s school informing her that Jesse had just been struck by lightning on the school’s practice field.

All Jesse’s mom could say was “Oh no…” over and over. Then the school said that he is on his way to the emergency room. Jesse’s mom asked if he was breathing, and her reply was “They’re working on him.” She immediately called her husband to meet her at the hospital’s emergency room.

When Jesse’s parents arrived, all the doctors could say was “We now have a pulse.” Then Jesse’s parents were told that they needed to transfer Jesse by ambulance to another hospital that was better equipped. Thirty minutes later, he was transferred 8-miles away to a second hospital. Jesse was in a coma on life support and doctors at the second hospital in Ft. Myers told Jesse’s parents that he needed to be air-lifted 130-miles away up to Tampa General Hospital. Jesse’s mom rode in the helicopter with Jesse, while Jesse’s dad drove home to quickly pack a bag for everybody and drive up to Tampa.

Before Jesse was air-lifted to Tampa, the hospital in Ft. Myers was surrounded by reporters trying to get an interview with Jesse’s parents. But they declined all reporters. It wasn’t until the 2nd day at Tampa General Hospital did Jesse’s parents grant a news conference. All they said was that their precious little boy had been struck by lightning, and they were placing their trust in Jesus Christ. Then they asked everyone to please pray for their son.

Immediately, through social media and Facebook, thousands of people from around the world had sent messages to the family, sharing their personal stories how they had renewed their faith through Jesse’s story.

The news of Jesse’s story went on national TV within 24-hours and quickly went international. The Watlington family received messages from Tokyo to Rome.

Meanwhile, back in Ft. Myers, a spokesman from Jesse’s school was giving around the clock updates on Jesse’s condition. But thru all the news coverage, Jesse’s parents never saw any news stories on their son. They kept the hospital TV turned off and spent 24-hours a day at Jesse’s bedside, praying for Jesse’s recovery.

The spokesmen for Jesse’s school in Ft. Myers told all the newspaper, radio and television reporters their version of what happened.

He said that when Jesse was struck by lightning, “it was a clear, blue sky day”, and “weather did not play a factor.” He went on to say “it was a strike out of the blue.” His version of the story was that Jesse was leading his team out to the practice field when Jesse was struck. He said that Jesse was struck by the very first bolt of lightning detected that day, and because the school’s portable lightning detector only gives off an alarm after the first bolt of lightning has been detected, that was the reason their device hadn’t sounded an alarm.

He went further on to say, that the schools portable lightning detector was on the field, turned on, and monitoring the weather conditions when the children entered the practice field. He said that all their safety equipment was in place, and his coaches were trained and went beyond the call of duty to save Jesse’s life.

The doctors and medical staff at Tampa General Hospital were excellent and gave Jesse the best professional care possible. But, after 72-hours, Jesse’s body was starting to shut down.

Jesse’s parents received the horrible news from doctors, that their son wasn’t expected to live another 12-hours. After reviewing brain-scans, x-rays and other tests, as well as interviewing a couple of coaches and police officers from Ft. Myers, doctors told Chuck & Alda Watlington that their little boy had gone 8 to 10 minutes before C.P.R. was attempted, and Jesse had gone 30-minutes without a pulse. Therefore, Jesse was brain-dead.

On Sunday morning, October 7, 2012, Jesse was taken off life support and immediately died in the arms of his Mom, Dad and sister.

Jesse’s family returned to Ft. Myers to prepare for Jesse’s funeral. Over 3,000 people attended Jesse’s funeral.

Shortly after Jesse’s funeral, the 911-tapes were released to the public. Jesse’s father listened to the 911-operator yell at Jesse’s head coach for running away from Jesse, instead of performing C.P.R. And the reason he was running back to the indoor gym, was because it was raining very hard. He also went on to say that he had 2-other coaches (who did know C.P.R.) on their way to help Jesse.

According to the national weather service, there were a few hundred lightning strikes in the Ft. Myers area, between 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM.

In this report issued by Weatherbug, it shows the lightning conditions over Jesse’s school. Weather bug issued a warning 3-minutes before Jesse was struck.

The Ft. Myers police officers who performed C.P.R. on Jesse, said that it was raining so hard, that visibility was only 20-feet.

Within 6-weeks after Jesse’s death, coaches and classmates from Jesse’s school came forward to the Watlington family and gave a different, conflicting account of what happened at Jesse’s school the afternoon of October 3, 2012.

Jesse’s parents had only one goal, for the truth to come out, so other schools could learn from mistakes that were made so this type of tragedy will never be repeated and Jesse will be the last child needlessly struck by lightning.

On November 19, 2012, the Watlington family filed a lawsuit. In early May of 2013, depositions were given to all 6 coaches at Jesse’s school.

On May 16, 2013, this shocking story hit the front pages.

Below is the link to the 911 call from the incident.

The audio recording may be disturbing and it is advised to not be listened to by children. Viewer discretion is advised.

You can listen to the 911 audio by clicking here.

Shortly after the depositions were made public, the lawsuit was quickly settled out of court.

Now, the Watlington Family has started a foundation in their son’s name. It is their goal to protect as many children as possible from the dangers of lightning. It is the foundations goal to require that all coaches for both public and private schools be trained and certified C.P.R., and in A.E.D.’s. Second, the foundation wants to make sure that little children are never sent out to a practice field or left unsupervised by coaches. Third, the foundation wants to require that all schools, public and private, have a lightning safety system on their campus. That will monitor lightning and other dangerous weather conditions for sporting events, and all outside activities that involve children, including playgrounds and school parking lots. Last, the foundation wants to educate teachers, coaches and children on lightning safety and awareness.

The current laws in the state of Florida only require that coaches in public schools (not private schools) to be trained and certified in C.P.R. The foundation wants to change that law and also require that they also have A.E.D.’s present at every practice, as well as every game.

The Watlington family has started the “Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation” with 100% of their own personal funds and without any outside donations. With enough personal funds to donate the first 40-schools with a lightning safety system, that will be mounted on the roof of each school. Which will sound off a horn (loud enough to be heard over the entire school campus), if lightning is detected within 8-miles of the school’s campus.

The foundation will pay no salaries to any of its directors and 100% of all expenses are paid by the Watlington family. Not the foundation. After the first 40-schools receive a free lightning safety system from the Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation, the foundation will then rely 100% on future donations to keep the foundation going.

Since public schools receive funding from the local government, the foundation is only donating the lightning safety systems to private schools in the state of Florida first. Then on to the rest of the U.S.

Story By,

Robert Kerrigan

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