Oxford resident Rhonda Hunter hugs one of the many OHS students who visited her home Monday to pay their respects following the death of her son LaFrance Marshall, 16, who drowned the day before in Clear Lake. Photo by CJC.
So many tears were shed, so many hugs were shared, so many colorful flowers were left behind as a tribute to a fallen friend and classmate.
On Monday afternoon, the tiny front yard of Rhonda Hunter was overflowing with a large crowd of Oxford High School students who came to pay their respects and mourn the loss of her son, LaFrance Marshall.
“He never caused me one problem,” she said. “He was an awesome kid and he was very fun to be around.”
The 16-year-old OHS sophomore died of accidental drowning Sunday evening while swimming with friends in Clear Lake.
Sgt. Brent Jex, of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Marine Division, said Marshall was part of a group of eight youths who had permission to use a swim platform located approximately 150 feet from shore.
“The victim tried to swim from shore to the platform when he went under,” Jex said. “He went down about 50 feet from shore.”
“We understand he was a swimmer, but we don’t know the quality of his ability,” the sergeant continued. “He called for help (and) was seen struggling. Friends dove off the platform to try to reach him in time, but they were not successful. He went under before they got to him.”
Three divers from the Oxford Fire Department and three divers from the sheriff’s office went into the lake to search for Marshall, according to Jex.
He said Marshall was underwater for 46 minutes before his body was recovered from an area that was 23 feet deep.
Once he was found, attempts to resuscitate Marshall began and he was transported to McLaren Oakland hospital in Pontiac where he was later pronounced dead.
“The medical examiner ruled it a drowning – an accidental drowning,” Jex said.
Jex noted there was “no indication of any alcohol or drug use” on Marshall’s part and he had sustained no injuries prior to drowning.
Hunter told the crowd of grieving teens assembled outside her home that Marshall “passed away doing what he loved the most – hanging out with friends, having fun.”
There was no bitterness in her voice, no blame in her words. There was only a mother’s natural desire to comfort those around her and ease their pain.
“It’s nobody’s fault. When it’s your time to go, it’s time to go,” Hunter told the crowd. “What he would want us to do now is to just stay strong and be happy because everybody (who) knows him (knows) he was happy all the time. Even when things (went) wrong, he was always happy in my home.”
“It’s okay. It’s going to be all right. He’d just want us to be happy and be safe,” she noted.
The mass of OHS students had gathered in the parking lot of Lakeville Elementary and walked to their fallen friend’s home in the Lake Villa Manufactured Home Community.
With flowers in their hands and expressions of shock, disbelief and sadness on their young faces, the procession moved quietly and purposefully until it reached its destination.
Once they arrived at the house, one by one, the students paid their respects and exchanged hugs with Hunter, other family members and each other.
“I thank you all so much for coming out,” Hunter said. “I’m so overwhelmed (by) all the love and support . . . Just to see so many beautiful faces and all his friends. Thank you.”
Following the gathering, Hunter spoke with this reporter about her son.
“He made an impact (on you) as soon as you met him,” she said.
She described Marshall as “fun-loving” and “very respectful” to others, an “all-around people person.”
“He was a good kid. He always tried to help – very loving and kind,” Hunter said.
Hunter said she will miss “everything” about her son and never forget the last time she saw him. “He was so happy. He was on his scooter riding down the street and the sun was shining like it is now,” she said.
Hunter stressed how much she truly appreciated all “the support and the love” shown by Marshall’s friends on Monday.
“That meant everything to me,” she said. “My son was well-loved by his friends.”
Oxford resident Jennifer Lewis, whose son, Solan Lewis, was one of Marshall’s closest friends, had nothing but good things to say about this teen taken too early.
“He was a goofball. He was such a fun kid, always happy,” she said. “I took him home most days and (he) would be bouncing and singing and laughing (in the car).”
Marshall complemented his fun, carefree nature with an attitude towards others that was always “so respectful,” according to Lewis.
“Every single day, he’d get out and say, ‘Bye, Miss Lewis. Thanks for the ride,’” she said. “He was just a good-hearted kid . . . We’re going to miss him.”
Lewis was impressed and inspired by Hunter’s reaction to the crowd of teens that visited her home. “She stood out there and hugged every single one of these students. She thanked them and stood strong,” Lewis said. “If I was the mom, I don’t think that I could do that. My heart aches for them.”
In response to Marshall’s death, the Oxford school district emailed a statement to parents on Monday. In it, Marshall was described as “a friendly, happy soul who had a contagious smile and brought joy to so many.”
“His athleticism shined on the track in middle school, especially, and he was honored at a (school) board meeting in eighth grade as a member of our (middle school’s) record-setting relay in 2016,” the statement read.
Parents were informed the district will have “additional counselors and support available for all.”
“At any point, if your child is experiencing emotional distress, please assure (him or her) they may go to the office to receive support,” the statement read.
A crowd-funding page entitled “LaFrance Marshall Memorial Fund” was set up at www.gofundme.com on May 27. The goal is to raise $20,000 for funeral expenses and any other expenses the family may have.
As of Thursday (May 31) afternoon, a total of $21,744 had been donated by 440 people.
With summer almost here, Jex offered this important safety tip – “If you’re not a strong swimmer, make sure you wear a life jacket.”
“Don’t be afraid to speak (up) if you’re not a strong swimmer,” the sergeant added. “Tell your friends,” don’t just “go with the flow” because everyone else is doing something.
Visitation for Marshall will be held at Modetz Funeral Home Silverbell Chapel (100 E. Silverbell Rd.) in Orion Township on Thursday, June 7 from 5-9 p.m. and Friday, June 8 from 2-9 p.m.
A funeral service will be held at LakePoint Community Church (1550 W. Drahner Rd.) in Oxford Township on Saturday, June 9 beginning at 11 a.m.
Interment will be at Ridgelawn Memorial Cemetery (99 W. Burdick St.) in Oxford Village.