Devon Cooley family describes life after his drowning: ‘It has made me feel really lonely’

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – More than 6 months after the drowning death of a Wichita boy, the child’s family has not been able to start the water safety program they set out to create in the boy’s honor.

Devon Cooley would have been a 7th grader at Mead Middle School in Wichita in the fall of 2016. Instead of going to middle school dances and practicing tricks on his beloved skateboard, his family now only has memories of him to hold on to.

“I think the hardest part for me is I haven’t fully been able to mourn it,” said David Cooley, Devon Cooley’s grandpa.

Water safety organization progress

Since Devon’s death, his family has been working to keep his legacy alive. His grandpa had high hopes of creating a water safety program to educate kids about the dangers of flood waters. However, the family said the organization has not had any community interest.

“I need someone to help me organize,” Cooley said. “Just educate kids as to the dangers because a lot of kids don’t see the danger. It looks like oh, that will be fun.”

Cooley said he wants to have a conversation with kids and their parents about the dangers of flood waters. His goal is to bring in swift water rescue experts and firefighters to area school and show students how unpredictable bodies of water can be. He said if he could educate at least one person on the topic, the program would be worth it.

“At least the effort out there that you put out the information that may have saved somebody,” Cooley said.

The day Devon drowned

Devon was just days away from turning 12 years old when he drowned in Gypsum Creek in June of 2016. His three younger brothers were with him when he died.

“We were walking from the Lord’s Diner and there was this little ditch. We were walking on the sidewalk and he slipped,” said 9-year-old Zayden Roland, Devon’s brother.

“It was flooding and it was going too fast,” said Devon’s other brother Kaeyden Roland. “He started drowning.”

Kaeyden, 11, said he tried to grab Devon from the rushing water. He said when he realized he couldn’t save Devon, he and his two other brothers ran for help.

“Then, we tried to get to the cop at the Lord’s Diner,” Kaeyden said.

Fire fighters would spend the next week searching Gypsum Creek for Devon’s body.

“The eight days waiting to find him, killed me,” Cooley said.

Cooley told KSN the pit in his stomach from the day he found out about his grandson’s death is still with him.

“It has made me feel really lonely,” he said. “I haven’t been able to let it go.”

Devon’s brother said they have not been able to let it go either.

KSN asked Kaeyden how Devon’s death has changed him.

“Because I can’t laugh that much now,” Kaeyden said.

Family reflects on Devon’s witty personality

Devon, 11, was eager about life. He often carried a video camera with him and recorded bits and pieces of his adventures.

Whether it was lunch with his friends, or playing a game of “Ring Around the Rosey” with his brothers, the mischievous boy left a lasting impression on nearly everyone he met.

“He was a handful, but he was a fun handful,” said Devon’s grandpa David Cooley.

David Cooley was more of a dad to Devon and his three younger brothers after Devon’s mom was incarcerated.

“He was a boy that grew up without a mom and a dad, great grandparents and granddad raised him,” Cooley said.

Some say that’s what made Devon, the skateboard loving kid, so unique.

“You look back and you say, you know, what potential he had, what could he have done with all of that?” Cooley said.

Teachers reflect on Devon’s death

Mead Middle School teachers told KSN Devon is missed by his classmates and staff.

“Being nice and being nice to everybody no matter what. I think that’s what I will always remember him for. I think the world can be a very hateful place and we tend to be very judgy, but Devon was the polar opposite of that,” said Devon’s teacher Brianna Falvey.

Shortly after his death, the school dedicated a skateboard rack in Devon’s honor. It now sits outside the school and is used daily, according to staff members.

“There’s skateboards out there daily. I’ve given away several locks and I know many of the kids that use it were good friends with Devon. It’s nice to see not only his friends use it, but other kids as well,” Falvey said.

Falvey said not only has she learned from Devon’s death, but she believes her students have too.

“That’s what Devon was about, was being nice to everybody, so it’s something that we want to emphasis on a daily basis and to remember him,” Falvey said.

RELATED LINK | Devon Cooley Water Safety Organization