Friends and relatives of two young people who drowned in the Bogue Chitto River on the 4th of July said the victims were no strangers to the river and described frantic attempts to look for them before losing hope and calling for help.
Laterrius Wilkinson, 19, and Zechariah White, 13, both of McComb, drowned after apparently swimming in deep water near the Holmesville bridge on Pike 93 North Thursday afternoon.
Their bodies were recovered around noon the next day.
Deandre Lang, 25, who is related to White, said about 20 people were hanging out near the bridge on Thursday, including about a dozen of his friends and relatives who were spending the holiday at a campsite just north of the bridge.
Claudette Lang, who is White’s great-aunt and Deandre’s mother, said White would have been a seventh-grader at Higgins Middle School in the fall. She said Wilkinson was a friend of the family.
“He was with the family all the time,” she said.
Deandre Lang said he remembers seeing the pair for the last time. He and his uncle Elijah Sparkman both said they saw Wilkinson and White swim across the river to a sandbar and then swim downstream.
“I seen them go across the bank and when I seen them turn the corner I didn’t see them no more,” he said. “We went out there looking for them. We stayed looking for them and we tried not to think the worst.”
He said there were no signs of distress from the two swimmers, who silently vanished under the water.
“They were swimming downstream after swimming across to the other side of the bank. There wasn’t nothing wrong,” Lang said.
Their party grew concerned after time passed and there were still no signs of the swimmers, only the personal belongings they left behind, he said.
“Their clothes are still here, their phones are still here, they’re not here,” Lang said.
Elijah Sparkman, White’s uncle, teamed up with Lang to swim downstream to look for the pair.
“We both saw them when they went out to the sandbar,” he said.
They saw other people hanging out on the river and asked them if they had seen two boys pass by, and no one said they did.
Lang said someone made the call for help about an hour or so later.
Sheriff’s officials reported receiving the call at 7:40 p.m.
Sparkman said lawmen arrived to take over the search and asked the family to meet up at Holmesville Baptist Church.
Chief investigator Chris Bell said search teams looked for the victims through the night and the next morning.
Lang said most everyone with his group was familiar with the river, including White and Wilkinson.
“We go out there probably about two times out of a month,” he said.
He said the river can be a dangerous place during high water, but that wasn’t the condition of the waterway on Thursday.
“Sometimes you can catch some bad currents when the river starts running,” he said.
He said the water was just ankle deep in some places where they were cooling off but noted the river was deeper near the bridge, where sheriff’s officials reported finding the bodies.
Sparkman said White was a good swimmer but Wilkinson “didn’t go swimming that much.”
“I’m from Holmesville. I’m a good swimmer. Everybody out there was good swimmers,” he said.
Funeral arrangements are pending for the pair as their autopsies are being completed at the Mississippi State Crime Lab.
Claudette Lang said the tragedy has been a lot for friends and relatives to handle. She said White was well known and well liked by his classmates and both he and Wilkinson will be missed.
“All of the kids, they loved him,” she said. “It’s been a bad situation.”