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Questions linger about city camp death

A woman placed a teddy bear at a makeshift memorial Wednesday at the L Street Bathhouse for Kyzr Willis, a 7-year-old whose body was found Tuesday in the water off Carson Beach.
A woman placed a teddy bear at a makeshift memorial Wednesday at the L Street Bathhouse for Kyzr Willis, a 7-year-old whose body was found Tuesday in the water off Carson Beach.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe staff

The 7-year-old Dorchester boy who drowned Tuesday after going missing from a city summer program in South Boston will be buried next week, his father said.

Ralph Toney said Kyzr Willis’s body was released Thursday from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and sent to a funeral home in East Boston. Funeral arrangements have not been finalized, he said.

“I’m lost for words right now,” Toney said. “He was very joyful. Even when he was mad, he had a smile on his face.”

As Toney prepared to bury his son, questions lingered about how Kyzr slipped away from the two dozen teenage counselors, eight lifeguards, and three adult employees who authorities say were at the Curley Community Center when the boy disappeared.

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Kyzr was among 56 children who showed up Tuesday for a drop-in program at the beachfront center, city officials have said.

“That’s two kids per staff member. One staff member didn’t realize that my son wasn’t there,” Toney said. “She or he should have reacted right there and then, but I don’t think they did.”

Boston Police Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy said “the investigation remains active and ongoing,” but investigators had no other updates.

Kyzr’s relatives said they had not received new information about the inquiry. Results from the boy’s autopsy are pending, according to a spokesman for the medical examiner’s office.

City officials have placed the center’s director on paid leave and launched a review of more than 50 drop-in and summer camps run by the city’s Centers for Youth & Families.

Kyzr Willis.
Kyzr Willis. Boston Police Dept./ Twitter

Kyzr’s 9-year-old brother, Ralph, who also attended the program, told a relative that he heard the boy scream and reported it to counselors.

Kyzr had gone into the bathhouse to change when his brother heard the screams, said Deborah Cato, the relative.

“His brother heard him scream,” Cato said. “He said, ‘I told the counselors.’ He said, ‘They went in to check. They didn’t see Kyzr.’ ”

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On Wednesday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he had heard the same account from Kyzr’s family but had not discussed it with officials at the time.

Authorities said Kyzr was last seen about 2:15 p.m. Tuesday in the L Street Bathhouse, which is part of the Curley Center. A 911 call came in about a half-hour later, according to Boston and State Police.

Kyzr’s body was found at 7:10 p.m., about 20 yards offshore in front of the bathhouse, police said. Investigators believe he had been in the water for at least three hours, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation previously told the Globe.

Kyzr’s mother, Melissa Willis, said no counselors ever contacted her. Instead, she said, her 9-year-old niece called to tell her Kyzr was missing.

Some relatives wonder whether Kyzr was harmed before drowning and question the timeline of events given by authorities.

“From the lifeguards to the camp staff, everybody needs to be held accountable because he’s a child,” said Decayla Toney, a family member.

Counselors attend a two-day orientation, receiving first aid training and learning about job requirements, Walsh spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin said.

Applicants must pass criminal background checks and have an interest in children, she said.

Lifeguards must carry several certifications and undergo a swimming evaluation to be hired, McGilpin said. Once they get the job, they receive additional training and attend an aquatics safety meeting.

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The city said it prohibits lifeguards and counselors from using cellphones and other personal electronic devices while on duty.

Ralph Toney said Kyzr and his brother had previously attended a summer program at their uncle’s business, Chez-Vous Roller Rink in Dorchester. This year, they wanted to try something different and enrolled in the Curley Center program for $100.

“Every morning, they were up bright and early, already dressed, ready to go,” Toney said. “They were in love with it.”

Toney’s boss, Brett O’Brien, launched a GoFundMe page to pay for Kyzr’s funeral. As of Thursday evening, donors had given close to $14,000.

“I’m kind of floored,” O’Brien said.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.