Ft. Dorchester High School holds memorial for teen who drowned

Sandbar may have played a role in teen's death
James Williamson
James Williamson
Memorial service at Ft. Dorchester High School
Memorial service at Ft. Dorchester High School

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - A memorial was held at Fort Dorchester High School on Thursday for 17-year- old James Williamson. He drowned in the waters off Sullivan's Island.

Joseph Riddle, a friend of Williamson was still in shock after being on the beach that day. He made the 911 call.

"I never thought a day at the beach, just going to the beach with one of my friends would mean losing one of them. All he really wanted to do was have a good time," said Riddle.

Students at the high school sang songs and showed pictures of their time with James Williamson, who died on Tuesday. Williamson had recently graduated from Fort Dorchester High School.

Williamson's sister, Randi spoke publically for the first time since losing her brother. She plans to live out the life he's always dreamed of living.

"He wanted to go to Hollywood, so I'm going to go there for him and I'm going to take something of his to every place that I go," said Randi Williamson.

Among the students was James' girlfriend Megan Diesso. In his last words while in the water he told his friend to tell Megan that he loved her.

Diesso said, "He's the most selfless person that I ever met in my entire life. He was more than just a person that I was in a relationship with, but he was my best friend and my other half."

A public service was also held Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Carolina Memorial Gardens where friends and family said their final goodbyes. Williamson's body will later be taken to his hometown in Lumberton, NC to be buried.

Anthony Stith, the Sullivan's Island fire chief said witnesses saw four teens standing in the water chest deep for about an hour on Tuesday.

According to authorities, one of the teens left the water, and when he returned his friends were gone.

After hearing cries for help, a paddle boarder located one of the teens.

Within 20 minutes a second teen was found. The teens were rescued near Station 28.5, near Breach Inlet, according to a firefighter with the Sullivan's Fire Department. One of the teens told emergency officials he tried to help Williamson, but was overtaken by a wave.

All three were treated and released from the East Cooper Medical Center.

Nicholas Salvatini, one of the teens with Williamson, said on Wednesday that it was supposed to be a fun, quick trip to the beach. Salvatini said the group of teens waded out past the sandbar into open waters and that when Williamson started to panic.

"The last words James said, 'Tell Megan I love her,' which is his girlfriend," Salvatini said."When I heard that, I just knew that...he knew. And that was within the first five minutes of being out there."

Helicopters were later used to locate Williamson, who was floating face down in the water.

"The conditions in the ocean are always changing, so be aware of your surroundings," said Cynthia Wilson, park manager of the Isle of Palms."Be aware of currents, weather conditions and what's going on around you in the water."

Chief Stith said sandbars may have played a role in Williamson's death. He said there are many deep holes underwater surrounding sandbars and a swimmer could be caught off guard.

Right now it is still unknown whether Williamson was able to swim.

There are no lifeguards on Sullivan's Island, but many signs telling swimmers where they are allowed in the water and that swimming is at your own risk.

Copyright 2013 WCSC. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.