Jeremiah and Helen Evans of Cedar Hill have adopted two birds at the World Bird Sanctuary to honor their 11-year-old son, James, who died May 23 in a drowning accident on the Big River.
His parents said James had an interest in falconry, and at least six birds have been adopted in his memory.
James was a fifth-grader at Grandview Elementary School, and the Grandview School District was the first to adopt a bird in his name.
James loved all kinds of animals, his parents said. He also enjoyed music, drawing, cooking and spending time outdoors, particularly in the river.
“He was the best boy. He was one of a kind,” Helen said. “Everybody loved him. We all couldn’t wait to see what he would do. He was very smart.”
Jeremiah said over the previous six months, his son became fascinated with birds of prey, especially falcons.
“He said, ‘When I am 16, I don’t want my (driver’s) license. I want my falconry license,” Jeremiah said.
He said James hoped to become an emergency helicopter nurse and hunt with a falcon on his days off.
A book on falconry still sits on James’ bedside table, “He wanted to have his own bird someday to release and have them come back to him,” Helen said. “He was really proud to be a Grandview Eagle.”
She said she will miss so many things about James, including his help in the kitchen.
“Guacamole was his thing,” Helen said. “He really kind of took ownership of the guacamole, but he would just get creative with all of his sandwiches. and he would make an avocado aioli for BLT sandwiches in the summer, and he always wanted to help me in the kitchen.”
On May 22, the day before James died, he paddled 11 miles in a kayak by himself during a family float trip on the Big River, Jeremiah said.
“The last full day he had was his best day ever,” his dad said.
Helen said James was proud about paddling the trip himself.
On May 23, the Evan family, including James’ younger brother, Oscar, were celebrating Helen’s 41st birthday. The plan was to get in a quick swim and then go home, “get cleaned up and go out for Mom’s birthday,” Jeremiah said.
Helen said nine people went to the Big River for a swim, and all of them, including James, were taking safety precautions.
“James was in the appropriate size life jacket. We buy them new jackets every year,” she said. “He was in a very familiar area that he always swims in and he got tangled up in something.”
Helen said she was only about 10 feet away from James when he got trapped underwater for about three minutes.
“It wasn’t very long,” she said.
Helen said she, Jeremiah, and family friends pulled James out of the water, and Helen, who is a nurse practitioner, started CPR.
James’ aunt, Lauren Murphy, 39, of Cedar Hill, called 911.
“As soon as I saw a first responder, I yelled to them and I said, ‘I need your help. I work in emergency medicine and I could use your help,’” Helen said.
A Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrived at the scene in the 7900 block of Riverview Drive, at property the Evans family owns, at 3:27 p.m. after being dispatched at 3:18 p.m., according to a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson.
Jeremiah said the deputy used one of the family’s life jackets and swam across the river to help.
Helen said she wanted to ride in the ambulance to help care for her son on the way to hospital but was not allowed to.
“I am experienced working in emergency medicine,” she said. “I’ve seen these things over and over. I never thought I would do (CPR) to my own kid.”
Helen said James drowned in the same spot he swam every day.
“You just never think this will happen to your own kid, especially when we are always really safe about everything, take all the proper precautions, and we’re not the type of people who just let our kids jump in and don’t watch them,” Helen said.
Jeremiah and Helen said since James’ death, they have received an outpouring of support from friends and the community at large, including donations to help cover expenses for James’ service.
Helen said the family is planning a private service for James this month.