Family members say Jesse Shillingford just knew how to make you smile.
"He was a very, very caring person, a very caring person," said his stepmother Lucille Shillingford. "His smile would melt you. He had a big ‘ole smile, and he knew how to use it, especially with the teachers."
The 15-year-old special needs student at Pepin Academy was just starting to venture out on his own and Friday was a big step. He was going to Pepin's back to school pool party. It was his very first time out with his classmates.
"Every morning, he asked the teachers 'Are you going to be there? I'm going to be there. I got my ticket. Are you going to be there?' He was just so excited," Shillingford said.
Pepin rented this massive rec center in Temple Terrace for the annual party, and it was packed.
Several lifeguards were on duty, and as many as 150 teachers, parents and kids were there. Jessie couldn't swim, but his stepmother said he couldn't wait to see his friends.
"His first little event and he was so happy. He was just hopping and smiling and greeting his buddies and stuff," she said.
But Jessie never made it home.
Despite so many people at the party, Jesse drowned.
Lifeguards pulled him out of the pool and performed CPR, but he never regained consciousness.
"Devastating. It was devastating. All the teachers, it seemed like everybody was just shocked," Shillingford said. "But nobody can tell me how long he was in there and what happened. So, I'm wondering what happened."
Monday night Jesse's family took him off life support, the hardest decision they've ever made.
Their only comfort is that Jessie is now helping others through organ donation.
"I don't' understand why it happened, but I'm going to take it and I'm going to embrace it and make it positive," Shillingford said. "He's going to live on and on and on. So I look at it like this. Jessie was a gift and he gave gifts."
Police are calling this a terrible accident. No one at Pepin Academy wanted to talk to us.
A spokesperson from the school told Fox 13 they are simply coping with the tragedy.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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