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Hundreds mourn the 17-year-old Baltimore boy who died on a school camping trip

The Baltimore Sun

The principal of a Baltimore alternative school, speaking yesterday at the funeral of a student who drowned on a school camping trip, remembered him as a "smiling, wonderful, beautiful child."

Kenneth Jones, 17, a student at Independence School Local 1, died March 27 after he jumped into a pool of frigid water in West Virginia. Helen Atkinson, the school's principal, told mourners that the school's staffers and students planned to honor Kenneth with a memorial.

"We will have a garden outside in front of our school that will be Kenny's garden, with benches to sit, with his name on it, with trees and beautiful flowers," Atkinson said. "That's one of the first things we're going to do together."

Hundreds of mourners, including a busload of Kenneth's classmates, filled the pews of Northwest Baltimore's Wayland Baptist Church for the nearly two-hour service. The youth's father, Kenneth Jones Sr., and his mother, Robin Blake, sat within a few feet of their son's casket and did not speak during the service.

Mayor Sheila Dixon was among the school and elected officials who attended the service. On Tuesday, Dixon said the city would pay for the funeral. She said she had been briefed on the drowning over the weekend and agreed with those who want the school system to review its field trip policy.

Independence School serves students who have struggled in traditional classrooms because of academic or disciplinary problems.

A West Virginia State Police investigator said Kenneth jumped into the pool at the base of a waterfall. His body was found in about 10 feet of water more than four hours later.

Dixon spoke at the funeral and said she had learned about Kenneth's life through a conversation with his cousin, Lawrence Thomas. Kenneth had been living with Thomas at the time of his death.

"I've got a huge amount of respect for Kenny from that conversation with Lawrence," Dixon said. "We have to look at this young man and the difference he made in his life by going to this alternative school. Lawrence said to me that it really made a difference in him making choices and knowing that education was important. And [Kenneth] was beginning to discover the talent that God had given him."

City schools interim Chief Executive Officer Charlene Cooper Boston attended the funeral and left before it ended. School system officials have declined to discuss details of the drowning pending the outcome of an investigation by West Virginia police.

Kenneth and seven others from Independence School left Baltimore nine days ago and slept in tents deep in the woods of Monongahela National Forest in Elkins, W.Va.

The site was seven miles from the nearest paved road, and it took the first rescue workers more than two hours to respond to a phone call for help, West Virginia police said.

The school's year-old camping curriculum is built as a rite of passage for students who may have had difficulties completing major tasks in their past.

Atkinson said she could see progress in Kenneth before he took the trip.

"He was turning a corner," she said. "He was one of those children who had some hard times and hadn't, until recently, known a direction to take. We told him this; every person in his life told him to find a direction and a path. It was working."

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