Montreal

Family of Montreal teen who drowned during swim class to sue city, school board

The family of Blessing Moukoko, who drowned during his high school swimming class, is taking legal action. A coroner's report revealed the teen was likely at the bottom of the pool for almost 40 minutes.

Mother says her life has become a living nightmare, and she wants answers

Évelyne Mavoungou-Tsonga, Blessing Moukoko's mother, says she knows a lawsuit won't bring her son back, but she wants justice. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The morning before everything changed, Évelyne Mavoungou-Tsonga says her son, Blessing Moukoko, asked her to give him some moisturizer to take with him to school.

He had swim class, and the pool water dried out his skin and made it white. He wanted to make sure he could moisturize his skin before his next class.

Blessing, a 14-year-old student at École Père-Marquette in Rosemont, was found at the bottom of the pool that February day. He had a pulse when he was taken to hospital, but died days later.

"It's been very hard. My entire life turned upside down. It's a nightmare, I can barely believe it. I hurt all over. I can't do anything, I'm on sick leave, I can't sleep. I picture him every day — every day, every hour, every night," Mavoungou-Tsonga said.

She was wearing a T-shirt with a photo of her son with angel wings.

Blessing's family announced Wednesday it plans to sue the City of Montreal and the Commission scolaire de Montréal. The swim class took place Centre Père-Marquette, a city-run community centre.

Blessing Moukoko, 14, died in February. His family is suing the school board and the City of Montreal. (GoFundMe)

Speaking softly and sniffling, Mavoungou-Tsonga said she still has many questions about what happened, despite the fact the coroner's report, released Tuesday, shed some light on the circumstances.

She said her family wants answers so this never happens again. 

"How did this happen? How is it possible, a child who goes to school and doesn't come back?"

Jean-Claude Moukoko, Blessing's father, said no word exists to describe the pain he feels.

"He was my friend. He was my everything," he said.

He said the family wants to make sure things change, so that other children are safe.

"We could never wish this on even our greatest enemy."

Jean-Pierre Metabanzoulou (left), Blessing's uncle, and Jean-Claude Moukoko, Blessing's father, both said they want to make sure no other child dies the way Blessing did. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Family believes city, school were negligent

Lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard said while the coroner could not ascribe blame in the case, the family believes it was negligence.

They haven't determined a dollar amount for the lawsuit yet, he said, because a child's life has no price.

"This is a sad story because it could have been prevented with a minimum of supervision," Ménard said.

Coroner Dr. Louis Normandin's report revealed the teen was likely at the bottom of the pool for almost 40 minutes before he was pulled out.

Normandin pointed out since the lifeguard was helping to teach the class, there was no one whose only job was to watch the kids in the pool that day.

The lifeguard had to help teach the class because the teacher, a substitute, didn't have the required training to teach the class alone.

Blessing had self-identified as being unable to swim, and his friends also said he wasn't a strong swimmer.

Mavoungou-Tsonga said she was shocked to learn there was no one watching her son while he was in the water.

Blessing's mother explains what life has been like since her son died:

'My entire life turned upside down,' says mother of teen who drowned

3 years ago
Duration 0:39
Évelyne Mavoungou-Tsonga said she still has questions about what happened to her son Blessing, who died after he was found unconscious at the bottom of a swimming pool. 0:39

Jean-Pierre Metabanzoulou, Blessing's uncle, announced during the news conference that the family is starting a foundation in the teen's honour.

One of its goals will be to make sure children in the city's African community learn to swim.

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