It is a warm, sunny day before Easter at the Ft. Morgan beach where holes are dug, books are read and balls are thrown. Umbrellas block the sun from backs and bellies already burned. A radio plays “Shake Your Body” by The Jackson 5 and kids ride waves on boogie boards and an inflatable raft.
A few miles away a cadaver dog named Angel sniffs the ground and a drone flies as volunteers wearing shirts that say “Search” “Fire and Rescue,” “Rescue Squad” and “Chaplain” look for the body of Jevon Lemke, a blonde-haired 17-year-old boy from Wisconsin who drowned last Sunday. He was trying to help his dad and stepmom before the riptide swept him away. After days of rough surf, searchers hope a calmer day will help them find the body.
Sheriff’s deputies patrolling the beach say visitors often don’t realize the danger of the waves. There were five other swimmer rescues along Ft. Morgan on the day Jevon drowned.
“That water has no remorse for anyone,” says one deputy.
They say that last summer there were three drownings and a boy was killed when a floating log hit him in the head. In one week.
Jevon came down with his family from Wisconsin. After the 19-hour drive, they finally passed houses in Ft. Morgan named AfterDune Delight, Beach Music and Dolphin Watch on Saturday morning.
“We were going to leave Wisconsin on Saturday morning but we got away on Friday night and drove all night,” says Jevon’s dad, Chris. “Now I wish we hadn’t done that or he would still be here.”
Chris says Jevon was a good kid who scored a 26 on the ACT and played football, basketball and golf. He worked two jobs at McDonald’s and the golf course.
“He worked hard and helped any way he could. Doing good for people is what motivated him. He loved to play video games and wanted to go to Fox Valley Tech to develop them. My brother is a cop and loves his job. I always told Jevon to be like him and do something you love and it won’t be a job. Do what makes you happy.”
Chris describes his son as “simple.” He didn’t want name brand clothes and anything he wore was fine. He could “eat like a horse” and cleaned off everyone else’s plate when they were finished eating.
This was a family trip with grandparents and younger siblings ages 4, 6 and 8. Chris told Jevon he was old enough to stay home, but he wanted to come with the family. At the beach, they talked about school and life and the way Chris had disciplined Jevon compared to the younger children. Throwing the football was the last thing they did together.
“Jevon always wanted to help someone else,” says Chris. “Trying to save our lives was an example of that. I miss my son so much but I believe God has a plan in this even if I don’t like it right now. Sometimes I think Jevon is telling me it will be okay. We were getting to the stage where we were having buddy moments and that is what I will miss the most. We may never find his body, but Jevon will always be in my heart.”
“Please share his story and use it to help someone else. It is what he would have wanted.”
These drownings on Ft. Morgan break the hearts of locals and they fear for the first responders who put themselves at risk to save lives. Unlike Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, there is no flag warning system along the Ft. Morgan beaches because the area it unincorporated. Employees at the Sassy Bass Market in Ft. Morgan warn visitors about the riptides but say some people pay little attention.
“There has to be a better way to educate about the currents and to warn when it is dangerous to swim out there. We say that tourist season begins when we have our first drowning. We don’t want it to be that way.”
Maybe this story can be a part of that education to raise awareness and save the life of someone else. Jevon would have wanted it that way.