Family says it took 45 minutes to reach EMS after tree fell on house, killing Jennings boy

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dana rick,

Alex Vargas

JENNINGS — The mother of the 5-year-old boy, who died Saturday when a tree fell through his family’s home during a storm in Jennings, told elected officials it took 45 minutes to reach emergency services and her Son was still alive at the time She first started trying.

Robert “RJ” Lawrence was in his bedroom when a giant tree fell on the house, trapping him under debris. The boy’s mother, LaWanda “Nina” Thomas, said she called 911 multiple times and kept getting disconnected after being told her call was being transferred. A friend ended up driving to the police station herself to ask for help.



Robert “RJ” Lawrence. Provided by family

The delayed response is similar to an incident during the same storm in St. Louis, where the city has suffered from delayed emergency calls for years. A woman died after a tree fell on her car in Tower Grove South, and onlookers said emergency aid was slow to arrive.

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Thomas Jennings’ home is just two blocks outside of St. Louis city limits, but it was unclear Monday if her 911 calls were being relayed through the city.

“I really want to know what happened,” said Missouri Assemblyman Yolanda Fountain-Henderson, a Democrat representing northern St. Louis County, including Jennings, speaking on behalf of Thomas. “Why did it take so long? I understand it was a big storm. But what about 911?”

A St. Louis County Police spokesman said the department responded immediately when it received the 911 call and is investigating the discrepancy.

Police said they received the call at 3:53 p.m. Saturday and the first officers arrived two minutes later.

In a text message to the Post-Dispatch, Thomas described her son as “the most loving and kind boy you could ever meet.”

“He was the type of kid who would make you his friend just by the love he showed to others,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she was in the bathroom when she heard a loud bang on Saturday afternoon. When she called for her son, she received no answer. That’s when she discovered that the huge tree had fallen on the house, trapping RJ in his bedroom.

“I heard a loud bang, then there were screams,” neighbor Manuel Garza told the Post-Dispatch. Garza has lived in the house next to Thomas for 46 years.

Thomas said she continued to call 911 while trying to untie her son, whose legs were dangling in the air while he remained trapped.

“Mom saw him breathe his last,” Fountain-Henderson said. “She kept saying, ‘RJ, I’m with you.’ … She said to her friends, “Oh my god, he’s turning purple.” “Oh my god, he’s turning blue.” You know, and after that he became lifeless.”

Fountain-Henderson said she planned to speak with St. Louis County chief executive Sam Page later Monday to discuss what went wrong with the emergency response.

A fundraising page for Thomas and their three-year-old child was set up by Fountain-Henderson and Jennings Councilwoman Nadia Quinn. Donations, which will be used for emergency shelter, food, clothing and RJ’s funeral expenses, had raised nearly $11,000 as of Monday night.

According to the site, RJ would have turned 6 later this month.

Sebastian Montes joined others trying to help a woman who was trapped after a tree fell in the storm at The Grove on Saturday. Montes set up a live Instagram feed to find her help after 911 calls went unanswered. Video by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Robert Cohen

www.stltoday.com

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