Four days after Randez Brown died trying to save his little sister from drowning near a culvert beneath Interstate 77, hundreds of people gathered in the middle of a nearby football field.
On Monday, when Randez would have turned 12, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.”
“We loved him so much,” his grandmother, Joyce Hart, told the crowd. “We’re here to celebrate not just his homecoming but also his birthday.”
Randez, a fifth-grader at Sedgefield Elementary, planned to spend his 12th birthday at the Bobcats game. Instead, people from his school and from nearby Southside Homes released balloons in his memory and said prayers for his sister, 7-year-old Samiyah. Family members said she was in stable condition at Carolinas Medical Center on Monday and had opened her eyes for the first time, a sign of improvement.
Meanwhile, at the Bobcats game, the team held a moment of silence before the game for Randez.
Randez died Thursday as several neighborhood children were playing at the creek behind Marie G. Davis Military and Global Leadership Academy, in the shadow of the highway.
Samiyah had gone under the water and Randez went into the creek to save her. He was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.
Waves of neighbors, classmates and family members descended to the school’s football field carrying balloons, wearing “R.I.P. Randez” shirts and weeping.
Neighbors have questioned whether the school, the city or the state, which owns the road, should do more to prevent children from going into the dangerous, muddy water.
A 4-foot fence stands on the border between the steep banks of the creek and the school’s track and football field. The fence is weathered, and sags in some areas.
Emergency crews cut through it to try to save the children Thursday night, but a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools crew repaired the hole last week, a spokesman said.
The N.C. Department of Transportation had no immediate plans to build a bigger fence or place a grate around the culvert.
“I don’t believe it’s the norm to have any kind of grating at these culverts,” said Jen Thompson, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Departmen of Transportation. “The concern would be that we would get a backup of debris.”
Transportation officials would have to determine “where access was made to the creek,” Thompson said Monday. “We can look into addressing any issues once that has been determined.”
At issue is a pipe that has run beneath Interstate 77 near Remount Road since the highway was completed in the mid-1970s and that allows water from Davis Creek to flow freely.
Children from the nearby public housing subdivision Southside Homes have played on the wet banks or in the muddy creek for decades, sometimes with tragic results. In August 1984, Delrico “Rico” Fisher, 7, died there.