Government Schools

Family Holds Vigil, Files Lawsuit in Death of West Hartford Kindergartner

D'Meza Shultz Pierre Louis, the father of Romeo Pierre Louis, places flowers in front of his son's photo, on the playground at Charter Oak International Academy where the 5-year-old collapsed last year. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The Town of West Hartford and West Hartford Board of Education were served with a lawsuit on April 5 in connection with the death of Charter Oak International Academy kindergarten student Romeo Pierre Louis last year.

Family and friends of Romeo Pierre Louis gather for a vigil at Charter Oak International Academy on April 5, 2023, a year after the then-5-year-old collapsed on the playground and later died. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Family and friends of Romeo Pierre Louis held a vigil in front of Charter Oak International Academy on Wednesday afternoon, most dressed in white and many holding signs with messages such as “Listen to our children,” and after school had dismissed for the day the group of roughly 30 people processed to the playground and somberly laid flowers on the ground where exactly a year earlier the 5-year-old kindergartner had collapsed during recess.

Also on Wednesday, the family filed a lawsuit in Superior Court for the Judicial District of Hartford. In the complaint the parents of Romeo Pierre Louis, D’Meza Schultz Pierre Louis and Chantel Pierre Louis, name the Town of West Hartford and the West Hartford Board of Education as defendants in connection with the wrongful death of their son.

“Romeo was a very big, wide open, very lovable little boy, full of energy, very family loving, and always wanted attention,” his older sister, Taty, told the crowd. He loved his super heroes, she said, “and in a way he was just like our super hero. He came into our lives for a reason … In our eyes he was our angel who came from heaven.”

She said the family has so many fond memories of Romeo. Every night he would sing the Lord’s Prayer to them, Taty Pierre Louis said.

Chantel Pierre Louis, the mother of Romeo Pierre Louis, places flowers in front of his son’s photo, on the playground at Charter Oak International Academy where the 5-year-old collapsed last year. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“Romeo really loved Jesus,” his dad, D’Meza Schultz Pierre Louis said, and learned Bible verses and recited them by heart. The Lord’s Prayer was his favorite prayer, D’Meza said, as he and the rest of the family, including a visibly shaken Chantel Ralston Pierre Louis, Romeo’s mom, led the crowd in reciting it.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $15,000 for negligence that led to the wrongful death of Romeo Pierre Louis, noting that he “was allowed to collapse and lay on the ground for nearly 10 minutes without any assistance or medical treatment – despite several teachers” being in close proximity and “despite several minor children” warning teachers that Romeo needed medical attention.

The suit alleges that school personnel failed to comply with policies to “call 911 immediately from an area of emergency if there is a ‘potentially life threatening event involving ‘significant bleeding, breathing difficulty, [or] loss of consciousness … ” and “left Romeo unprotected and without timely medical assistance. Had the defendant Board’s employees complied with the mandatory provisions of the Board’s policies and procedures (as described above), and as required, Romeo would have received the necessary medical attention he needed and would have survived,” the complaint states.

“The death of a child is a devastating and unimaginable loss, and our thoughts are with the family and friends of Romeo Pierre Louis,” Interim Superintendent of Schools Andy Morrow said in a statement Wednesday. “This tragedy has deeply affected the Charter Oak International Academy community, and the school district continues to make grief support and emotional assistance available to any student or educator who needs it. Due to the pending legal claims, the school district will refrain from further comment.”

West Hartford Corporation Counsel Dallas C. Dodge also provided the following statement: “The death of a child under any circumstance is a tragedy, and we extend our condolences to the family and friends of Romeo. Out of respect for the legal process, the Town and the Board of Education will not comment further.”

Attorney Michael Chambers, a Hartford-based personal injury lawyer working with the Pierre Louis family, said prior to making the decision to file the lawsuit, the family “tried to have a conversation” with town and school officials. He said Wednesday’s visit was a “good testament to Romeo’s family,” who he said was a “God-loving family that had purposely chosen to live where they live and have Romeo attend Charter Oak. Along with Chambers, Joaquin Madry of Silver Golub & Teitell LLP is representing the family.

Flowers were placed at the base of a tree at Charter Oak International Academy on Wednesday, in front of a large photograph of Romeo Pierre Louis, who died two days after collapsing on the playground. Members of the Pierre Louis family stand in the background. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Police investigation of the incident

An incident report completed by the West Hartford Police Department, provided to We-Ha.com following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, stated that units were dispatched to Charter Oak International Academy on April 5, 2022, at 11:05 a.m. “for a medical emergency.” The police report indicates that units responding were informed that “a child was not breathing and CPR was in progress.”

Romeo Pierre Louis was not named in the police report, but was referred to as “the juvenile.” The names of his family members as well as the names of personnel and students at Charter Oak have been redacted from the police report.

According to the police report, witnesses told police that “the juvenile was located by other kids on the playground and the kids thought the juvenile was pretending to sleep. The kids then noticed that the juvenile was not pretending and told an adult nearby. The adult immediately radioed to other staff that the juvenile was unresponsive and he was brought inside to the nurse’s station where CPR was started.”

Police said in their report that a school nurse provided CPR to the juvenile, and attached an AED to his chest. A police officer, who had already responded to the scene, delivered the shock from the AED. Additional responders, including members of the West Hartford Fire Department and AMR, arrived at the scene and continued to administer CPR.

Romeo was transported to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, where according to the police report he “regained his pulse and was stabilized.”

Police said they checked the recess yard and did not find any evidence, and the investigation did not result in any evidence of foul play. The police report states that footage from the school surveillance cameras, which was reviewed later, shows that Romeo had “suddenly collapse while on the western side of the north playground and was not discovered by teachers for approximately nine (9) minutes.”

There were bees in the area, but the police report indicates that Romeo’s parents were not aware that he had any allergies to bees or any foods. Police did not discover evidence of any narcotics at the scene, their report states.

Children who had been playing with Romeo during recess told police that they had been playing “freeze tag” when Romeo then fell and stopped breathing. “None of the children mentioned anything about seeing him bump his head, ingest anything, or say anything which could lead to a possible indicator as to why [Romeo] collapsed,” the police report states.

The police report states that Romeo’s teacher told police that he “appeared to arrive to school normally and went outside with his normal energy. He was engaged and playing normally with his classmates.” The report states that another child told a teacher that Romeo was “playing dead,” but the police report states that a teacher initially thought the children were playing a game because “they normally play games where they fall to the ground.”

Another Charter Oak staff member also told police that the children often played a game where they pretend to be dead, but when that person saw Romeo lying on his back on the ground they observed that he was not moving and then immediately checked for a pulse, which Romeo did not have, staff then carried him into the nurse’s office where personnel began CPR.

The police report states: “Based upon all available information, it was believed to be a sudden medical episode and not brought on by malicious actors or exterior criminal elements.”

Police said they spoke with the attending physician at Connecticut Children’s on April 7, at 11:24 a.m., and were informed by that Romeo “was declared officially brain dead al 11:18.”

The police report indicates that autopsy results were received by police on Aug. 23, 2022. “The report listed the cause of death as ‘cardiac channelopathy, brugada syndrome (sen5a variant)‘ – which is a “genetic disorder that can cause a dangerous irregular heartbeat” according to a description by johnshopkinsmedical.org, and listed the manner of death as ‘natural.'”

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