His favorite color was red.
So on Wednesday night when several hundred people gathered outside Lewiston Middle School in Maine to mourn the death of 13-year-old Rayan Issa, who drowned during a field trip the day before, they donned red T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats in his memory, the Portland Press Herald reports.
The seventh grader was “always there for everyone,” Kaylani Castillo, a classmate, told the newspaper.
“He would make jokes and talk to you,” she said. “He wanted to make people smile no matter what was going on.”
Lewiston Public Schools superintendent Bill Webster shared photos of the event on Facebook, noting that red balloons were released by Issa’s closest friends during a moment of silence.
“He was remembered as always kind to classmates, greeting everyone with a smile, and having a great sense of humor,” he wrote.
The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s office is investigating Issa’s drowning at Range Pond State Park in Poland, Maine.
The department said in a statement it received a 911 call around 11:47 a.m. on Tuesday that a male student had gone under water while on a school field trip at the pond.
“Preliminary investigation indicates he was playing in the water with friends within the buoyed swimming area when he went under,” according to the statement. “Staff and a lifeguard on duty all tried to find the boy but were unable to.”
Issa was found by firefighters around 12:17 p.m. and was transported to Central Maine Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The sheriff’s office is asking anyone who witnessed the incident to contact the department as it continues to investigate the incident.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Awo Yassin, Issa’s cousin, told News Center Maine. “I keep thinking about it. I can’t process the fact that he is actually gone.”
While the community mourns the 13-year-old’s death, questions about what happened have sparked an investigation by the district.
Webster, the superintendent, announced he has asked a law firm to investigate the boy’s death.
In an interview with the Sun Journal, Webster shot down claims that chaperones were dismissive of or not immediately responsive to students who reported Issa was missing.
“I think the truth will come out on that, and I would just caution anyone about prejudging,” he told the newspaper. “I do know that I have a group of teachers who care passionately about their students.”
Webster told the Journal that 113 students attended the seventh grade trip, accompanied by 11 chaperones and a lifeguard.
The superintendent said in a public statement that Issa was playing with a football with friends in the swimming area when he went under water. Issa’s friends noticed what happened and rushed to get help from adults, he told the newspaper.
“Staff and the lifeguard on duty were immediately notified,” Webster said. “A search was quickly organized, but the water was murky.”
Issa’s drowning is the first swimming-related death at a Maine state park in more than 35 years, according to the Journal.