David Esan did not swim. Friends said he never learned.
But when his classmates in the class of 2016 at Hampton University decided to hold a pool party for Freshman Week on campus at Holland Hall on March 20, he was eager to attend.
The party, dubbed “Caution: Wet When Slippery,” was the first official event of Freshman Week. A Freshman Ball was also planned. A pharmacy major who had graduated with honors in 2012 from Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, or Western Tech, in Randallstown, Md., Esan was known for working hard and playing hard—in a good-young-man kind of way.
But instead of having a wonderful time, Esan, 17, ended up at the bottom of the pool, unconscious. Emergency workers who were called to the scene were unable to revive him. He was pronounced dead later at Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton. His death is listed as a drowning, officials said.
A close relative of David, who asked that his name not be used, said he and others close to the dead youth want to know details of what happened. David was a intelligent and responsible young man who distanced himself from danger.
Loved ones can’t see him voluntarily entering a swimming pool, the relative and some friends said.
David’s parents are especially baffled because they specifically told him before he went off to college to “be cautious around pools,” the close relative said.
The case is being investigated by the Hampton University Police Department, where officials were not talking publicly about the incident earlier this week. Calls were referred to a university spokeswoman, Yuri Milligan, who referred reporters to a brief statement on the campus website. Prodded to respond to questions, she referred to the incident as “an accident” and said that while “the case remains under investigation” there is “no evidence” of foul play.
Milligan said the police department includes dozens of sworn officers. A dispatch supervisor for the Hampton Police Department said the city police were not deployed to the scene. He verified his statement by checking a log of dispatches for several minutes around 11:50 p.m., when David was seen at the bottom of the pool and several revelers called 911.
In the hours after the incident was tweeted out, legions of students at HBCUs began a spontaneous online prayer vigil for David. Friends at the scene had asked for prayers and tweet after tweet was posted in response.
“Everyone who follows me, whether Hampton student or not, please include David Esan in your prayers. Pray for his recovery please,” tweeted @iamgabbieg.
A tweet from @givemelyourlove, a former classmate of David’s at Western Tech, tweeted, “I can’t even go to sleep. I’m so shook right now.” She added. “Everyone please pray for David Esan. Whether you know him or not, please just pray.”
As word spread across campus, a chill fell over Freshman Week. When the news came that David had died, students began to mourn. A memorial service was scheduled for March 26, but it was postponed until March 27 because of rain.
Then, the whispers started about what may have precipitated the incident.
“I’m getting the feeling that foul play is involved. If anyone is responsible for David’s death, God will deal with them accordingly,” tweeted @tobi5486 two days after David was found unconscious in the pool.
“I still want to know the full story of how David Esan (HU Student) died. If you can’t swim, there’s no way you’re jumping in the deep end,” tweeted @justintinsley.
People who attended the pool party said about 125 students who had donned thick coats over bathing suits on the 46 degree evening to swim and frolic in the indoor pool.
Justin Shaifer, president of the Class of 2016, known as the Quintessence Nine, or QT9, the group in charge of throwing the pool party, said the event was “going quite well until the incident.”
The merrymaking stopped when David was discovered by a male student who had jumped into the pool to retrieve an earring he had lost while he was swimming. He found David on the bottom, surfaced and yelled for help. Two football players then jumped into the pool with the student and they pulled David to the surface, then out of the pool, students said.
Briana Logue, 17, a Hampton freshman from California and close friend of David, described the fear she felt as she rode in the ambulance with him to the hospital.
“David was fighting,” she said, adding, “He put up an amazing fight, amazing.”
Like others, she has been replaying details of the night in her head. His second to last tweet to her was, “I got love for you sis!” according to his Twitter page.
She tweeted back, “Thank you bro.”
She remembers seeing him twice at the party. When she first walked in, they talked briefly.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” she recalled saying to him. “Be safe,” she told him, recalling that he did not know how to swim.
Briana later saw him when he walked by. He nodded and she gave him a smile.
That was the last time she saw him before he was injured.
On the social media vigil that has played out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr since his death, friends are remembering him for being a good student, a good guy and a great friend.
“I spent 4 years with David. My Nigerian brother. He graduated with honors, and scholarships from EVERYWHERE,” tweeted @debra_love.
At Western Tech, he ran track and was looked up as a model athlete and leader, friends said. He played piano for Colonial Baptist Church on Liberty Road in Randallstown. There are two videos posted on YouTube showing him playing gospel songs. At Hampton, he was recognized by his dorm, Harkness Hall, as one of its “16 Men of Excellence.” He was also a member of the Hampton choir.
“When we were helping Dave come up with a twitter name for him, we chose @famousdave443 because he was cool with everybody,” one friend tweeted.
Among those remembering David is his close friend John Shaft, who went to the party with him that night.
Ironically, David’s last tweet urged other friends to come out in the frigid weather.
“#QT9 with this pool party. It’s a Wednesday, just go and support your class,” he tweeted at 9:03 p.m, less than three hours before he was found motionless at the bottom of the Holland Hall pool.
John and Briana said because it was a Wednesday and students had class the next day, there was no drinking. Everybody just went out to have a good time.
The students said at several university officials and three life guards were on hand to make sure the event ran smoothly. Students in attendance said the football players and student looking for the earring were the ones who pulled David from the pool, not the lifeguards.
John said he was the one who performed CPR.
With all those people present, how did a young man end up at the bottom of the pool without being seen? David’s loved ones want to know.
“How could this happen is the question on everybody’s mind,” said Travis Carter, a Howard student, in an interview. “It’s basically like, there’s a victim from somebody getting shot, but there’s no gunman.”
As his family prepares to lay him to rest, young people in the HBCU network are looking at David as a symbol of unity. Though many did not know him, they all came together to pray for his recovery, then for his family and loved ones after his death.
“Great feeling to know that your HBCU family can gather together…to pray for a fellow student. #united,” tweeted Flex Washington, a Hampton student.
Lindsey Williams hoped the sentiment could last. “If only we could do this every day, build each other up instead of constantly trying to tear each other down” she tweeted.
Briana, her voice trembling, expressed her gratitude for her HBCU brothers and sisters and others uniting on behalf of her friend.
“I thank Hampton University students, for realizing and taking the time out to reach out to their brother. And I thank every school from east to west, from north to south that commented, prayed with us, the family, his brother, his mother. I thank everyone that sent their regards to his roommate, his friends that are very close. I thank Howard, I thank NSU . He had people from California, that didn’t even know him…We lost such a good person, but heaven gained an amazing angel.”
Several of David’s friends from Hampton are planning to travel north to his funeral. A wake is scheduled for April 4 and his funeral will be held April 5 at Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown.
Bria Freeman is a sophomore public relations major at Howard University. She wrote a story about the death of David Esan, then contacted the AFRO to urge the newspaper to tell the story. This is her account gleaned from more than a dozen interviews.