Parents of drowned teenager dissatisfied with investigation
Lermon Jones and Amy Stowers-Jones sit in identical chairs, hunched over in unified solemnity as they speak of their son Lermont Stowers-Jones, who died Nov. 20, 2018, after allegedly jumping from Old Alton Bridge.
“Lermont wouldn’t have jumped off a bridge,” Stowers-Jones said. “He was scared of heights. He wouldn’t even ride the rides at Six Flags.”
The body of 17-year-old Lermont was retrieved from Hickory Creek the day after he drowned. Six teenage boys who attended Denton High School with Lermont were privy to the scene. All of them told authorities that Lermont had jumped off the bridge on a whim and of his own accord.
The family found discrepancies in the accounts relayed to them by both of these witnesses and the police. According to Stowers-Jones, she and her husband became wary of the way in which the investigation was being conducted even before Lermont’s body was discovered. The first clue something wasn’t right came when the authorities didn’t tell them that their son had not reemerged from the waters of Hickory Creek.
“Twenty-four hours before we found out, they were looking for him [our son],” Stowers-Jones said. “How are you looking for somebody’s son in the water and [you] never contact the parents?”
Jones said that he only learned of his son’s death after calling the police himself for an update. The authorities never sought to engage with the family afterward, he said.
“They never came to our house,” he said. “Actually, the police had never been to the house, they didn’t talk to me or my wife.”
Angela James, Lermont’s cousin and spokesperson for the family, also has doubts about how her cousin died. She said that the time the 911 call was placed did not coincide with the timeline established by the witnesses.
“Between the time Lermont was picked up and the 911 call, there was an hour and 15 minutes, and we know they were driving around Denton, and so they only could have been there for about 30 minutes,” James said. “But in the testimony, the boys said they were out there about two or three hours.”
The family began to speculate about how Lermont died. Jones recalls hearing someone utter a racial slur in the background of that same 911 call.
“I have heard that 911 call,” Jones said. “Get that n***** is what they said.”
The 911 call has not been released to the public by the authorities due to the open nature of the investigation. James cited a dispute of unknown origin that occurred between Lermont and another boy at Denton High School as a possible factor.
“There were threats,” James said. “They made reports to the police station, they made contact with the school. Someone told him they were going to harm him.”
Other inconsistencies present in witness testimony included an assertion by one of the boys that he had jumped into the water in an attempt to save Lermont.
“When they got there, some boy was wet from the waist down, like he was trying to help him,” Stowers-Jones said. “But the water was so deep, you would be wet head to toe if you were trying to help somebody.”
Cliff Swofford, the game warden present when the body was recovered, confirmed that the slope from the shore to the water was treacherous.
“I was up on the bridge when they recovered the body,” Swofford said. “There was one boy, I don’t recall his name, but he was there, he was the one who had, allegedly, in his statement, jumped into the water to help, but then it got too cold so he got out.”
The legend behind Old Alton Bridge has only amplified familial fears that Lermont’s death might have been racially motivated. The bridge is supposedly home to Goatman, a vengeful incarnation of an African-American man who was allegedly lynched by the Ku Klux Klan for owning a successful business.
“I googled it and that’s when I found the history,” James said “It sounds a little too coincidental.”
Jones and Stowers-Jones say they were especially disheartened by assumptions made by authorities regarding their son’s character. They said police first suspected Lermont used heroin until it was disproven by the toxicology report, which also labelled the traces of marijuana found in his system as unverified.
Stowers-Jones also says that some of the more detailed aspects of Lermont’s actions were uncharacteristic of her son.
“I know my son wouldn’t have jumped in muddy water because we go fishing a lot,” Stowers-Jones said. “He wouldn’t even stick his feet in water just to go out there and get the hook a couple feet down.”
Jones described his son as compassionate and charismatic. He loved the keyboard and would actively attempt to comfort other students when they were in distress.
“One girl at Denton high said she was sitting on the stairs crying ‘cause something had happened,” Jones said. “And Lermont saw her and sat right with her for a long time. She said, ‘Lermont you’re gonna be late for class’ and he said, ‘I’m going to sit right here until you feel better.’”
Both parents intend to continue with their inquiries into the investigation and said they would hire a lawyer once the police file a final report on the case.
“I know for a fact my son was murdered,” Stowers-Jones said. “I feel like this city just completely failed us.”
UPDATE: Denton PD has no jurisdiction over Old Alton Bridge because it is on county land. Denton PD was never dispatched to the scene or involved in the investigation. Public Information Liaison, Khristen Jones said Denton County Game Wardens have been conducting the investigation.
Header image courtesy of We Denton Do It.
Header designed by Kylie Phillips.