'They were just splashing around'

Saquan Meekins, accused in the drowning death of Jon Jon Jackson, enters Bond Court in Goose Creek on Thursday. Below, Jon Jon's mother, Cassandra Jackson (left), and Saquan Meekins' mother, Christine Meekins, leave the hearing. The two women are roommate

GOOSE CREEK — Cassandra Jackson watched Saquan Meekins play with her 10-year-old son, Jon Jon, in their apartment complex pool in June.

Though the child drowned about an hour after getting out of the water, Jackson didn't blame Meekins then. And she didn't blame the family friend, now 22, on Thursday after police released details of a charge of homicide by child abuse against him.

"They were just splashing around; it was Jon Jon's first time swimming," Jackson said after a bail hearing. "I'm flabbergasted. (Meekins) didn't do anything. We were right there."

An investigator's affidavit accuses Meekins of holding the youngster underwater at the deep end of the pool. Unnamed witnesses told police that he made statements to the effect of, "You're going to learn how to swim, one way or the other," while directing profanity at the boy.

They described Jon Jon trying to stay above the water, grabbing floating objects, as Meekins kept throwing him back in. At one point, they recalled the boy saying, "I want to live; I don't want to die." Meekins, they asserted, replied with something like, "That's what happens when you don't try to swim."

Jackson said her son, who was developmentally disabled and had a condition similar to mild autism, often made dramatic statements. Someone who didn't know him, she said, could have taken the comment about dying out of context.

On the way home from the pool, Jon Jon vomited water at least once, the affidavit said. At home, the boy said he was sleepy and took a nap.

When someone checked on him about an hour later, his lips were blue and white foam was coming from his mouth. EMS workers took him to Trident Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The Berkeley County coroner ruled the death drowning by asphyxiation. It appeared as though the boy had inhaled water and drowned from fluid in his lungs while sleeping. The delayed effect is known as secondary drowning, and Jackson went on local and national television to warn other parents about it.

An autopsy showed that the boy's lungs were about twice the size of what would be expected for a normal child his age, according to the affidavit.

Jackson and Christine Meekins, the suspect's mother, had been among the family members at the pool at the Branchwood Apartments near U.S. Highway 176 on June 1, the day Jon Jon died. They have been roommates for more than two years. Saquan Meekins, one of Christine Meekins' four sons, had often visited the home.

More recently, he has been living with relatives in Palm Coast, Fla., earning money from construction jobs.

The two mothers remain roommates but have moved to a new home in Goose Creek. They said there weren't many other people at the pool on the day of the drowning, aside from another couple with a child about Jon Jon's age. They don't believe any crime took place.

"It's not my child, but I hurt for him," Jackson said. "I feel really horrible."

The charge carries a possible prison sentence of 10 years to life. A hearing in General Sessions Court is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Jan. 16.

Goose Creek Municipal Judge Shirley Johnson ordered monitoring should the defendant be released from jail and barred him from any contact with children under the age of 17. Because of the severity of the charge, a circuit judge must set bail.

Christine Meekins said she plans to hire an attorney to fight for her son.

"It's just ridiculous," she said. "He's been through enough."