Family has questions surrounding drowning death of college student at pool party

ATLANTA — A Memorial Day pool party turned tragic Monday night after partygoers found a teen dead from an apparent drowning.

Cellphone video that witnesses gave to Channel 2's Matt Johnson shows the pool area of an apartment complex filled with hundreds of people.

Witnesses said the 19-year-old drowning victim, identified as Shomari Billings, was underwater for up to 20 minutes before someone noticed.

On Tuesday night, Billings' family and friends honored him at a vigil. His mother, Shelby, told Channel 2's Matt Johnson said she hasn't slept since he died.

"I don't know what hurts worse, me not having my child or me not knowing exactly what happened," she said.

Tuesday's vigil drew dozens of people because loved ones say the Georgia Southern student was always positive.

"He had a smile on his face that would affect anybody,"  family friend Deondre Ezzard said.

His cooking became so popular on campus he dreamed of opening up a restaurant.

"We cooked wings, fried Oreos, slushies, just everything, and people actually shopped with us. It was called 3113 Wings," Ezzard said.

Several hundred people were at the ticketed pool party at the 500 Apartments on Northside Circle in Atlanta.

“It wasn’t that many people in the pool, it was just so much going on people didn’t notice,” one partygoer said, who didn't identify themself.

Police responded to a complaint about the size of the party when police say someone told officers about the drowning.

Investigators and partygoers tried resuscitating the man at around 7:30 p.m. before firefighters were able to get to him.


By then, neighbors say Billings had been underwater for too long.

“Somebody should have been smart enough to know and see, that many people, him drowning and at least go and try to save his life,” said a partygoer who only identified himself as Vinicko.

Police say first responders rushed Billings to a hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.

Witnesses and people who live at the apartments say the drowning is a tragic end to a holiday weekend.

“It’s unfortunate. You’re trying to have a good time on the weekend and it’s just like it wasn’t anybody’s fault or anybody pushed him there or anything. It’s just unfortunate that it happened to him,” the partygoer said.

An online flyer for the event listed free BBQ and an open bar as part of the pool party.

The apartment complex sent us a statement late Monday night, saying, in part:

"We are cooperating fully with law enforcement in their search for who is responsible. Also – in addition to the legal aspects, we must also reinforce that this unauthorized event broke a number of pool rules – including those which forbid alcohol use. Also, the pool is for the use of residents only. Any residents responsible for planning or promoting this event have violated the terms of their lease and will have their lease terminated."

Billings family said that's just one step toward getting answers.

"Somebody is at fault for this and they need to come forward because this is hurting me," Ezzard said.

A GoFundMe has been created to help the family with funeral expenses. You can donate here.