Calhoun teenager dies in frozen pond

Calhoun teenager dies in frozen pond

February 1st, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Joseph Attoh III

Joseph Attoh III

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.


Walking onto frozen lakes or ponds is dangerous. The ice on the edges may seem firm and safe, but the ice in the middle may be thinner. Here are some precautions about walking on frozen lakes and ponds.

Have someone else with you who can help pull you out or call 911 if you fall in.

Choose shallow water. If you can stand in the water safely, that reduces risk.

Check the ice's color. If it's clear, blue or green, the ice is probably thick enough to walk on. White ice is not strong.

Avoid ice as it starts to thaw. When temperatures increase above the freezing level, the ice is not safe.

Wear a lifejacket.

Source: The Lifesaving Society (

CALHOUN, Ga. - Greta Attoh was parking her car at Shaw Industries just before her 3 p.m. shift Thursday when she got a call from one of her daughters.

Greta couldn't quite understand what 18-year-old Adei was trying to say. But, over and over, Greta heard the name Joseph. Adei sounded panicked.

"What's wrong?" Greta asked.

Her son, 13-year-old Joseph Aryeequaye Attoh III, was out of school because of the recent snowstorm, so he and four friends decided to check out the frozen pond in their neighborhood, located off Orchard Way. The ice at the edges of the pond was firm, police say. But toward the middle, it was thin.

The ice collapsed under Joseph Attoh and the other teenagers. Four of them managed to escape, but Joseph remained in the icy water for 40 minutes until a rescue team from the Gordon County Sheriff's Office and Fire Department pulled him out.

The rescue took a long time, Chief Robert Paris said, because deputies had to rotate in and out of the water. A member of the team would wade out, feeling around in the dark water to find the boy, but another member would pull the first member out after four minutes. The water was too cold to stay in longer.

Around 4 p.m., two hours after Joseph fell in the water, doctors at Gordon Hospital pronounced him dead.

"I don't understand what happened," Greta Attoh said Friday afternoon, sitting on the front porch with two of her daughters. "He's smart. He knew better."

A seventh-grader at Sonoraville Middle School, Joseph Attoh was the youngest of four children, and the only boy. He liked playing "Grand Theft Auto" and dirt biking.

He was skinny and gentle, with a wide smile. His favorite school subjects were math and science -- and recess.

The last two summers, he volunteered at Tuskegee University, where he stayed with his sister, Shaina Attoh, 28, and a family friend, Steven Samuels, 29. Joseph assisted in the university's plant science and molecular lab.

He wanted to be an engineer. He wasn't sure what type -- whatever type let him build dirt bikes. In a few weeks, Greta Attoh said, the family was going to buy him his own 125cc Kawasaki.

Joseph liked dirt bikes because he liked speed. Everything he did, he did it fast. He was born a few weeks early. And when he was about 5 years old, he started playing football.

He was a running back and a wide receiver, and his sisters say he could outrun most kids on the team.

Though he wasn't zoned for it, he wanted to find a way to attend Calhoun High School, where he could try out for the perennial state championship contender.

Then, he wanted to play at the University of Oregon.

"He was still a kid," said Samuels, who invited Joseph onto Tuskegee basketball courts with 20- and 30-year-old players. "But with his athleticism and, having played [football] since the age of 5, I think he had a pretty good chance of going wherever he wanted."

It was actually Greta who taught her son how to play football.

He was her only son, and she wanted him to be a competitive athlete like her, a former volleyball player. So she went out in the yard with her kindergarten-aged boy and taught him how to hustle.

Sitting in the hospital Thursday, she tried not to pay attention to what doctors were doing to her son. She tried to focus on just praying. Still, she picked up little details, whispers about Joseph.

Heath Derryberry, Gordon County's deputy coroner, said there is no set amount of time before a doctor should give up on a person who was in freezing water. You try different techniques and see if the body reacts -- cardiac drugs, chest compressions, extra airways, defibrillation.

But by 4 p.m. Thursday, doctors decided they could not save Joseph.

When they pronounced him dead, his mother was not in the hospital. She had left. Greta wanted to be alone, wanted to feel closer to Joseph.

"All I wanted to do was walk," she said. "I wanted to be in the cold, because he was in that water, in the cold."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at