A Quincy police boat loaded with sightseeing officers and their families was touring the Tall Ships in Boston Harbor when the call for help came in. By the time it was over, a teenager had drowned and the police were offering what would become an evolving version of events.
"I keep seeing the scene in my head and it just feels like I wish there was something more could have happened. I just wish it didn't have to play out that way," said witness Kayla McArdle.
McArdle and two friends were at the Public Landing in the Houghs Neck neighborhood of Quincy, a popular swimming spot known as the PL. It was July 1, a hot day. She posed for a picture with one friend, Lamar Thompson, while the other snapped a picture. Then everything changed.
"Abdul took a picture of me and Lamar and then as I was putting my camera away I heard a splash and I looked up and he had jumped in the water. And as soon as he surfaced we could just tell that he was struggling," McArdle recalled.
She jumped in to try and save 18-year-old Lamar, but after nearly being dragged under herself she climbed back on the dock and called 911 from her cell phone.
"We have somebody drowning down at Houghs Neck Massachusetts at the PL," she told the operator, terror in her voice.
"Somebody's drowning?" the dispatcher asked.
"Yeah, he didn't know how to swim and he jumped in. And then he sank under," she said.
Thirty-one minutes later, Lamar's body was pulled from the water.
What happened between the 911 call and the grim recovery is still unclear, the picture muddied by conflicting responses given by the Quincy Police Department. The Department is already on the defensive for allowing officers to use its 41-foot police boat for a pleasure trip, initially described as community policing.
That boat and the three others that make up the Quincy marine unit are stationed next to the Public Landing. But Lamar Thompson's father, Mark, wonders why the largest boat in the unit, The Guardian, was at the Tall Ships.
"That is totally wrong," he told FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet. "Police boats should never be off in Boston. You're stationed in Quincy, you should be in Quincy."
Quincy police initially told FOX Undercover that The Guardian wasn't even called to the scene. But their radio recordings, which the police released to FOX Undercover, tell another story. The Guardian, designated as Marine 3 that day, was dispatched immediately after the 911 call came in.
"There's a report of a party drowning. Marine 3," the dispatcher says.
A few minutes later came another call to The Guardian, this one from the commander of the marine unit, calling from another boat and using his radio handle, Marine 1.
"Marine 1 to Marine 3," he calls.
"Marine 3," the officer on The Guardian responds.
"Need you at the PL as soon as you can," the commander says.
"I'm just down from Spectacle IsIand," came the response from The Guardian, referring to one of the Boston Harbor Islands.
Another inconsistency: according to the Quincy police report of the drowning, The Guardian arrived at the scene in less than five minutes.
But the radio recording shows The Guardian didn't arrive until 13 minutes after being dispatched, and first it had to drop off its sightseeing passengers.
By the time The Guardian arrived, another Quincy police boat was already on scene. But witnesses told FOX Undercover they couldn't understand why it took so long to get a diver in the water: nearly 30 minutes from the time 911 was called, and 16 minutes after The Guardian arrived.
One woman, who asked that her identity not be revealed, said Quincy Yacht Club members rushed into the water right away.
"When authorities got here the first thing they did was take out people in the water trying to save him and nobody else got back in," she said
Steve Aylward is a certified diver who was on his boat when he heard radio calls for help. He drove to the scene, but when he got there he says he was told to stay out of the water.
"If I could take it back, I just would have jumped in the water and started looking," he told FOX Undercover.
Aylward says it was 20 minutes after he arrived before the police diver got in the water.
"When somebody's drowning, every minute counts, that's for sure. Whether CPR could have saved him from that point, I really couldn't tell you. Saving 20 minutes, you never know," he said.
Aylward also said that police later called him wanting him to meet with them about his response and threatened to press charges for interfering with the dive operation. Quincy police denied that.
Police officials defended their actions, initially telling FOX Undercover in emails that the effort was a "…rapid and professional response by the Quincy police department" and adding "unfortunately the witnesses did not call 911 until approximately 15-20 minutes after the victim first began experiencing difficulties in the water."
Not so says McCardle.
"Did it take 15 to 20 minutes before you called 911?" FOX Undercover's Beaudet asked her.
"No, it wasn't even close to that. As soon as we saw him having difficulties we jumped in and after a minute we lost sight of him, and I went over and grabbed my phone. It was probably 2 or 3 minutes," she said.
While Keenan initially said witnesses delayed calling 911, the police report doesn't indicate any delay. It only says that McArdle told the reporting officer that Lamar had been in the water for 15 minutes when he spoke with her on scene.
After repeatedly turning down FOX Undercover's request for an on-camera interview, Quincy police chief Paul Keenan finally agreed, no longer maintaining it was McArdle who delayed calling 911.
"She's not reporting there was a delay in calling 911," Beaudet said to Keenan.
"No, she didn't say that," Keenan said in the interview.
"But you said it," Beaudet pointed out.
"She said it was 15 to 20 minutes since he'd been in the water," Keenan said.
"When your officer was talking to her," Beaudet pointed out.
"Correct," Keenan replied.
"There's a difference there," Beaudet said.
"I don't see it as a difference. I don't know how long it took her to call 911," Keenan said.
FOX Undercover asked Keenan about other conflicting comments given to us by the police department.
"You said The Guardian was on scene within five minutes. That's clearly not the case," Beaudet said.
"The operator, when he was putting it into the computer, delayed putting it into the computer," Keenan replied.
"Why did it take so long for a diver to get in the water?" Beaudet asked.
"Because they have to number one assess the scene," Keenan replied.
The chief says this was never a rescue operation.
"Once you go under water, normally it's always a recovery mission. We're not rescue divers," he said.
Keenan also defended using The Guardian to take police officers and their families to the Tall Ships, though he admitted that his department was mistaken in initially saying The Guardian was not called to the scene.
"How is that community policing?" Beaudet asked.
"I guess it wouldn't be community policing, but I think it's a good morale builder for our officers in the department," Keenan replied.
"The victim's family wonders if this young man's life could have been saved if The Guardian wasn't out at the Tall Ships," Beaudet asked him.
"Absolutely not," Keenan said.
"How are you so convinced?" Beaudet asked.
"That made absolutely no difference because The Guardian was of no significance that day. We had a boat on scene within three minutes with an experienced diver," Keenan said.
"What if he had gotten him out of the water quickly?" Beaudet asked. "You don't think there could have been a different outcome?"
"I really can't comment on what ifs. I can tell you what was," Keenan replied.
What was is what bothers Mark Thompson, who buried his son in Jamaica, Lamar's home until last year.
"To me, I think the Quincy police is covering up a lot," he said.