“Failure in communication’ caused Cobb student to go missing for 8 hours, mom says

A schoolhouse with books superimposed on the front

by Rebecca Gaunt

Lola Adesanya and her son were supposed to celebrate his 16th birthday after school on Feb. 1. Instead, she spent the night in a desperate search with no idea where he was.

[To protect his privacy, the student is referred to as A.S.]

Earlier that day, a fight broke out in the McEachern High School parking lot, and two people were shot and injured. Adesanya received a text from A.S. telling her he was scared.

She believes a failure in communication between the school and district is the reason her son didn’t make it home that day until nearly 1 a.m.

A recent statement given by district spokesperson Nan Kiel didn’t sit well with Adesanya.

Kiel told the Marietta Daily Journal last week, “Despite the narrative of others, we know this for sure: Principal Montgomery, McEachern staff, and all public safety staff involved in responding to the shooting, kept McEachern students as safe as possible. At the request of the Board Chair, District staff and public safety personnel continue to review all options, to keep all students, as safe as possible.”

Adesanya told the Courier, “It was heartbreaking to see them try to cover up my son’s story given we are still processing what happened in the aftermath.”

She used to be a teacher in the district, which has made it more upsetting for her that no one from the central office has reached out.

“I’m very disappointed because I do know that they know about it. Not that it should matter, but I feel that given I was once part of the team and so-called family, I would have expected a phone call. And I feel more like they just want to be quiet about my part. They can’t do anything about the school shooting because that’s what’s in the news, and they want to package it to make sure that everybody feels better about how things have been taken care of,” she said.

Time missing

Adesanya’s son has ADHD, anxiety, and difficulty with executive functioning skills. When Adesanya received a message from the district that the reunification location was a nearby church, she texted her son the information and got in her car. She did not include the name of the specific church in her text because she was under the assumption that the school had informed the students.

When she arrived, she said the police were informing the line of parents that the buses were leaving directly from the school and that they should wait for the children at their stops. She texted A.S. again with the updated information, but unknown to her, his phone battery had died.

After his driver informed her that A.S. had never boarded the bus, Adesanya drove back to the church and let the police know. According to Adesanya, they alerted the Cobb County School District Police Department, which checked the campus.

“I had panic in that immediate moment because I knew that he was probably confused,” she said.

“They came back and told me that they didn’t see him. They claim they ran the cameras back, that’s what I was told, and they left me out there. They came back once to update me. Then everybody left me in that parking lot. All the police left. Admin left. And they told me to call the police and file a police report. And I was told to go home and wait for him.”

A.S.’s father went back to the McEachern campus to personally view the camera footage. That was how they figured out which direction their son had walked off campus, accompanied by other students.

A.S.’s regular teacher was out that day.

“Unfortunately he also had a supply teacher. His own teacher probably would have known…would have had more concern about him,” she said.

According to Adesanya, Principal Regina Montgomery told her she never sent the students to the church, as indicated by the district email.

“She explained that she did not send that email out, that it came from the district,” Adesanya said.

“But, I guess, because my son didn’t go over there by himself, I guess there were other children like him, like me, that had told their children, ‘Oh they’re saying to meet at the church.’”

When the other students started making their way back to school, A.S. moved on to check other nearby churches, and eventually attempted to walk home.

“He literally walked in a straight line probably for 8.5 hours,” she said.

Adesanya had difficulty convincing the police to help search for him due to his age, but once she explained his challenges, they put out a BOLO.

Adesanya’s friend and Bryant Elementary School teacher, Kantrela Price, called to let her know she had spotted her son earlier, but wasn’t aware he was lost at the time. She joined the search, along with many strangers who jumped into action thanks to social media.

Finally located

Ultimately, he made it home because Keisha Brown saw Adesanya’s post on the Ring app. 

“I’m just so thankful I could help,” Brown said. “I was about to go to bed and I said to myself, I’m sure they will find him. My inner voice said, ‘what if you’re the one that’s supposed to find him, so I got up.’”

Brown found him within minutes, using information about his last known sighting posted on social media.

“It blessed me to be able to help. I’m very thankful he is safe and reunited with his family,” she told the Courier.

By then, mom reports A.S. was freezing cold and had been lugging his backpack for the duration of the ordeal. He was also hungry and thirsty. They took him to the hospital as a precaution.

A.S. stayed home for the next three days, anxious and sore. On the third day, one of his teachers called to see if he was sick. Adesanya learned that none of his teachers or the school counselor had been informed of his ordeal.

“No one has taken accountability,” Adesanya said. “By you guys not being on the same page, my child went missing.”

Her son is now at a different school because he said he wasn’t comfortable going back to McEachern.

“The district is still very reactive with what is going on at that school, instead of proactive, given this is not the first time we’ve had something concerning,” Adesanya said. “If better measures had been put in place prior to this, there’s a chance that this might have not occurred. But most importantly about what happened in this case, as far as what happened to my child, is that communication breakdown because it shows us there’s no plan in place for what to do.”

The weekend after his ordeal, A.S. was finally able to celebrate his birthday with friends and family. 

Two former students were injured in the shooting. One of the victims and two current students have been arrested for their involvement.

Cobb County School District response

The Courier reached out to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, Chief Strategy and Accountability Officer John Floresta, and Assistant Superintendent of Safety Joshua Morreale with Adesanya’s account of what happened to her son for an explanation and asked what the district will do moving forward to prevent this from happening again.

District spokesperson Nan Kiel sent the following response:

“Due to ongoing concerns with accuracy in reporting, the District does not participate in the Courier’s stories. We look forward to further conversation when the Courier’s reporting practices meet the minimal threshold for accuracy in reporting.”

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.