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Family Of Boy Who Drowned At South Boston Day Camp Suing City

BOSTON (CBS) -- The family of a seven-year-old boy who drowned at a South Boston day camp in 2016 is suing the city.

Kyzr Willis of Dorchester was found in the ocean off Carson Beach on July 26, 2016, hours after he was reported missing from the Curley Community Center camp.

Read: The Lawsuit (.pdf)

His family filed a lawsuit Thursday against the city, Mayor Marty Walsh and the camp in Suffolk Superior Court. The 50-page suit accuses them of not following "Christian's Law," which is intended to protect children who can't swim at city-run camps.

Kyzr Willis Lawsuit
The family of Kyzr Willis announces a lawsuit against the City of Boston. (WBZ-TV)

At a Thursday news conference outside Suffolk Superior Court, Attorney Vikas Dhar says the suit was filed because the family couldn't settle with the city.

"This suit comes after over a year of patiently waiting and grieving," Dhar said.

At that Thursday news conference, Willis family lawyer Robert Griffin said that the suit says the city didn't follow the law.

"In spite of this law being in place for four years, on the day of Kyzr's death, none of the provisions of Christian's Law were implemented by the city of Boston," Griffin said.

"Not one single employee, not one single person from the city took any affirmative steps to ensure that the provisions of Christian's Law were implemented in order to ensure the safety and well being of the children of the city of Boston who were to participate in that camp," Griffin said.

kyzr missing child
7-year-old Kyzr Willis (Curley Community Center)

Willis' parents, Melissa Willis and Ralph Toney, claim Kyzr wasn't given a life jacket as required by state law and that he "consciously suffered while drowning."

Kyzr's mother told the news conference that this whole situation should not have happened.

"I wish I wasn't going through it, because there was a law prior to the situation. The Christian's Law should have prevented what happened to us and to Kyzr," Willis said. "This shouldn't have happened."

"There should have been life jackets; there should have been preservers. There should have been a buddy system," she said. "There should have been somebody watching them at all times."

Kyzr's Mother And Grandfather Discuss Their Grief A Year After Kyzr's Death

Kyzr's grandfather Ralph Toney, Sr. said that the situation wouldn't have happened if the city had posted responsible adults to watch the camp.

"You got kids watching kids. It don't work. You can't have kids watching kids. They're on their phones. Everybody has a phone," Toney, Sr. said. "These kids are on their phones. My kid's nine and she has an iPhone. All these kids have iPhones; they don't pay attention to other kids."

"They weren't watching my grandbaby. He's not here and all of this is too much for me," he said.

The lawsuit also faults the city for not having working security cameras at the Curley Center when Kyzr went missing, complicating the search for him that day.

The family claims it was well-known among the counselors and lifeguards that Kyzr was a "non-swimmer" and that he requested a life jacket on July 26, but a counselor – identified as "Jane Doe" in lawsuit – said that "there were only pink ones for girls available, so he was never given a life jacket."

The suit alleges no one from the camp made him wear a life jacket that day as he played "close to and in the ocean."  All campers were called in at 2:15 p.m. and the lifefguards reported that the beach was "clear of all swimmers" 15 minutes later.

Curley Community Center surveillance camera kyzr willis
A surveillance camera at the Curley Community Center. (Photo credit: Suffolk DA's Office)

Kyzr's brother Ralph noticed Kyzr was missing and told a camp co-counselor. A "panicked search" of the area began, but the lawsuit claims lifeguards weren't informed until 2:40 p.m. Surveillance cameras at the camp were "out of commission" at the time, the suit alleges.

Boston Police were called in, but search efforts were complicated by "conflicting information provided by witnesses at the scene."

State Police
State Police searched for Kyzr Willis off Carson Beach July 26, 2016. (WBZ-TV)

A police harbor patrol unit found Kyzr's body using sonar at 6 p.m. Divers located him face down at the bottom of about 10 feet of water, a short distance from the camp. They pulled him out and he was pronounced dead at 7:10 p.m.

Kyzr's mother says the last year has been painful.

"It's been over a year or so and it seems like it was just yesterday that I was going through this nightmare," she said. "I still wish he's come through that door with that smile on his face--to come and give me a hug and say 'I love you' again."

Carson Beach Drowning
Ralph Toney and Melissa Willis on July 27, 2016. (WBZ-TV)

The father who pushed for Christian's law, Derek Frechette, spoke to reporters and said Christians' law should have been followed.

"If they had just followed Christian's law, their son would be alive. The guilt I feel, they passed this law to save kids. And he wouldn't be gone if that (expletive) just signed it and did what he said," Frechette said.

Frechette said the city didn't follow through with the law because, "Maybe it was too expensive to get life jackets."

"It's a sad situation. It was probably one of the hardest days I had as mayor, but I can't imagine what the family went through.  They made a decision to move forward with the lawsuit.  We're obviously going to keep open lines of communication.  Our law department has kept an open line of communication with them and we'll see what happens," Mayor Walsh told reporters Thursday.

Lawyers would not say exactly how much the family is seeking in damages except to say that it's in the millions.

WBZ-TV I-Team reporter Ryan Kath contributed to this report.

Ryan Kath can be reached at You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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