HARDIN COUNTY, KY (WAVE) - A sister described watching her brother take his last breaths hours before a dive team pulled his body from a pond near city limits.
Elijah Thornton, 17, was pronounced dead at least two hours after he panicked while swimming. Elijah, his friends and his sister were playing in a private pond in Radcliff, near Blackjack Road and Centennial Avenue.
"It was deeper in the middle and for some reason, they were in the middle and he started panicking," Elijah's sister, Alexus Thornton, said.
Elijah's friend tried to pull him to safety, but he slipped, according to Alexus. Elijah's brother, Damon Mansfield, said his brother knew how to swim, but had a history of seizures and suffered a heart condition that could've caused him to panic.
"He was under there for hours before they found him," Alexus cried.
The pond is one Damon said kids often fish and swim in. Dive teams pulled Elijah's body from the water at least two hours later. It was news that Damon had to process from miles away, as he was driving to Michigan.
"I called my mom and she was distraught, very incoherent," Damon said. "I said you have to be strong for the rest of them because I have my sister breaking down, my brother breaking down, my grandparents," he added.
Damon arrived back home Friday morning and sat down with his mom for the first time.
"She just sat there and cried and cried and said God why, why would you take my son?" Damon explained.
Damon and Alexus choose to remember their brother's warmth. They described moments at home when he laughed, rapped and lit up the room.
"His smile and all the laughs he had," Alexus said.
"His personality because like I said earlier, he had an outgoing personality and I know there's no person who will forget that," Damon said.
A smile that changed lives at home and in the classroom.
"That greeting from Elijah is what I'll miss," his math teacher, Shanae Thompson, said. "I'll take away that we can always make each other feel better just by saying hi. I think this year I'm going to give more high fives because he did that."
Elijah was preparing to start his senior year at North Hardin High School.
"He was excited for prom," Damon said. "He said 'I'm ready to graduate,'" Damon laughed.
North Hardin High School is working closely with Elijah's family to determine what the family needs and how the community can help. This story will be updated with information after it is provided.