Death of Evanston boy ruled a suicide

Nathan Adkisson

A 10-year-old boy who died after being found hanged in an Evanston elementary school bathroom committed suicide, authorities said Wednesday.

Aquan Lewis, a fifth-grader at Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave., was found unresponsive Tuesday shortly before 3 p.m. and died early Wednesday morning.

Lewis was originally taken to nearby St. Francis Hospital and later transferred to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where he was pronounced dead at 4:05 a.m.

The Cook County Medical Examiner ruled the death a suicide, but police and school officials said several questions regarding the specifics of Lewis’ death remained unanswered.

In a press conference at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave., police and school administrators gave few details about the death.

WGN Channel 9 broadcast an interview with a janitor named Elliott Lieteau who said he gave Lewis CPR before he was taken in the ambulance, but officials would not confirm this. Nor had they determined where Lewis should have been while he was in the bathroom or at what time he entered it.

Hardy Murphy, superintendent for Evanston/Skokie School District 65, said Lewis was transported from Oakton while school was still in session.

“Because the incident happened late in the day, the district was unable to reach out to families with written communication,” he said. “We knew that because this incident happened while children were still in the building, they may have been frightened to see emergency vehicles at the school.”

Murphy said he was saddened by the death.

“If there is someone to blame, I have to take that blame, because I am the superintendent of schools,” Murphy said. “I personally feel that my first order of business is to make sure that every student is safe in our building.”

A few hours after the press conference ended, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office released Lewis’ autopsy results, listing the cause of death as suicide by hanging.

Evanston Police Department Cmdr. Tom Guenther said the police were still treating the incident as a crime scene.

“The EPD is aware of the ME’s finding, but that’s not going to affect our investigation,” Guenther said. “We will still continue to conduct interviews and collect evidence until such time that we think no more need to be conducted. Until the last interview is conducted, we’ll keep asking questions.”

Though questions remained about Lewis’ death, Guenther and Murphy refused to speculate at the press conference.

“Those are facts that pertain to an ongoing investigation, and I think it would be inappropriate to comment on them,” Guenther said. “There’s not something that’s so far-fetched that we won’t look into it. We can’t do this in 24 hours.”

After the conference, the school district issued statements to all parents of students in District 65 detailing support efforts for parents, students and staff. The school arranged for English- and Spanish-speaking counselors to be at the school Wednesday. Substitute teachers were enlisted to help staff with daily activities, and the police department provided a resource officer.

Officers from the Oakton Parent-Teacher Association declined to comment, saying media inquiries were inappropriate. The janitor’s lawyer advised him not to comment any further on his actions. The boy’s mother, Angel Lewis, has retained the office of Todd Smith as legal counsel to further investigate the circumstances of her son’s death, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report. His office did not return requests for comment.

Bernie Pratt, Evanston resident and father of a second-grader at another District 65 school, attended Wednesday’s press conference because he is concerned about his child’s safety.

“The first thing (my wife and I) talked about was taking our son out of school and putting him in private school,” Pratt said. As of noon Wednesday, Pratt had not yet told his son about Lewis’s death. “We’re going to tell him tonight. I don’t want him to find out from someone else.”

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