Boy collapses at Atascadero High pool, dies
Police say he was found unconscious in the pool, and students say he had a seizure; district is investigating
By AnnMarie Cornejo and Leah Etling
An Atascadero High School junior died Wednesday after he was found underwater and unconscious in the campus swimming pool, police said.
John Erlanson, 17, was rushed to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton from a physical education class around 10:30 a. m., according to police. Less than two hours later, the school district was notified by the Atascadero Police Department that Erlanson had died.
Officials with the Atascadero Unified School District would not release details about the incident, saying only that he collapsed in the pool area of the high school.
District officials would not say whether he was found in or out of the pool or what might have caused his collapse.
But numerous students said they believed Erlanson had some kind of seizure before falling into the pool.
Atascadero High Principal Kim Spinks would not confirm the students’ accounts but said school administrators are investigating.
Spinks, who has been at the school for 28 years, said if Erlanson drowned, it would be the first drowning she knows of at the campus.
Atascadero police referred all questions to the school district because it had determined the death to be accidental and because it happened on school grounds, Lt. Brian Dana said.
An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. The results, including the cause of death, were not immediately available.
Counselors were invited to the campus from nearby schools and met with students in the school library during and after classes. Additional counselors will remain on campus through the end of the week, Spinks said.
“We support the students and will provide whatever they might need,” she said. “There is nothing we can say or do to make the pain go away.”
Erlanson’s family could not be reached for comment.
Willing to lend a hand
Some of Erlanson’s friends described him as quirky, intelligent and always willing to help.
Junior Cameron Ellis, 17, said he shared classes with Erlanson since the first grade.
“He was one of the best video game players I’ve ever met,” Ellis said. “He always beat you but was never mean about it.”
Cambrie Burns, 16, also took classes with the teen.
“He was really smart, and if we needed help he was always willing to,” Burns said.
Caitlin Ward, a freshman who was in a classroom next to the pool, said her health teacher, Christian Cooper, rushed to respond after several students came into the classroom and said Erlanson had been pulled from the pool and wasn’t breathing.
When Cooper came back to the classroom, Ward said, he told the class that the student didn’t have a pulse. The teacher instructed students to stay calm and work quietly, she said. Cooper could not be reached for comment.
Some students said they heard an ambulance and fire engine sirens as emergency personnel responded to campus, and that text messages between students immediately started about what had happened. Eyewitnesses to the event were instructed not to talk to the media, one student said.
Students gathered in small groups on their lunch break to talk about what had happened. Many were unsure of the student’s name or exactly what had happened.
But by the end of the school day, many learned it was Erlanson. Those who knew him clung to each other, shared stories and wiped away tears.
School district Superintendent John Rogers acknowledged the pain the death had caused.
“An incident like this that affects one, af fects many and does so deeply,” he said.