BARTLETT, Tenn. — In the Hulsey home, musical notes represent more than a hobby.
“When we tell each other we love each other we say we love you more than music,” Angela Hulsey said. “That’s like if you had to pick one religion that would be it: music.”
Angela Hulsey wants to finally share the story of what happened to her 14-year-old son Zach last April when he drowned in a Bartlett lake. She has never spoken publicly about it before.
She sings her son’s praises when she talks about him. So do his friends.
“He was kind to a fault. He’d get in trouble protecting people or standing up for what he believed in,” Angela Hulsey said.
“He always talked to people. Didn’t matter what situation what walk of life you were in. He didn’t discriminate,” Zach’s girlfriend Emily Harriss said.
They say Zach was a happy teenager. He dated Emily, whom he met through church.
“Something about a conversation over Twinkies and I don’t know, we clicked over that,” she said of the day they met.
Those little moments now give them comfort.
Angela calls herself a helicopter mom. She even home-schooled him, along with his younger sister Layla.
“I never let him out of my sight for too long, which everyone says, ‘You’re gonna regret that.’ I never did. Not until then, not until that day,” she said.
She’s talking about April 3, 2018.
Angela worked late the night before, so Zach and his sister spent the day with their babysitter and her three kids.
Around noon, the babysitter took them all to the lake at Davies Plantation Park in Bartlett.
“They wanted to put their feet in so she told them they could take their shoes off and put their feet in. Apparently the little ones said something like, ‘Wow that’s far across there.’ Zach said, ‘Oh I can swim that,'” Angela Hulsey said.
The headstrong teenage boy got in the water and started swimming.
“By the time my babysitter realized he was actually in the water, she can’t swim and he was too far out for her to reach him and grab him and bring him back,” Angela Hulsey said.
Angela wasn’t there. Instead, she got a call.
“The lady kept telling me my son is in the lake. I kept telling her just tell him to get out,” Angela Hulsey said. “She said, ‘The firefighters are trying to find him’ and I instantly knew what she meant.”
A neighbor rushed her to the park. She got in the ambulance with Zach, but it was no use. Doctors couldn’t revive him.
“They told me if he coded another time, there was nothing they could do. They told me his body temp was 32 I think,” she said.
Her son could swim but he had chronic vertigo, Angela said. She thinks he passed out.
The coroner ruled it an accidental drowning.
For nearly a year now, she has grappled with what happened. She fights herself to keep from blaming the babysitter.
“I lost my baby, but she had to watch it. As a mother, I just am thankful I don’t have that memory.”
In January, Angela returned to the Davies Plantation Park lake for the first time since Zach’s incident.
She clarified with Emily about where he first ventured in to the water.
They walked around the lake, to the exact spot where Zach entered.
“It kind of explains to me why she couldn’t grab him,” Angela said as she saw the lake setup for the first time.
It’s not closure, but it’s something on the way to healing.
“There’s not a place you could step in that looks remotely safe,” she said.
But her real path to healing is with change. “Why were there no no swimming signs?” she asked.
In fact, we only saw one “no swimming” sign at Davies Plantation Park, back by the parking lot.
WREG asked Bartlett leaders if they’ve made any changes at the park since Zach’s accident. They said they haven’t, and did not know of any other similar incidents.
“I think if his mom makes enough noise and stops one kid from going in that water, Zach would be proud and I would feel like he didn’t die in vain,” she said.
She also hoped parents feel her pain and hear her advice.
“If you’re going to be near water and you have one, six or 50 kids, you need to know how to swim. It’s scary but it’s so much less scary than having to say goodbye,” she said.
As she listened to her and Zach’s favorite song, she said goodbye in her own way, that shows she loves him more than music.