Those who knew Emmanuel “Manny” Palmer struggled Sunday to sort out how a budding young man, so strong and so robust, could be taken in a drowning.
The 16-year-old who’d just wrapped up his sophomore year at Raytown High School — and who’d been using the weight room regularly to prepare himself to play outside linebacker with the varsity football team in the fall — failed to cross a cove with friends at private Lakewood Lakes on Saturday.
That swimming accident cut short the life of a kid, said those who knew him, who was busting with good manners and impish fun, with great talent and even more potential.
As a sophomore, he held a spot on his high school’s Camerata choir, an audition-based group that only rarely had room for anyone other than upperclassmen.
The choir’s instructor, Susan Hazelrigg, said that in 31 years she’d rarely cried during a performance. She joked that when she did, it was usually because things went badly. But then Manny sang “Instrument of Peace” in a solo at a state competition in Columbia this year. He was a natural bass, and the song required him to hit higher notes than he was usually comfortable hitting.
Hazelrigg couldn’t hold back the tears.
“It’s one of my sweetest memories,” she said. “It was so gorgeous.”
When he wasn’t performing, she said, Manny was usually joking or cajoling classmates to get along.
She retired at the end of the school year, and Manny was among a number of kids who raised money to buy her a cocker spaniel puppy. In a video of her being presented with the dog, he was uncontrollably giddy at the idea of making his instructor happy.
One friend, Dominic Marchese, remembered Manny as a guy “willing to try anything” — Frisbee, soccer, choir, skateboarding, football. And “he was nice to everybody.”
Another friend, Ciera Clark, said Manny was always distinctively upbeat. “He was just really enthusiastic,” she said, “about everything.”
Football coach Kevin Page said “he had a very calm way about him. He was always smiling.”
Emergency crews were called around 3:50 p.m. Saturday to the 200 block of Northwest Aspen Street, near Lake Drive. They found Manny’s body about 6 p.m., said Lee’s Summit police spokesman Sgt. Christopher Depue.
A neighbor, Kathleen McKenna, said she was working in her yard when an ambulance pulled up “and a boy ran up from the shore crying so hard,” she said. “I could hear him say, ‘He’s still underwater!’ It was so horrible.”
The cove was as wide as a football field, she guessed. The boys were apparently trying to swim across it.
The victim’s mother, 23-year-old sister and father came and waited as recovery teams searched. Several neighbors offered their condolences to the distraught family and waited with them, McKenna said.
“It was so sad,” she said, “on what had been a beautiful summer day.”