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Boy who was swept into Rutherford County storm drain ‘officially passed away,’ family says

More than a week after the son of Rutherford County’s director of schools got caught in a storm drain and was swept under the streets following severe weather, the boy’s family announced he has “officially passed away.”

Dr. James Sullivan posted the following update about his son, 10-year-old Asher Sullivan, on Facebook, at 10:08 p.m. on Saturday, May 18:

Asher officially passed away this afternoon around 1:20 pm. I say officially because of the events of the last 36 hours: Asher had one brain stem reflex remaining the last few days that kept him from officially being declared brain dead/deceased. The doctors had told us that they didn’t expect that reflex to go away, but that further improvement beyond maybe a finger moving was not possible. That left Kaycee and I with an impossible decision that deep down we knew we wouldn’t make. We asked for an additional MRI and that was conducted late Thursday. Kaycee and I met with the neurologists a few rooms away from Asher around 11 yesterday (Friday) morning to have an in-depth discussion. The MRI actually showed further progression of brain damage from five days earlier. While we were away, Asher’s vitals crashed. His pulse and blood pressure became erratic, he lost the ability to control temperature, and the eye response ceased. Our sweet boy did what Asher has always done, he put others first. No longer did Kaycee and I have to make an impossible decision. Instead, he made it for us while we were out of the room. The doctors performed two extremely in-depth tests that Kaycee and I watched separated by 24 hours. No parent should have to watch this, but we knew for our hearts, we had to. The results showed us what we already knew, that our sweet Asher was already gone. We are broken-hearted, mad, and every other emotion at the same time. We are still at Vanderbilt as we’ve decided to have Asher bring life to others as an organ donor. He remains on life support bc of that decision for a few days. It’s 100% an “Asher” type thing to do in continuing to be selfless. He will have an honor walk at the hospital in the next few days and be celebrated as he is, a hero!

Rutherford County Schools posted the following statement on Facebook shortly after Dr. Sullivan made his announcement:

Director of Schools Jimmy Sullivan has shared an important update about Asher. We are all heart-broken for Jimmy, Kaycee and Declan Sullivan in the loss of Asher. We mourn with them during this difficult time, and we will rally around them in the difficult days to come. It has been incredible to witness our community come together to support the Sullivans with prayer vigils, neighborhood cleanups, and with empathy for one another. We know they will need our continued support, and we have no doubt our community will continue to surround them with love and will be there to help share the burden of this tragic loss. #SullivanStrong

This news comes just hours after dozens of people — including Asher’s fourth grade teachers from Christiana Elementary, who described him as an amazing student — gathered at a Murfreesboro prayer vigil to show their support for the Sullivan family.

“We’ve talked a lot about Asher this week in the classroom, of course, and the kids would tell you that they loved his silly side, that they miss his funny, silly side,” said one of Asher’s teachers, Amber Peneguy. “He was just that kid that if somebody was having a hard time or upset, he would do something funny to make them laugh.” 

Asher’s teachers told News 2 that despite his severe brain injury, his friends and classmates had still been hoping for a miracle.

“He became a writer this year and he had lots of things to say in his writings,” said Donna Damron, another one of Asher’s teachers. “His classmates even shared some of his writing most recently as a way of just rallying behind him and loving on him.” 

Several close friends of Asher’s grandmother also showed up to the vigil, saying they wouldn’t give up hope and they were praying for God to heal Asher.

“We’re not really family, we are family, and we’re there for them and they know that and we’re thankful for that,” said Gina Baker from Tullahoma.

According to Dr. Sullivan’s first social media post about the incident that sent Asher to the hospital, while neighbors in Christiana were helping to clean up after the storm on Wednesday, May 8, the kids were playing in the water in the streets: “Somehow, Asher got caught in the storm drain and was swept under the neighborhood streets. He eventually came out in a drainage ditch and CPR was administered for quite some time. His heart beat was reestablished but the damage is substantial.”

For more than a week, the director of Rutherford County Schools provided updates at least once a day on social media about Asher’s condition, especially his brain, and continued to ask for prayers from the community.

Not only did the Rutherford County community show its support for Asher and his family, but the movement made waves across social media with #SullivanStrong, reaching people across the country.

A GoFundMe has also been set up for Sullivan family. If you’d like to donate, follow this link.

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