Hikers at High Falls State Park had just started back on the trail Tuesday morning after they stopped to record a short video of two boys who were walking across the peak of the park’s tallest waterfall.
Moments later, they heard screams and called 911.
The boys, who were brothers, had slipped and fallen from the top of the waterfall.
Christian Burdette, 12, died. His older brother, James Burdette, 17, survived the fall but had to be rescued by helicopter.
Family and friends cried, gripped hands and anxiously embraced each other as the shirtless teen was lifted to safety.
The boys lived less than a quarter mile from the falls and were very familiar with the area, Monroe County sheriff’s Sgt. Lawson Bittick said.
Though there are signs warning others to stay off the rocks, they are often disregarded.
Crossing the waterfall was “something they claimed they had done several times before,” Bittick said.
James, a 10th grader at Mary Persons High School, and Christian, a sixth-grader at Monroe County Middle School, were out of school for fall break.
Amanda Webb, who attends High Falls Baptist Church with the Burdette family, said Christian had been baptized about two months ago.
“He knew Jesus. He knew the Lord. So, I know he’s in a better place,” Webb said. “It’s still really difficult. I just can’t imagine what his family’s going through.”
Bittick said James refused medical treatment and went home with his family where he was interviewed.
High Falls Road was blocked for several hours after the 11:30 a.m. drowning.
Christian’s body was sent to the GBI crime lab in Atlanta for an autopsy.
The Department of Natural Resources is investigating the death since it occurred on state property, Bittick said.
Christian’s death is the second to occur at the park this year.
In May, 38-year-old Daniella Flanagan was walking on the rocks of the falls with her husband when she slipped and fell. Flanagan died from her injuries shortly after the fall.