Michael Renner-Lewis III

Michael Renner-LewisName: Michael Renner-Lewis III
Died: August 25, 2003
Age at death: 15
Cause of death: Suffocation during restraint
Location: Portage, Michigan, USA

Michael, a high-schooler who loved to sing and draw and had a talent for mathematics, had been excited about going to school on the first day of his sophomore year; he had even ironed his clothes the night before. That morning, he played his favorite song, "I Can Only Imagine," over and over in his bedroom.

Around noon that day, Michael had a seizure and became distressed. His Individualized Education Plan specified that if he became agitated, he was to be taken to a quiet location to help him calm down. Instead of calling an ambulance or finding that quiet place for Michael, school staff restrained him face-down on the floor. Four staff members restrained Michael. At some point, he stopped breathing. Only when his mother sent a co-worker to pick up Michael and take him home did anyone notice he was dead.

The incident did not result in any criminal charges, but Michael's family sued the school district and settled out of court for $1.3 million (nearly half of which went to the lawyers).

Editor's note: "I Can Only Imagine" is a song about heaven. I can't help but wonder whether Michael knew what danger he was in. Perhaps he did, and the song helped him cope with it.

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