THOMASVILLE — When Copper Comita said goodbye to her son Reid as he left for a hiking excursion, she didn’t figure the next phone call would be the one parents dread.
Reid was hiking in the west Texas mountains in June 2017. But the teenager succumbed to the heat and the elevation. By the time the Comitas got to the site of the hike, their son had died.
“I had no concerns about what we signed up for,” Copper Comita. “We signed him up for what he was physically and mentally able to do, which was an introductory hike. I sent him off Sunday morning and said you’ll have a good time and come back with some really cool story.”
Instead, her son died in a remote part of west Texas at Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch.
Comita is a nurse by profession, but it’s only been the last six months that she’s been able to talk about her son’s death publicly without crying, she acknowledged. Yet that’s what she wants to do, so no other parent has to lose a child to heat stroke or a heat-related illness.
She wants people to be aware of just how dangerous heat can be, and how quickly problems it causes can develop.
“It comes on you like a tidal wave,” she said. “And you can’t recover once you pass a certain point. Your body temperature hits 104, and you’re in some serious, serious trouble.”
As a nurse, Copper Comita started exploring why this happened to her son.
“He was qualified to do what he signed up for,” she said. “He got to the top of the mountain. And that’s where he collapsed. He did not give up. To be scared for eight hours is a horrible way to die.”
As the hike went on, her son complained of muscle cramps and of being hot, she said.
“He had the red-hot skin where you stop sweating,” she said.
The temperature at the start of the hike was 98 degrees.
Heat stroke and heat-related illnesses also strike without regard to race, religion, education or economic status, Copper Comita pointed out.
“It doesn’t pick and choose,” she said
Comita is adamant that those who are in charge of others involved in outdoor activities of any kind be mindful of the conditions and of the perils inherent with heat and humidity.
“It might very easily happen to you,” she said. “Just because it didn’t happen to you when you were gardening or playing football or in marching band doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you this week. You have to be on top of your game and prepare mentally and physically for your outdoor activity.”
To honor his legacy, the Comitas are considering buying a bench downtown in Reid’s name. But Copper also wants to ensure no other parent goes through what she and her family have endured because of heat stroke.
“Our lives are forever changed,” she said. “We will never be happy the way we once were. I am making it my mission to make sure no other mother becomes me.”
The Comita family eventually filed a suit against the Boy Scouts, contending the hike their son signed up for was far different than the one he eventually went on and the Scouts did not provide proper oversight. The suit was settled earlier this year.
But to Copper, the message she wants to get across is how deadly the heat can be.
“It wasn’t in the forefront of my mind every time I step out of the door like it is now,” she said. “And it needs to be in the forefront of people’s minds who are either in charge of people, who engage in outdoor or physical activity where there’s heat. It’s really not complicated. It’s very simple.”
Copper Comita spent some of her teenage years in Thomasville, and the Comitas had planned to retire to Thomasville anyway. It is the final resting place for Reid, who is buried here.
The loss of Reid has been hard on the Comitas, which include his older sister Reynolds, a student at Boston University.
“I miss his hugs, his laughter, his smiles, the relationship he had with his sister,” Copper Comita said.
Reid was a straight-A student who was in National Junior Honor Society, in men’s choir and in show choir. After his death, $56,000 was raised in his name, his mother said, with $20,000 coming in one fundraiser that went to his show choir. The money enabled the choir to have more extensive choreography, better costumes and go to competitions previously out of their reach.
Copper said Reid was excited when he found out he made the show choir.
Her son was 6-foot-1 “and a quarter,” she said, “with beautiful hazel eyes.”
“This person could have made an impact, more than he did at 15,” Copper said. “He could have gone on to do great things. I truly believe the world or those who would have had the pleasure of knowing him have been robbed of a truly special relationship.”
Editor Pat Donahue can be reached at (229) 226-2400 ext. 1806.