ERWIN — It has been nearly eight months since Erwin native Cody Riddle drowned in Boone Lake in Sullivan County only days after turning 14, and those who were close to him are continuing to search for answers on the circumstances that led to his death.
On Friday afternoon, a group of Riddle’s friends and family staged a rally outside the former Sonic location on Main Avenue in downtown. Members of the group held up bright signs that urged passing motorists along the busy stretch to “Beep Your Horn for Cody.” Another sign read “Justice 4 Cody.” However, one sign perhaps best summed up the intent of the rally and the group’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the incident. That sign read “We Want the Truth.”
The group was mostly made up of students from Unicoi County Middle School and High School — friends of Riddle’s who remain unconvinced that no foul play was involved in his death. Fifteen-year-old Shiloh Mattos, one of the rally’s organizers and Riddle’s friend, said it is difficult for many to believe that Riddle drowned due to his intense fear of the water.
“We all knew Cody very well, and of all the times I went camping with him, he never once got toward the water,” Mattos said. “He would always keep a distance from the water.”
According to reports from the Kingsport Times-News at the time of Riddle’s death, his body was recovered from Boone Lake on Aug. 13 about 3 p.m., nearly 12 hours after those Riddle was camping with said they last saw him on the shoreline of an island near Boone Lake Marina in the Piney Flats area. According to reports, this was also around five hours after Riddle’s friends first reported to authorities that he was missing from the island.
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Office Leslie Earhart told the Times-News at that time that when SCSO officers arrived, they learned Riddle was on the island camping with friends who said they last saw him sitting on the bank of the island at around 3 a.m. Aug. 13.
The friends told officers when they woke up around 10 a.m., they began looking for Riddle but could not locate him. The SCSO dive team, assisted by the Kingsport Lifesaving Crew Dive Team, located Riddle’s body just off the island in about 10 feet of water, according to previous reports.
Earhart said at the time that no foul play was immediately suspected in Riddle’s death.
Mattos said that at Riddle’s open casket funeral, his body displayed signs that he had been in some type of struggle prior to his death. She said he had a bruised eye, what appeared to be a dislocated jaw, a knot on his head, a gash on his chin and bruises on his arms. This has led Mattos and others to further question whether Riddle’s death was simply an accidental drowning.
“Through research me and my friends have done, after a body is dead and no longer living, you cannot bruise,” Mattos said.
“Another thing is it takes, I believe it said, 12 hours for a body to become waterlogged and sink. I don’t see how he could have been in the water for more than 12 hours without them realizing, because he wasn’t floating when they found him, he was sinking. Just a lot of things don’t add up.”
Mattos and others gathered Friday feel there “a lot of missing pieces” surrounding Riddle’s death. The rally was an effort to urge law enforcement officials to take another look.
“With this, it’s just supporting Cody, remembering him and just trying to search for as much justice as we can find,” Mattos said.
“We want to see justice served,” Patricia Collins, Riddle’s grandmother who also attended Friday’s rally, added.
And as those gathered for the rally prepared to take to the sidewalk with signs in hand, Mattos expressed confidence their questions regarding Riddle’s death would eventually be answered.
“We’ll figure out what happened to him sooner or later,” she said.
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office could not be reached Friday for comment.