A 16-year-old Thomas Worthington High School student drowned this week while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean during a basketball-team training camp.

Franklin “Eric” Clark was swimming in the ocean with teammates at 2:30 p.m. June 11 off the coast of Fripp Island in South Carolina when he reportedly went under the water.

Authorities believe he was caught by a strong undertow current off the beach and his drowning was accidental.

The basketball team organized a vigil to celebrate Clark’s life June 13 on the high school’s front lawn.

Worthington City Schools Superintendent Trent Bowers wrote a letter to parents June 12, calling Clark’s death “a tragic loss.”

“Our crisis recovery team is working to support the Thomas Worthington High School community and all those impacted by Eric’s death,” he wrote. “It is our hope that we will continue to work together to meet the needs of our students and families throughout this difficult time.”

He said any student needing assistance with grief counseling could contact Nationwide Children’s Hospital at 614-722-1800.

Bowers said Clark was a “valuable member” of the basketball team, a “key” football player at Thomas Worthington and part of the school’s entrepreneurial-business-academy program.

“Eric was known for his natural ability to lead, a kind heart, his strong work ethic and an easygoing nature,” he wrote. “Adults often described him as wise beyond his years. It is very difficult for all of us to face the death of a young person.”

Kate Hines, a member of a local property owners association on Fripp Island, said the boys were swimming in about 8 feet of water when Clark went missing, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

She said the basketball team, which rents a house with a coach for summer training camp, was visiting Fripp Island for the third year in a row.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Beaufort Marine Rescue and Fripp Island Security began a search the afternoon of June 11, paused overnight and continued early June 12.

Search crews found Clark’s body that afternoon.

According to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, the county coroner scheduled a forensic autopsy at the Medical University of South Carolina to confirm the cause of Clark’s death.

A release from the sheriff’s office said the cause of death likely was accidental drowning “based on witness accounts.”

Clark’s death marks the second drowning death of a Worthington resident within three weeks.

On May 26, 6-year-old Jude Kraft died in an accidental drowning at the Worthington Hills Country Club.

Jude was a kindergartner at Bluffsview Elementary School and son of a teacher at Worthington Kilbourne High School.

In a blog post June 12, Bowers addressed the back-to-back tragedies.

“I have no words,” he wrote. “No words will adequately express the sorrow we feel for the Kraft and the Clark families. I have no words that can make either of these events any easier and no words that will help our community understand these tragedies.

“I don’t know if Worthington has faced any more tragedy than any other community. I do know that if feels like that is the case right now.”

ThisWeek reporter Pamela Willis and The Columbus Dispatch reporter Bill Bush contributed to this report.

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