‘I only have one Se’Vonn’: Parents share heartbreak of teen’s drowning

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 4:09 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Se’Vonn Small passed away on Labor Day, and it’s become clear everywhere that he had an impact.

It hasn’t been easy to move on since the 16-year-old drowned at Clarks Hill Lake.

“I’m used to checking on all my kids at night, and I remember one night I almost went to check on him because my mind can’t always process the fact that he’s not in his bed,” said his mom, Renata Ward Collins.

“I go to his favorite spots and have conversations, just remembering to breathe and trust God through it all,’ she said. “Regardless, I know that someday I’ll get through it – not completely, but because he’s he’s my only son and I only have one Se’Vonn, so it’s hard.”


  • Se’Vonn Small will be laid to rest at a celebration of life in Augusta on Saturday. The family will also have a memorial in St. Petersburg, Fla.

His parents have to take in all of the emotions every day.

“I feel like I’m dreaming. I feel like a dream. I’ve been saying it feels like a movie, when somebody’s gonna say. ‘Cut, scene’s over.’ You know it’s – it’s unreal,” said the teenager’s dad, Charles Small.

“It’s like something you see in a movie, and you don’t think it’s gonna ever be on your doorstep. You know? And yet, here we are. And we have to, we have to face it and deal with it day by day,” he said.

Se’Vonn’s mom still thinks about the day she lost her son.

“We all packed up to go and enjoy each other. I actually didn’t want to go at one point, but I went because he wanted to go so bad. He and I fished together. We did everything for the most part together when we could, so we fished together,” Collins said.

Things took a turn later in the day when she returned from the store.

“I said, ‘Where’s my son and then my daughter’s boyfriend? So we still have to go back and get him? Where is he?’ There was no sign of it,” she said.


“I felt like if I can just get to the water, I can get my baby,” she said.

She said his body was found in 6½ feet of water, and he was 6 feet tall.

During the search for his body, she prayed.

“God, don’t let my baby stay out there. Please just bring his body home,” she said. “And that’s when they told me they found him and I saw him and he was lifeless.”

She feels like Se’Vonn is helping her get through it.

“Se’Vonn wrote a saying and it says, ‘Today is that tomorrow you were so worried about yesterday. Keep going,’” she said.

She put it on her desk at work.

“And the other day, I just kind of remembered it, and I looked at it, and it spoke so much to me because I’ve always had this fear as a mother,” she said.

“He’s telling me, ‘Keep going, Ma,’” she said. “And that’s what I’m doing.”

The family hasn’t been alone during this time.

Se’Vonn’s football teammates at the Academy of Richmond County have held prayers, honored his number on the field and held a balloon release for Se’Vonn.

His parents are proud of the impact he had, even though he was only in Augusta for not even a year.

“It touched our hearts in such a way to know that we had a whole community,” Small said.

After a balloon release for Se'Vonn, the sky cleared up and a rainbow appearted.
After a balloon release for Se'Vonn, the sky cleared up and a rainbow appearted.(Contributed)

During the balloon release after a rainy afternoon, the sky cleared up. As the sun set, a rainbow appeared.

It made everyone stop what they were doing.

“It was unexplainable, and it kept getting bright. At that moment, everybody kind of stopped and looked. They were they were in awe. People on the field were looking trying to play the game, and they said, ‘Do you see this?’ It kept getting brighter and brighter illuminating over the field,” Collins said.

“It was like him saying, ‘Hey, I’m here. Just want to show y’all,’” his dad said.

After a balloon release for Se'Vonn, the sky cleared up and a rainbow appearted.
After a balloon release for Se'Vonn, the sky cleared up and a rainbow appearted.(Contributed)

Now, the family is looking for ways to spread Se’Vonn’s legacy, looking into launching a nonprofit called Small Steps to start an after-school program to keep kids out of trouble and be a safe space for those who’ve been bullied.

Se’Vonn would like that because he always stood up and made friends with students who got picked on.

“You know, it hurts but we can smile on the inside knowing that – you know – that our little king has impacted, looks like, the world now,” Small said.

Collins said: “He was humble, he was kind, he had a big heart, very respectful, outgoing and a go-getter. He didn’t quit. Sometimes I thought he put too much on himself, trying to overdo it. But he – he was – once he was focused, he was focused. That’s all in a nutshell. He loved the Lord. He told his friends about the Lord.”

His dad wants everyone to live like Se’Vonn lived and to stay #Se’vonnStrong.

“Do what you want while you’re here. Do what you want,” he said. “Do make your dreams come true, because that’s what he was trying to do.”