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Youth struck by lightning in Fort Myers dies

Oct. 7, 2012
Moment of prayer held for lightning strike victim ...
Moment of prayer held for lightning strike victim ...: A prayer for lightning strike victim Jesse Watlington was said before the Friday night football game between Evangelical Christian School and First Baptist Academy. Video by Guy Tubbs
Jesse Watlington / Special to

Where to help

Anyone who wishes to help the Watlington family cover their son’s medical expenses can send donations to the McGregor Baptist Church at 3750 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers. Contributions should be addressed to the Jesse Fund.


Jesse Watlington, 11, hit by lightning Wednesday, died shortly after being removed from life support at Tampa General Hospital on Sunday.

His father, Chuck Watlington, posted a message around 11:40 a.m. Sunday on a Facebook page called “Pray for Jesse Watlington”:

“Our precious little son Jesse is now with our Lord and Saviour Jesus. We would like to Thank the thousands of you for all your love, support and prayers! Jesse has touched the lives of literally thousands of people around the World. Thank you all!”

The 11-year-old had been struck as he walked with other children prior to football practice around 4 p.m. Wednesday at Southwest Florida Christian Academy on the McGregor Baptist Church campus.

The church said on its Facebook page that the family made the decision to remove Jesse from life support based on the most recent neurological tests.

Family members said that the youngster was removed from life support and his heart stopped beating a little more than 20 minutes later.

His sister, Carolina, 14, posted on the “Pray for Jesse Watlington” Facebook page shortly thereafter:

“I will always love you Jesse. Everything I do will be for YOU. I need you... - Carolina Watlington“

McGregor, which is affiliated with Jesse’s school, held a special prayer service Sunday morning during their regular service.

Richard Powell, senior pastor of McGregor Baptist, confirmed to The News-Press that Jesse had died.

“We will continue to pray for the family,” Powell said Sunday afternoon.

He added that a decision on counseling is still being discussed. However, he said, “we will have all of our pastors on call to deal with grief.”

The church Sunday also posted the following on it’s web site:

“The family has requested that we say thank you for your love, support, and prayers. Based on neurological tests done in recent hours, life support has been removed, and Jesse’s struggles are ending. Please continue to pray for this dear family.”

Earlier Friday, Jesse’s parents said that doctors had noted some reaction when they shined a light into the boy’s eye.

However, he was showing no involuntary responses to stimuli, said Chuck Watlington, who was at work at Fabulous Furniture in Fort Myers when his wife called to say that their son had been struck by lightning. Jesse was taken to Gulf Coast Hospital and then airlifted to Tampa General at 1 a.m. Thursday.

Thousands of people responded to McGregor Baptist Church’s Facebook request for prayers and to the Jesse Facebook page, which had more than 8,600 “likes” by Sunday evening. By Friday afternoon Jesse’s story had traveled all the way across the pond to become a prominent story in London’s Daily Mail.

Staff writers Jackie Winchester and Dayna Harpster contributed to this story.

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