February 24, 2024

CEDAR CITY — The 14-year-old boy who drowned in Newcastle Reservoir on Saturday afternoon has been identified by family members as Kevin Cooper of Beryl.
The family is devastated by the tragedy, said Stefanie Whitelaw, who is a close friend and neighbor of the Coopers and is considered to be an adopted grandmother to both Kevin and his 17-year-old brother.
Whitelaw, who is also the family’s designated spokesperson, spoke to Cedar City News via telephone on Monday and said she wanted to set the record straight regarding initial reports that stated the brothers had been trying to knock each other out of their boats prior to the incident.
“What (the older brother) told me is they were racing and I guess they were turning around,” said Whitelaw, adding that the family requested that the 17-year-old’s name not be publicized.
“Kevin’s kayak tipped or capsized and Kevin went in. (The brother) tried to get Kevin out of the water. I’m guessing that’s when people heard anything, it was (him) trying to get his brother out of the water.”
But despite the older teen’s heroic efforts to save his brother, Kevin went under the water and never resurfaced. His body was recovered by dive team members early Sunday morning.
“I’m guessing they were maybe just floating in the shallow end and then went further in. They weren’t risk-takers,” Whitelaw said.
The teens were under the supervision of another family that was hosting a birthday party and the boys’ parents were not at the reservoir at the time of the incident, Whitelaw said.
Whitelaw added she believes the person who reported the horseplay to deputies was mistaken in what they thought they saw or heard happening in the water.
Whitelaw said she and others were trying to keep that bit of misinformation from reaching the older brother. However, he did end up finding out, which in turn made him feel “tremendous guilt,” she said. “The trying to knock each other out of the kayaks part, that hit him so hard.
“It can’t be undone now. We need some time to heal and are focusing mainly on (the older brother’s) well-being.”
Meanwhile, funeral arrangements for Kevin Cooper are still pending.
“At home, Kevin truly was his family’s rock,” Whitelaw wrote Sunday evening in a public post on GoFundMe. “He was the son of a disabled veteran, but also the only member of his family that’s not disabled. He was faithfully by his dad’s side when his dad needed help, while working and planning to support his autistic brother when they grew up.”
Whitelaw further described Kevin as “constantly a happy kid who thrived on making other people smile and inspiring others to excel at whatever life goals they had.”
“Kevin had a sense of ambition that was second to none,” Whitelaw wrote in her post, noting that the teen managed his own homeschooling, while also running a small farm he started when he was 7.
Additionally, the post noted that Kevin worked online under the pseudonym of Cole Summers as an advocate for homeschooling, kid entrepreneurship and water conservation. Kevin had also just published the first of two books he had written and had started working on his third book. 
Whitelaw said she started the GoFundMe campaign to help Kevin’s family, which lives on a fixed income, pay for his funeral costs and to move forward without the lone non-disabled person in the household.
“The family now must deal with a loss of VA disability-dependent income, picking up some of the bills for Kevin’s businesses, legal and accounting fees for shutting down the business, all while also facing typical end-of-life expenses and helping their surviving son through this tragedy,” the post on the GoFundMe page states, adding, “The Cooper family must now rebuild their lives, focused on providing for their surviving son a future that Kevin will no longer be able to give him. All donations will help the Cooper family put their young son to rest and provide for the needs of their devastated other son.”
To view the GoFundMe, please click here.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.
Jeff Richards, a native of Salt Lake City with family roots in Panguitch, lived in Moab for 20 years before joining St. George News in 2017. Jeff is a longtime journalist and secondary school teacher. He and his wife Penny are the parents of five daughters. They also have two young grandsons. Jeff and his family enjoy swimming, camping, sightseeing, reading, and taking pictures.
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