Family seeks answers after Osceola County student dies following bus ride

Grief counselors on hand at Tohopekaliga High School in Kissimmee

By Daniel Dahm - Digital Manager, Jerry Askin - Reporter

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - The family of an 19-year-old Osceola County student who died Tuesday is seeking answers after he was found unconscious when he got off a school bus.

J.J. Benjamin had cerebral palsy and was aided by a wheelchair, attended Tohopekaliga High School in Kissimmee.

Osceola County sheriff's spokesman Jacob Ruiz said the student's cause of death is under investigation, but his death does not appear to be suspicious.

"We're going to do everything we can to get to the bottom of what happened," Ruiz said. "At this time, we don’t have any information that’s leading us to believe there was any wrong doing or any criminal activity was done."

The family said Benjamin was hunched over when he got off the bus, which was not typical. Family members said they don't know how he died but wonder if something happened to him on the bus because he was cold, swollen and unresponsive when they found him.

"His hands were swollen. I immediately looked at him and he was slanted over the chair. He just looked, like, dead weight basically," J.J.'s sister, Zena Benjamin, said.  

Zena Benjamin said her brother was dropped off from Tohopekaliga High School in pretty bad shape. 

"His face was down, his tongue was out his mouth," she said. 

Benjamin's mother, Veda, said she's heartbroken and wants answers. She's trying to focus on remembering the happy times with her son.

"He was always smiling and happy," Veda Benjamin said.

The family called 911, and Benjamin was taken to a hospital, where he died.

An autopsy will determine his cause of death.

"This young man was on one of our special needs buses. The student was never left unattended on the bus. His regular bus driver and bus attendant followed appropriate protocol in securing the student on the bus and delivering the student to his home, where a family member received him," Osceola School District officials said in a statement.

School officials said they're saddened by the news.

"Our hearts go out to the family during this difficult time. We have our crisis team at the school (Wednesday) to help our students and staff with this loss," said Dana Schafer, spokeswoman for the Osceola School District.

Editor's note: Osceola County Sheriff's Office officials said J.J. was 18 but his family later corrected that information. J.J. was 19 when he died.


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