Press Release, November 16, 2019
Joanne Atkins-Ingram, mother of Braeden Bradforth, with U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) at her side along with her friend and attorney Jill Greene, spoke at a press conference today about the newly released independent investigation into the death of her son—a Neptune, NJ resident and student who died of exertional heat stroke after football practice at Garden City Community College (GCCC) in Kansas in August 2018.
At some points holding back tears yet always showing a steely resolve, Braeden’s mom shared the burden and grief she carries since Braeden’s sudden and tragic death: “I’m relieved that the rest of the world now knows what I’ve known all along. I can’t say thank you enough to Congressman Smith and his staff, the Asbury Park Press and every reporter and news outlet who helped keep this story alive and relevant, because Braeden’s story needs to be told,” said Atkins-Ingram, also noting the Star Ledger, News12 New Jersey and several out-of-state reporters who called into the press conference. The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Democrat Rep. Josh Gotttheimer, also of New Jersey.
Smith, who introduced H.R. 4145, Braeden’s Commission: Protect our Athletes from Exertional Heat Stroke on August 2, said that after several months of aggressively pushing for an independent investigation, the four-person investigative team exposed a striking lack of leadership, as well as failure after failure on the part of the college to prevent Braeden’s death from exertional heat stroke—which the report confirmed as a preventable death.
“The independent investigation found serious failings in both identifying exertional heat stroke and effective, timely interventions,” said Smith, who pressed GCCC President Ryan Ruda for the independent investigation into Braeden’s death in a March 2019 letter. “There was a failure to have and implement an effective Emergency Action Plan. The investigators also said a cause of Braedon Bradforth’s death was a poorly-designed and administered conditioning test for an unconditioned, non-acclimated student-athlete.”
“The report identifies, ‘A colossal failure by a number of people to take action to prevent the death of Braeden,’” Smith said.
Jill Greene, who Atkins-Ingram called a friend first and attorney second, often had her hand on Atkins-Ingram’s shoulder during the emotional moments today.
“It boggled my mind from the beginning that we knew something was terribly wrong here, and no one would listen to us,” said Greene, recalling the long and seemingly hopeless fight it took to get the college to launch an independent investigation. “The college stonewalled us again and again and again. If it wasn’t for Congressman Smith, there would be no report. He was the catalyst. He was the liaison between all of us—the college, the college president, Joanne and myself, and everyone involved—in making this happen. And we feel justified now because the report supports everything we believed and provided us answers to so many questions… We now feel we have justice for Braeden.”
Smith laid out the next step in his plan to see Braeden’s Commission enacted into law.
“Yesterday, with the report of the Independent Investigation in hand, I met with the chairman of the prime committee of jurisdiction–Education and Labor–Rep. Bobby Scott and Ranking Member Rep. Virginia Fox, and asked that the bill be marked up and a hearing convened with industry expert Rod Walters and to provide an opportunity for Joanne to testify,” Smith said.
The legislation was introduced by Smith in the House on Aug. 2, the day after announcing it at a memorial in Braeden’s hometown of Neptune, N.J., exactly one year after Braeden’s death. H.R. 4145 would establish a commission to conduct a study on exertional heat stroke among student athletes at educational institutions across the country to study best practices for prevention, recognition and treatment of exertional heat stroke, and develop recommendations for the purpose of reducing fatalities from exertional heat stroke among student athletes.
“The 12-member Commission which will be created by the legislation, would study and promulgate the best practices for the prevention, recognition, and treatment of exertional heat stroke,” Smith said.
Bradforth was 19 when he arrived at GCCC in July of 2018 to play football. On Aug. 1, 2018, only his second day on campus, he collapsed after evening football practice and was found unresponsive. After being taken to the hospital in an ambulance some time later, he passed away due to exertional heat stroke, his autopsy later revealed.
In March, Smith met with Braeden’s mother, Joanne, and Jill Greene, and promised to do everything he could to assist her in her efforts to find out more about her son’s death, and what actions could be taken to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Smith opened today’s press conference addressing the deep sorrow he has for the pain Joanne has suffered at the death of her son.
“On behalf of my wife Marie and I—and my entire staff—let me again convey our deepest condolences to Joanne and her family on the loss of Braeden,” he said. “All of us can only imagine the emotional pain, and daily agony, which was only exacerbated by Garden City Community College’s unwillingness for months to answer basic questions.”