The death of a 5-year-old boy who accidentally drowned after going missing Wednesday night is the latest blow for an Indiana University of Pennsylvania doctoral student — and breast cancer survivor — from Uganda.
Still, a friend said Thursday, Jhanet Sebunya wants to thank the community and police and other first responders for the support she received amid the drowning of her son Lenny Hatinda in a White Township swimming pool.
Indiana Borough Councilwoman Poom Sunhachawi-Taylor said she was told there were hundreds involved in the search.
Sunhachawi-Taylor had planned a GoFundMe effort for Sebunya, who also is expecting a second child, but yielded to another appeal that was already established.
“Please donate to help with funeral and related expenses for Jhanet Sebunya, a student and colleague in the (IUP) Administration and Leadership Studies Ph.D. program, as she lays to rest her 5 year-old son, Lenny,” posted Dr. Christian Vaccaro, director of training at the university’s Mid-Atlantic Research and Training Institute for Community and Behavioral Health. “Our hearts go out to Jhanet and her family.”
As of Thursday evening, Vaccaro had set a $500 goal — including $200 out of his own pocket — and pledges totaling $910 had been received.
Sebunya is familiar with GoFundMe. In May 2019 there was a GoFundMe effort on her behalf, after “she was recently diagnosed with an aggressive stage 3 breast cancer, a diagnosis that was very painful and difficult to accept.”
Her need of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation to control and reduce the cancer made her very weak, according to that GoFundMe appeal that raised $2,549.
Sebunya had been familiar with the support the Indiana-White Township community could offer.
In a Jan Woodard column in the Gazette in 2019, she was quoted as saying, “Coming to America saved my life.”
As Woodard wrote, cancer is basically a death sentence in Sebunya’s country, so it was vital that she retain her student visa and continue her treatments here.
She wrote that Sebunya’s mother died when she was 6, that her elderly father had other wives and children, and that as a result she felt orphaned most of her life.
Still, Woodard wrote in 2019, “with her gentle ways, she is a magnet to other women who encircle and support her, including one kind lady who invited Jhanet into her home to recover following a double mastectomy in February (2019).”
On Wednesday night, authorities said, numerous neighbors and first responders assisted with the search, including a Westmoreland County canine search team, the Indiana Fire Association, the Indiana County Emergency Management Agency and Citizens’ Ambulance Service.
Trooper Cliff Greenfield of the state police at Troop A, Indiana, said the State Police Aviation Patrol Unit and Special Emergency Response Team also assisted with the search.
Greenfield described the boy as non-verbal when he was reported missing Wednesday night.
Greenfield said the boy was last seen in his pajamas and walking barefoot in the area of Country Meadows Lane at approximately 7:45 p.m.
He was found unresponsive around 11 p.m. in a swimming pool about a tenth of a mile away from his home, officials said.
“First responders immediately rendered aid and initiated resuscitation efforts,” according to a joint statement by Greenfield and Indiana County Coroner Jerry Overman. “Hatinda was transported to Indiana Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced deceased at 12:15 a.m.”
Overman determined the cause of death to be drowning and ruled the manner accidental.
As the officials concluded the statement, “We also wish to request privacy for the victim’s family at this time.”
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