MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota couple is working to make the study abroad experience safer after their son, Tyler, came back from his trip to Japan, in a casket. But they’re using his life to make sure no other family has to endure this loss.
Allen and Sheryl Hill beam with pride when they talk about Tyler. “He was a major history buff,” said Sheryl Hill, Tyler’s mom. “He started watching History Channel from age four.”
His fascination with World War II prompted him to take a student ambassador trip to Japan. At just 16 years old, his parents had reservations, but agreed to let him go.
“We wanted to give him an opportunity that he was very excited about and we saw this as a first step for him to get ready to go to college,” Allen said.
But a two week program, turned into a lifetime of grief.
“They hiked Mt. Fugi one of their last days in Tokyo and we think he got extremely dehydrated. He was very sick through the night,” Allen said. “By the time they got to him he was collapsed on the floor in his hotel room.”
Tyler had gone into cardiac arrest and died. Sheryl says he complained of feeling sick, but was never given medical attention.
“He asked to see me, he asked to go home, we’ll never see him again,” she said.
Eight years after his death the pain of losing a son is still raw. But Tyler’s parents are using his death to educate others.
“We learned through Tyler’s death that there are many things that all of us could have done to safeguard his wellbeing,” she said.
“I would have made sure he had a communication mechanism so he could have called me,” she said. “There’s evidence Tyler tried to dial 911 in Japan, but the number in Japan is 119.”
Not knowing how to contact each other in case of emergency was only part of the problem. The Hills say regulation is lacking when it comes to study abroad programs.
“Bowling balls and coffee beans have more federal rules than our kids going abroad,” said Sheryl.
The Hills decided to act and created ClearCause Foundation, a non-profit based in St. Louis Park working to get more oversight. Working with lawmakers, their foundation has already created change. Two legacy laws are being celebrated as the first in the country, requiring programs to report illness, accidents and deaths of students who study abroad to the Secretary of State.
“It was a surreal euphoria, it was like finally we’re shedding a light on the dark side of study broad and what really happens and the pain and abuse,” Sheryl said.
The Hills are now preparing for the day when Tyler’s younger brother, Alec, asks to go abroad. They say it’ll be a struggle to let him go, but have more confidence because of the safeguards they helped create.
“I think we’re better educated as then we were then and well take precaution to make sure he comes home safely,” Allen said.
The Hills still believe in studying abroad and want that for their second son, in fact they host students from overseas in their own home. But they want to make sure parents and students are educated before they go on how to be safe. So they’re in the process of raising money to create a safe study abroad academy where students and their parents can go to get all the tools they need. It will be taught by retired FBI agents.
For more information on the ClearCause Foundation, click here.
June is student safety month.