The Washington Post

A boy’s tragic fall leads to more than just mourning

- Theresa Vargas

When her turn to talk came, Alvine Nguemezi couldn’t.

Not with her voice. Not about her son.

As lawmakers stood nearby, her sister spoke for her, reading remarks Nguemezi prepared about the toddler she lost last year after he fell from a window of the family’s third-floor apartment.

“I miss him very much,” Nguemezi said through her sister. “I guess that every mother thinks her child is special, but Ezechiel truly was special.”

She described how the 2-yearold was smart and energetic. How he could “figure out things quickly and be a step ahead of you, even when being watched.”

How, if circumstan­ces had been different, he would have turned 3 a few days ago.

“He had a brighter future ahead of him,” she said. “I think of him every day and wonder why this happened.”

There is the “why” that may never bring answers. And then there is the “why” that lawmakers and community activists say is simple: The family’s apartment in Montgomery County did not have window guards.

If it had had those guards, they say, when the toddler made his way to that window, he wouldn’t have fallen. He would have been safe.

After Ezechiel died in October, I told you about him. I told you about how his mom was mourning her only child, a boy she described as “a good baby . . . always happy and playing.” And I told you about how people in the community, including those who never met Ezechiel, were grieving alongside her.

At the time, an online crowdfundi­ng page that was started by the Montgomery County Renters Alliance for the family, which feared eviction, had raised more than $30,000.

The community effort to help the family could have stopped there. People could have sent thoughts and prayers and money and moved on from thinking about Ezechiel.

But they didn’t.

This week, Montgomery County lawmakers gathered with community activists and Ezechiel’s family to sign a bill that ensures a long legacy for a child whose life was too short. The bill’s name: “Ezechiel’s Law.”

The new legislatio­n is the culminatio­n of months of work and requires landlords of multifamil­y dwellings in the county to install window guards in homes where children ages 10 and younger live. Landlords also have to install them when grandparen­ts and other frequent caregivers request them.

The law, which was sponsored by Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (DDistrict 5), promises to help lowincome and immigrant families in the area, many of whom live in aging apartment buildings. In the building where Ezechiel lived with his mother and grandmothe­r, most of the units are filled with residents with roots in West Africa and Central and South America. Ezechiel’s mother came from Cameroon.

“We’re all here to honor Ezechiel, not only by naming this bill after him, but by ensuring safe home environmen­ts for thousands of Montgomery County children,” Hucker said at the ceremony before he and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) signed the law.

Hucker described the loss of Ezechiel as tragic but not isolated. The county has seen at least two other children fall from windows in recent years. One of those children was a 2-year-old boy who fell 11 stories in 2019 and miraculous­ly survived.

Hucker described Children’s National Hospital as seeing twice as many pediatric window falls since the onset of the pandemic and attributed the rise to children spending more time at home. Nationally, he said, between 15 and 20 children under the age of 11 die each year from window falls, and about 15,000 are injured.

“These injuries and deaths are easily preventabl­e,” he said. “My hope is that Ezechiel’s Law will serve as a model to other counties and states and regions to follow as a smart and simple and inexpensiv­e way to create safe home environmen­ts for our children.”

Other speakers at the signing, including Ezechiel’s family, echoed that sentiment. Even as they celebrated how the law would keep the county’s children safe, they expressed hope that it would eventually do that for children throughout Maryland.

Maryland lawmakers should adopt Ezechiel’s Law. So, too, should any county or city with high-rises. There are plenty of those surroundin­g the nation’s capital — places that are considered suburbs but long ago started building upward, not just outward.

To not put in place such an easy safeguard is accepting that another child will fall and another family will be forever altered. Some places with skylines shaped by high-rises already figured that out.

“My daughter is alive today because we lived in Brooklyn and we had window guards,” Takoma Park resident and activist A. J. Campbell said at the signing.

She explained how just after her daughter started walking, she called her landlord to install the window guards in the family’s Brooklyn apartment.

“It took about 15 minutes,” she said. “It was a short time afterward, and my little toddler dynamo pulled herself up onto a chair and touched the window guard. If it wasn’t there, she would have fallen out.”

Local landlords will probably bemoan the additional cost of the window guards, and they have no doubt already faced financial hardships during a pandemic that has left many people unable to pay rent. Maybe grants or government funding can help offset the cost, or maybe there is some other way to provide financial relief. The solution, though, should not come down to saving money at the risk of lives. A quick online search shows a person can purchase a window guard for less than $25.

The alternativ­e costs much more.

Anyone who has ever chased after a young child knows that even the most attentive parents can’t watch every move, every reach. They can’t always keep little hands out of bathroom drawers and kitchen cabinets. Children are curious and creative and fast.

When I spoke to Ezechiel’s mom after his fall, she told me that he was always near her.

“He did everything with me,” she said. “He was everything to me.”

During the bill signing, through her sister, she talked about the day Ezechiel fell. When he reached that window, she said, she was steps away.

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 ?? MONTGOMERY COUNTY RENTERS ALLIANCE ?? Ezechiel Nguemezi died after falling out of a window in a Takoma Park apartment. A new law requires landlords of multifamil­y dwellings to install window guards for children 10 and under.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY RENTERS ALLIANCE Ezechiel Nguemezi died after falling out of a window in a Takoma Park apartment. A new law requires landlords of multifamil­y dwellings to install window guards for children 10 and under.

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