Community mourns father-son drowning deaths
A local father and his 6-year-old son drowned near a busy swimming hole at Dicks Creek Falls last Tuesday afternoon.
Joshua Kistler, 38, reportedly died attempting to rescue his son Jaxon after the child went underwater in a treacherous section of the upper falls.
“From the witnesses’ statements, the father and son were on the rocks above the falls where it has a really strong current and undertow,” said Investigator Chris Pfrogner with the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office. “The father slid down the rocks first and waited for his son to slide down. When the son didn’t resurface the father kept trying to get him and he eventually drowned.”
Numerous witnesses were on the scene at the Chattahoochee National Forest falls and attempted to revive Joshua after he was pulled from the water downstream.
The Lumpkin Fire Department’s Swiftwater recovery team was called to the creek to locate Jaxon, who was found beneath the waters hours later.
News of the tragedy left local residents reeling at the loss of the father and his child.
Joshua was a longtime resident of Lumpkin County and Jaxon was a rising second grader who was about to celebrate his seventh birthday on Saturday.
“I’d like for the community to keep this family in their prayers,” said Sheriff Stacy Jarrard, who was at the falls immediately after the accident. “It’s such a tragic loss.”
COMMUNITY TAKES ACTION
Upon hearing the news, many in Dahlonega banded together to support Gretchen Kistler, the wife of Joshua and mother of Jaxon.
Family friend Brigette Barker established an online GoFundMe account to cover “funeral expenses enable time off for bereavement, and assist with other incidentals.” The main-page featured a picture of the Kistler family at the Braves game with Jaxon humorously mugging for the camera. Barker said she felt the photo perfectly encapsulated the six-year-old’s wacky sense of humor.
“Joshua and Jaxon touched our lives in many ways. Jaxon's sweet and silly personality is captured in this beautiful picture of the family,” said Barker. “Joshua was a loving father, husband and coach. No monetary amount can make up for the loss of two young spirits, but it can bless the family and assist Gretchen on the road to healing.”
Community members, many who had never met the Kistlers, quickly responded. Within less than a day the set goal of $15,000 was easily surpassed. As of press-time, donations were nearing $40,000.
“[The Kistler family is] so thankful for the outpouring of love from the community and can feel everyone's prayers helping them in their hardest moments,” said Barker.
On Saturday, dozens gathered at the upper ballfields of Lumpkin County Parks and Rec., with birthday balloons in hand, on the same diamond where Jaxon and his teammates had played baseball weeks earlier.
The event was organized by team-mother Casey York in remembrance of Jaxon’s seventh birthday.
“It’s kind of like a birthday party in heaven,” said one woman to her son. “That’s the best way to describe it.”
Before the balloon release, York told the crowd that she was always struck by the way Jaxon’s team focused on fun as much as winning. And it was apparent that Jaxon was a ringleader in that fun.
“If you knew Jaxon he always had a smile on his face,” said York.
After local pastor Lyman Caldwell led the gathering in a prayer, the group sang Happy Birthday and released their balloons in unison. Friends and family stood together and watched as the balloons were carried across the sky and into the clouds.
To contribute to the Kistler Memorial Fund, visit www.gofundme.com/josh-jaxon-kistler-memorial-fund.