'It stings': Royal Oak High School student dies after saving cousin from pond

In the Sanders house, Paul is now known as "Paul the Legend"
Posted at 10:00 PM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 16:03:42-05

ROYAL OAK, Mich. (WXYZ) — A Royal Oak sophomore is being remembered as hero after he drowned trying to save someone who fell through a frozen pond.

Paul Sanders was 15 years old when he lost his life. The tragic incident happened on New Year's Eve.

His mom Jessica Sanders said Paul and his older brother Romal went to Lansing to visit a cousin. The three of them went for a walk and found what they thought was a frozen pond.

"It was a relatively mild day so unfortunately, his cousin fell in and Paul tried to save him," Jessica Sanders said.

Then Romal jumped in to save Paul. Thanks to Romal's heroics, Paul made it to the hospital. Unfortunately, he died a few days later on Jan. 4.

"It stings. There's a void there," said Ishmael Sanders, Paul's father.

Jessica Sanders said although the family is in pain, they are proud of Paul.

"His brother and cousin thankfully are OK, " Jessica Sanders said. "Paul passed away helping somebody else, which is totally true to his character."

Ishmael Sanders says his son loved team sports and he played them any chance he got and with anyone who would entertain him.

"The ups, the downs, he loved everything about any team sport," Ishmael Sanders said. "That's just his personality."

Jessica Sanders says there is one thing Paul put above sports.

"His favorite thing to do was spend time with family. His birthday holidays, he is always the one asking when are we going to see this side of the family or are they coming over," Jessica Sanders said.

So, it's no surprise Paul and his brothers were the best of friends. Paul and Romal were the closest in age, but they all trained together.

In the Sanders house, Paul is now known as "Paul the Legend."

Jessica and Ishmael Sanders are determined to make sure their son leaves a permanent mark. Ishmael and Paul already started a local sports club with friends. The family now plans to take it further.

"We wanted to help some of the next generation be able to play some of those sports and do some of those activities without bearing too much of the cost," Ishmael Sanders said.

Their GoFundMe page, which will help launch the sports program, already has over $20,000.

"We were just grateful we got to be his parents for 15 years and we'll continue to live off of the great things he gave us forever," Jessica Sanders said.

The Royal Oak High School administration sent a letter to parents offering support for students who may need grief counseling.

On Friday, classmate sponsored a "Dress-Up for Paul Day" to celebrate what he meant to them.

In statement, Principal Sherida Lewis said, "We are deeply saddened by this loss and will make every effort to support our Ravens. We ask that you keep the Sanders family in your good thoughts now and moving forward."