Granger Smith Opens Up for First Time About Speed and Silence of Son River’s Drowning Death
The singer talked to both People and Today about their son's 2019 death, admitting that he hasn't forgiven himself.
While the couple has shared details via their social media and YouTube series The Smiths over the past year, this is the first time they've sat for an on-camera interview to talk about events that led to — and came after River's — drowning death in their backyard pool in Texas. Smith recalls that he was in the yard with all three of his kids, while his wife took a shower inside. It was nearly bedtime, and they were playing outside together.
"I was 20 feet away," he shares with Today. "I was playing gymnastics with my daughter. He was outside of the locked gate with our other son. There wasn’t music playing; there wasn’t any kind of distractions. It was just a quiet, 7PM summer evening. It was so silent."
"There wasn’t a splash, there wasn’t any kind of call for help. I just saw him. I turned around, and I saw him."
A child can drown in as little as 30 seconds, but the couple wouldn't learn that until later.
The Smiths have become tragic advocates for swimming pool safety in the 13 months since the June 4, 2019 incident (River died on June 6, 2019). They've also established the River Kelly Fund to support a variety of causes, beginning with a more than $200K donation to the hospital that treated their son. The People article brings the story to today with updates on the family's personal and professional lives. Almost immediately, the Smiths (including 8-year-old London and 6-year-old Lincoln) moved out of their house and are now building another for themselves on 11 acres in Texas. Smith's music is changing to reflect this new present and more aware version of himself. An album is expected in September.
"There is a lot of feeling from him in this album," the "That's How I Built Dirt Roads" singer says, referring to River.
Still, they're by no means "over" the loss. Both carry a tremendous amount of guilt, a feeling that was amplified the first time the 40-year-old returned to the stage in 2019. He felt like people were looking at him like he was a failed father.
"I know that there's going to be a time when I'm going to forgive myself, but I'm not there yet," Granger Smith tells People, with wife Amber adding, "I don't know if we ever truly will be able to forgive ourselves. I pray that we can. I hope we can."
The stage has become a safe place once again, but there are many bad moments mixed with good on any given day. Tears are frequent, but so too are memories and reminders of how River lived his life. #LivLikeRiv has become their mantra.
“He had a 1,000-plus days on this earth, and he lived them so carefree," the singer tells Today. "Bare feet and running with the wind — and can’t we all just live a little more like that? A little more in the moment, a little more with the wind."
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