Barack and Michelle Obama continue to mourn the loss of Tafari Campbell, their personal chef and close family friend, who drowned late last month near their Martha’s Vineyard home.
On Thursday, a day before his birthday, former President Obama uploaded an Instagram photo featuring himself, an unidentified woman and Campbell.
“Tafari Campbell showed us what true character looks like,” Obama wrote. “He believed that actions speak louder than words. And he used his immense gifts to bring people together, provide comfort, and spread joy. I’ll miss him every day.”
Michelle Obama also paid tribute to her “brother,” sharing a similar photo of herself on Instagram, posing with Campbell and her husband in the White House.
“I will miss my friend, Tafari…the emptiness is hard,” the former first lady wrote. “But I promise to stay strong, keep living, and honor your legacy in every way possible. Rest in peace, my brother.”
Campbell was the couple’s top chef during their time in the White House, and he took them up on their offer to continue working with the family following their departure at the end of Obama’s second term in early 2017, according to the Daily Mail.
The Virginia-based 45-year-old was said to have fallen off his paddle board, temporarily tried to keep afloat, and then slipped under the water around 7.46 p.m. on Sunday, July 23.
While Martha’s Vineyard police determined that Campbell’s death was an accident by drowning, questions remain as authorities allegedly suppress crucial details about the incident, citing an “ongoing investigation.”
Police have decided not to reveal the names of the only person who saw the accident, a woman paddle-boarding with Campbell. They’re also not sharing the identity of who called 911 to report the incident, a person believed to be a member of the Obamas’ Secret Service detail.
The female paddleboarder spoke with officials on the scene, who described her as being distraught but also appearing to be sober and clear-headed.
Fire departments from all across the island arrived in Edgartown’s Great Pond with boats and divers as the multi-agency search proceeded into the night. The Massachusetts State Police, the Dukes County Sheriff’s Department and the Coast Guard also joined the search efforts.
Campbell was believed to have submerged in one location, and the witness pointed rescuers in that direction. Crews scoured the area, including properties around the home, hoping he made it to the shore.
The Massachusetts Environmental Police used side-scan sonar from a boat to locate Campbell at 10 a.m. the following morning. Rescue crews recovered his body from water that was only eight feet deep. Police said he was not leashed to his board or wearing a life jacket.
The only pending matter is a toxicology analysis, which may reveal whether Campbell had drugs in his blood or experienced a medical emergency.
The Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, which fielded the initial 911 call, said an exemption to the public records law permits police to conceal any material that would endanger an ongoing investigation.
According to the Daily Mail, the supervisor of communications for the sheriff’s office refused to budge when pressed for more information. However, the head of the local First Amendment Coalition reportedly said police are misusing the provision, given they have previously ruled out any foul play.
Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the burden falls on law enforcement to demonstrate how disclosing specific information could endanger their investigation. They’re not doing that, violating the public records law, he said.
Police on Martha’s Vineyard also omitted the reason for the emergency call from their official logs. The log lists a cause for every other call received the night of the incident.
State police authorities are ensuring that other responding agencies follow their lead.
Sources involved in the initial multi-jurisdictional effort claimed state police have provided departments with refusal letters to send to the media to help them deal with the onslaught of inquiries.
Another public safety officer involved in the initial investigation said the state police were driving them “absolutely nuts,” as their actions gave the impression that something was going on when there wasn’t.
“As far as I know, some poor guy went out on a paddle board,” the source said, the Daily Mail reported, “and he wasn’t a great swimmer, and he drowned.”
Campbell could swim, though, as shown by a video he’d uploaded to social media of himself swimming laps.
Barack and Michelle Obama were not home at the time of the incident. The whereabouts of the Obama daughters, Sasha, 25, and Malia, 22, who were also on the island, are unknown.
“I know the optics of this look like it could be a lot more than that. I see what makes this a story. I know this has the recipe for a conspiracy,” the source noted, according to the Daily Mail. “But from what I have seen, there’s no drama to this. If you guys just had everything, you’d see there’s really nothing to this and move on. Instead, you’re left with what appears like a mystery.”
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