Ian Jones' mom opens up to PEOPLE about the tragedy

By Diane Herbst
Updated August 11, 2015 11:40 AM
Credit: Courtesy of Sherron Jones

It was to be the romantic end to a nightlong birthday party for a friend, held at the Hudson River waterfront mansion of famed hotelier André Balazs.

Still awake early Saturday morning, Tali Lennox-Fruchtmann, the 22-year-old daughter of rocker Annie Lennox, and her boyfriend of two years, model and photographer Ian Jones, 32, were sitting around a fire outside talking, Ian’s mother, Sherron Jones, tells PEOPLE. “It was nuts how deeply in love they were,” she says.

The sun had risen and the other guests at the party had already left. But the pair decided to grab a two-seater kayak on the property and take a trip to a lighthouse in the river near Staatsburg, New York, before returning to their Manhattan apartment.

The trip, however, ended in tragedy. The kayak capsized, and Ian slipped beneath the surface. “They didn’t understand the danger,” says Sherron of the river’s strong currents.

At around noon on Monday, a body surfaced, found near the Poughkeepsie Yacht Club. Though police have not positively identified the body as of yet, Sherron confirms that it is Ian’s. “It was like he was carried by a swirl of water and placed in these beautiful lily pads,” Sherron, of Yardley, Pennsylvania, says.

A Devastating Loss

A deeply spiritual woman, Sherron tells PEOPLE of the loss of her only child: “It’s been hard. It’s kind of surreal. I feel a real peace about me. I am not falling apart.”

However, she says Tali is “a wreck, she’s a mess. She keeps saying she wishes Ian knew she was okay. He died for her. He tried to save her. She wants him to know she is okay.”

In an Instagram post Monday, Tali paid tribute to her boyfriend of two years, writing: “My heart is shattered. My best friend, my soul mate, my partner in crime & creativity, the LOVE & LIGHT of my life is no longer with me.”

Ian, a former alcoholic who’d been sober for four years, was a strong swimmer who had kayaked about 10 times. That morning, the waters were calm near the shore and he did all the paddling.

Dutchess County Sheriff’s Capt. John Watterson told PEOPLE that alcohol may have played a role in the tragedy, but Sherron disagrees. “He gave his life to AA,” she says. “He was not drinking. He only drank water. He was so strong and healthy.”

An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday, and then Ian will be cremated. “I’ll take his ashes,” says Sherron, who’s planning a memorial service for her son on Saturday at their church in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Tali and other friends plan on a New York memorial sometime in the future, she says.

Tragedy on the Hudson

When Ian entered the kayak, he was still in his party attire: black boots, a sweater and jeans. The pair launched the boat in calm waters near the shore, but the currents of the vast Hudson can be deceptive, and neither Tali nor Ian was wearing a life jacket. As the boat headed toward the lighthouse, “there was a current in the middle of the river and the boat flipped,” says Sherron, relaying what she has been told by officials.

“She’s screaming for him, he’s fighting to get her, the current was going four miles per hour,” says Sherron. “The current pulled her one way and the weight of his clothes pulled him down. The police tell me the river is so big, so vast. They said the idea of Ian taking his shoes off and his clothes off and trying to save her was impossible.”

Tali was in the water for about 20 minutes until her rescue around 9:50 a.m. “A couple found her. They heard her screaming,” says Sherron. “By that time Ian disappeared.”

Balazs, the owner of the kayak, was not on his property at the time of the party, says Sherron, but as soon as he was told of the accident, he was the first person to call and inform her Ian was missing. “Andre has been so sweet, he has been nothing but kind,” Sherron says, noting she has no intention of suing him.

A Perfect Match

It was about two years ago that Ian and Tali met, when Ian’s best friend called him to help move a girl he liked into an apartment. Recalls Sherron: “She found Ian more interesting than him, and the friend told Ian, ‘She likes you, call her.’ And they’ve been together ever since.”

The couple lived in Tribeca and had plans to marry. “He encouraged her with her painting, she encouraged him with his photography,” says Sherron.

In addition to maintaining a thriving modeling career, Ian photographed homeless kids on the streets in an undertaking he called The Street Kids Project. The work, which he did with Tali, led him to produce a documentary with MTV on the kids that will soon be released, says Sherron.

“He made such a difference in so many people’s lives,” says Sherron, noting her son was very active in the AA community as well. “Everybody loved them and liked to have them around. They were such a positive couple.”