John’s Story

On July 18, 2007, at 9 a.m., my 4½-year-old son John began his second day of camp at a highly regarded private club in Houston. I was comfortable having him there, because I knew he would be safe and well taken care of. After all, this was a very nice private club with state-of-the-art facilities, and there was a ratio of almost one counselor to every two campers. When I kissed John goodbye, he was grinning from ear to ear, excited about his day.

At approximately 11:15 a.m., John drowned and died in the club’s pool in the presence of two lifeguards and six counselors.

The prevailing question in the immediate aftermath was, “How could this have happened?” Of course, I immediately knew my beliefs regarding the club’s safety had been wrong. John was first spotted in water over his head and in a pool I never would have given parental permission for him to be in. Unfortunately, what I discovered in the following months was just as unbelievable—that almost everything that could have gone wrong that day did, and that it happens all too often.

What I know now, after hours of research and talking with countless experts, is that training and supervision are the fundamental keys to water safety.

Sadly, many parents believe and trust that if lifeguards are on duty, their child is safe.

But it’s just not that simple, and it’s a dangerous way to think. The hard truth is, simply placing a guard of any age with nothing more than a current American Red Cross Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR/AED Certification, or the equivalent, does not constitute a safe swimming environment.

The key to drowning prevention is training and supervision and training.  It’s about water and staff management – there was an empty lifeguard chair 10 feet from where John was first seen. It’s about being trained and drilling on how to recognize and respond to distressed/drowning people—the two young guards on duty that day had current,American Red Cross required certifications but had not received this crucial supplemental training. Later, their testimony validated that fact that they did not know the signs of a drowning person.

We believe a more experienced and better qualified aquatics supervisor would have prevented our son’s death. If the empty lifeguard chair had been occupied by a trained and supervised lifeguard, if the supervisor had been poolside, if the head lifeguard and three other experienced, older guards had not left the pool for lunch—even though he was illegally in a resort style pool, we have no doubt John would have come home having enjoyed four fun-filled hours at camp.

Keeping children safe while enjoying water is our mission. John loved swimming and was considered by those on duty that day to be one of the better “4-year-old swimmers.” Despite our tragedy, our family still loves and enjoys a variety of water sports. We want all families to be able to safely enjoy the water, too. We want you to be able to trust the lifeguards and supervisor where you and your family swim. That’s what this site is all about.

  • CASE STUDY:  Pool where our son John drowned.

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John’s Helping Hand is a SwimSafe4Life resource base for aquatic directors, aquatic supervisors, lifeguards, and parents.

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