LOS ANGELES – Two families, from St. Louis to Los Angeles, are calling for action to protect kids at summer camp. Families thousands of miles apart both say they did not know until after their children died that summer camps often escape regulation.
Last week, 6-year-old T.J. Mister drowned at his St. Louis County summer camp. The news sent shockwaves across the country, where the father of another 6-year-old drowning victim saw FOX 2’s report online.
“There needs to be a lot more urgency,” Doug Forbes said.
Forbes’ daughter, Roxie, died in 2019. She drowned at her summer camp in California.
“Although one takes place in St. Louis and the other takes place in Los Angeles, they both take place at camps – unregulated camps,” he said. “They were both drownings of 6-year-old children. Of course, they were both preventable.”
Roxie’s dad, just like T.J.’s family in St. Louis, learned after their children died that summer camps are exempt from licensing.
“How can this possibly be when you have 20 million children that attend summer camps each year and we run these things like the wild wild west?” Forbes said.
Forbes is calling for national legislation through his Meow Meow Foundation.
“There’s a lot of drownings. There’s a lot of broken bones. There are deaths and, unfortunately, there’s no reporting mechanism of these incidents, so we don’t know the true volume of them,” he said. “We also don’t require background checks.”
Forbes says he learned through a lawsuit he filed that his daughter’s summer camp lifeguards only had 25% of their required certification.
St. Louis County won’t even answer what the Kennedy Recreation Complex staffing levels were the day T.J. drowned. T.J.’s family attorneys, Nathan McMahill and Todd Nissenholtz, visited the now closed pool on Tuesday to look for evidence, including cameras, placement of lifeguard stands, and other clues that might prevent another tragedy.
The St. Louis County Police Department’s Crimes Against Persons Unit is also investigating and the Missouri Office of Childhood is making sure the summer program qualifies as a summer camp and that it is license exempt.
Roxie’s dad is monitoring from the other side of the country, where he says answers are just as crucial.
“We need to know why such incidents happen and who’s accountable; so that we can correct them so that it will never happen again,” he said.