ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – No one noticed at summer camp when a 6-year-old swimmer was struggling for air and sank to the bottom of a pool. The heartbreaking video was reviewed Thursday by FOX Files investigator Chris Hayes, who is searching for answers to prevent the next tragedy.
FOX 2 is not showing the video out of respect for the family and the pain of losing their 6-year-old child. However, the St. Louis County Parks Department agreed to let us look view it so we can begin to gather answers.
It happened July 20 at the Kennedy Recreation Complex in south St. Louis County. About 40 children between the ages of 5 and 12 walked out to swim in the Olympic-sized pool around 1 p.m.
Six-year-old TJ Mister was excited to start his third day at Camp Kennedy.
“Summer camp was something that TJ enjoyed. He wants to meet kids, he wants to play with everybody,” said Travone Mister, TJ’s father.
Video captured from a surveillance camera at the rec center shows the campers walking out and lining up on the end of the pool closest to the building. They gathered near a lifeguard stand in the middle of the pool, where it’s marked four feet. You can see one lifeguard sitting in the stand on the opposite side of the pool.
About nine children stood alone near the shallow end, with about 28 children congregating in the middle. That’s where TJ was.
A lawsuit filed by TJ’s parents alleges, “Despite being advised that TJ could not swim, and required a life vest when in the water, at no time did the defendants provide a life vest, or any other floatation device, to TJ before instructing him to enter the pool.”
The video shows what appears to be one camp counselor with the children lined up. Then the children jump in – almost all at once, while a counselor remained on the pool deck for about one minute watching. Then that counselor walked to the deep end and dove in. The time showed 1:15 p.m.
TJ, meanwhile, was struggling for air. No one noticed until five minutes passed. At about 1:19 p.m., you can see the lifeguard climb down from his stand and sprint to the other side in a failed rescue.
“We trusted people to take care of our child and they failed us,” said Olga Mister, TJ’s mother.
There are many more answers we continue seeking as are many different authorities. One of those entities seeking answers is the Child Fatality Review Board, which looked at the evidence in the case Wednesday. St. Louis County is remaining mostly silent, citing the ongoing lawsuit, but we did learn about disciplinary action taken against at least one summer camp employee who was in charge that July 20 day. We’ll bring you more answers soon.