ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – The St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has made safety changes for summer camps, including new requirements for background checks and child protection training.
It’s an effort to prevent another child drowning, like that of a T.J. Mister, who died at a county-run summer camp last year. Mister was 6.
“T.J. is a hero. He is a hero now. He always has been my hero, but he’s a hero now for the younger kids,” Travone Mister, T.J.’s father, said.
T.J. drowned in July 2022 at his first week of summer camp at St. Louis County’s Kennedy Recreation Center. FOX 2 revealed the rec center had untrained staff, was short on lifeguards, and was missing lifesaving equipment that day.
T.J’s parents have been on a mission since then to make changes, including in November 2022, when they pleaded with the St. Louis County Council.
“I cried,” Olga Mister, T.J.’s mother, said. “Because, you know, we’ve been working on this for so long.”
They got it done with the help of Missouri State Representative Michael Burton, who’s been negotiating with the county executive. We were there Thursday, when Burton walked out of a meeting with Page with an update.
“He knew what happened shouldn’t have happened, was preventable, and he wanted to make a change,” Rep. Burton said.
Changes for St. Louis County summer camps include:
- Two tiers of background checks for staff
- Two days of training, including CPR and first aid
- An emergency action plan
The county had already hired a pool management company to oversee lifeguards and safety gear.
“(Page’s) team, his staff, his lawyers, really took a deep dive into what I was asking for and the result is a very positive result,” Burton said.
Page later added, “We have the opportunity to just do it, and we wanted to do it as quickly as possible.”
As we’ve reported in a series of FOX Files investigations, summer camps are not regulated like regular daycares. They are exempt under Missouri law. Page’s safety rule changes only affect St. Louis County’s summer camps.
“We hope that other exempt camps will look at our policies and procedures and adopt them as their best practices,” Page said.
Which is why the Mister family will continue pushing lawmakers statewide.
“T.J. wanted this. He wanted us to make sure kids are safe,” Olga said. “It’s still a long road ahead, but it’s a great step forward.”
“His legacy is going to be the anchor. The support for the young kids that don’t have a voice,” Travone said.
You’ll also see other changes at the Kennedy Rec Center where T.J. drowned, as well as the nearby playground.
The complex manager who was in charge the day T.J. drowned no longer works at the center. The county was unable to give a reason due to personnel rules, but confirmed their last day was this month.
The playground will soon be dedicated in T.J. Mister’s honor, in an unveiling this coming Sunday. The St. Louis County Executive will also formally announce the safety changes.