Six teens drown – they and adult could not swim

A news report on NPR struck me and resonated as 6 teens drown in Louisiana, because they and the adults they were with could not swim. The half-dozen teens were wading in the shallows of a Louisiana river. Because none of the teenagers could swim, they drowned in front of their horrified families after falling into deep water. None of the nearby adults could swim.

A seventh teen, a 14-year-old boy, was rescued. News reports of the deaths in the Red River, in a popular recreational area where sand bars give way to 20-foot depths. “They had one lifejacket here. As you can imagine, everybody started yelling for help,” said Caddo Parish sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Chadwick. Shreveport Assistant Fire Chief Fred Sanders said he believed the victims, ages 13 to 18, included three brothers from one family and a sister and two brothers from another. The teens had started playing in a familiar area but ended up at a spot in the river where the bottom fell suddenly and that’s where divers found the bodies, Sanders said.

“They were out here with some adults. But unfortunately, neither the children nor the adults could swim,” he said. According to the news account, “Swimming skills can be scarce among African-Americans like the teens in this tragedy. A study commissioned by the sports governing body USA Swimming found 69 percent of black children had low or no swimming ability. Segregation kept blacks out of public and private pools for decades and the disparity continues because many poor and working class children have limited access to pools or instruction.”

The Times of Shreveport reported a large group of family and friends, including roughly 20 children, were out at the sandbar to barbecue and have a good time. They frequent the area and were familiar with the water. “None of us could swim,” a friend told the newspaper. “They were yelling ‘help me, help me. Somebody please help me.’ It was nothing I could do but watch them drown one by one.” The families were in a recreational area of the Red River that has sand bars, Sanders said. The park is a popular picnic and fishing area and some people do go wading.

This tragic NPR story underscores the importance of learning to swim, at any age, and indoctrinating children in water safety practices. Water safety lawyer Doug Landau believes being able to swim should be a high school graduation requirement, as is the case with some colleges. Basic first aid, survival skills and other actions necessary for emergency situations and helping others. In one officials the only countries without compulsory military or governmental service, these minimal requirements would go a long way toward preventing unnecessary death and harms during times of flooding, storms, earthquake and attack.

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