The mother's desperate screams pierced the predawn mist and darkness, alerting nearby residents to the unthinkable: Five young children were trapped inside a submerged car that had gone off an entrance ramp into the frigid waters of a St. Louis Park pond.
The driver, Marion N. Guerrido, 23, of Brooklyn Center, escaped from the four-door sedan on her own. But for more than 20 minutes, the children remained at the bottom of the holding pond by the interchange at Hwys. 7 and 100, with no one able to reach them.
When the children, all unconscious, were removed from the car, they were rushed to Twin Cities hospitals.
By late Thursday, two of them were dead. The others were being treated for what the State Patrol described as serious injuries.
The State Patrol said just after 8:30 p.m. that 5-year-old Zenavia Rennie had died of her injuries. Rick Petry, an attorney for the family, later confirmed that 7-year-old Alarious Coleman-Guerrido died between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Guerrido, the mother of three of the children, was not hospitalized.
The three surviving children remained hospitalized Friday morning, said family lawyer Rick Petry.
He said the family's primary focus is "to do everything they can to make sure the three kids survive this."
Alerted by a woman's screams
"I ran out to the balcony the second I heard the woman screaming," said Jeffrey Robertson, 40, who lives in the Brittany Apartments complex overlooking the pond and who called 911 at 6:16 a.m. He had been watching the morning news in his second-floor apartment when he heard her screams.
"Even in the darkness, I could see a woman standing in water up to her knees," he said. "Looking back, everything about her screams told you she was the mother of a child in trouble."
Three of the children riding in the 1998 Grand Am are Guerrido's — sons Alarious and Amani Coleman-Guerrido, 5, and daughter Aliyana Rennie, 1, whose father, Julius Rennie, is Guerrido's boyfriend, her Brooklyn Center neighbors said. Zenavia was Rennie's daughter, as is Zarihana Rennie, 6.
The cause of the accident had yet to be determined late Thursday. Despite the mist, the roads were relatively dry and free of ice, authorities said. At that hour, traffic is relatively light.
No alcohol was detected, according to the State Patrol, but Lt. Eric Roeske of the patrol said that "according to our records [Guerrido] did not have a valid license."
Authorities did not say whether the children were wearing seat belts or any of were in car seats.
"This is a horrible, horrible tragedy and accident," Petry said. "I can only try and imagine what they've got to be going through now. It's just a real sad situation."
Petry wants no one "to think that this poor mother has done anything wrong," he said. "From what I know, I don't think she did anything wrong. She tried to do everything right."
Passer-by jumps in to help
The car, which had been heading west on Hwy. 7 before entering and skidding off the ramp, landed in water that was "quite deep," an estimated 8 to 9 feet, and was "incredibly cold," Roeske said.
A passer-by, identified by the patrol as Joel Oine, scaled a fence and went into the water in an attempt to rescue the children.
He "jumped in the water, was standing on the roof of the vehicle and the water was up to his neck," Roeske said.
But the children could not be rescued until the car had been partly towed from the water, Roeske said. There were conflicting reports on exactly when each child was removed from the car, but the patrol reported that the emergency call came in at 6:10 a.m., the first child was removed at 6:35 a.m. and the last at 6:55 a.m.
It was uncertain where the car was headed. Nor was it clear how Guerrido escaped. Witnesses told police that she got out of the vehicle as it was sinking, Roeske said.
Robertson said that after he called 911, two police cars arrived almost immediately, followed by fire department vehicles, more squad cars and several ambulances. The Hennepin County water patrol was dispatched as well.
An hour or so after the incident, the four-door car could be seen partly submerged and in an upright position on the steep bank of the pond. Its back window was broken out.
Children's boots were sitting on the ramp.
Until Thursday, things had been looking up for Guerrido, her Brooklyn Center neighbors said. She recently had begun a job as a bank teller, said neighbor Antonio Maxwell, who added that she was excited.
"She was a very nice mother, very friendly," said Amy Minor, Rennie's aunt, who also lives in the neighborhood. "She took good care of her children."
"I hope that there'd be as much emotional and loving support for this family as possible because it's just such a rotten deal, such a tragic set of circumstances," Petry said.
"This is why we all hug our kids every day, and want to know that they're all right because they can be there, and then the next day, everything can change."
Grief counselors will meet Friday with students and staff at Odyssey Academy in Brooklyn Center, attended by four of the children. A letter also will be sent home to parents to help them guide their children through this tragedy, said John Sedey, the school's executive director.
"You're never quite prepared for anything like this," he said. "It's a loss that will be felt throughout our school."
The cold-water advantage
Cold-water near-drownings "for the most part keep physicians the most optimistic," said Dr. Aaron Burnett, assistant medical director for St. Paul's Regions Hospital Emergency Medical Services.
"When you are in cold water, it slows the metabolic rate of your cells," he said. "It's good in drowning cases. When you slow the metabolic rate down, your cells need less oxygen and they produce fewer waste products. There is a better overall survival rate."
Burnett said children usually do better than adults in such crises. Children submerged in cold water from 45 to 60 minutes have survived with little or no brain damage, he said, adding, "Those are still unusual cases."
Concern also was expressed for the responders.
"Each responder is affected differently," Roeske said. When asked to describe the event, he used a single word.
"Traumatic," he said.
A fund , The Coleman-Guerrido Rennie Children's Fund, has been established at giveforward.com. Donors can contribute money at http://gfwd.at/1js0m9s. The family hopes to raise $100,000 to help defray funeral and medical expenses.