Three weeks ago, Samantha Richardson saw her brother drown in a swimming pool at a Plymouth apartment building. On Saturday, the 8-year-old was back at the same pool with her father and others, learning how to prevent such tragedies.
"It's a horrible experience," father Emmette Richardson said. But "I want to be part of this training so that future tragedies don't happen."
Saturday was the first of 15 trainings that the Plymouth fire department will do at apartment building pools this year, hoping to do just that — prevent other water-related deaths.
Samantha, who was in the pool with her brother Benedict before he drowned April 25, joined fire department staff as they taught safety tips.
The city is part of the Minnesota Water Safety Coalition, which started in 2011 after 50 drownings in the state — including a double drowning at a Plymouth apartment building where a 9-year-old girl and a 26-year-old man who tried to save her both died.
"We've been out trying to spread the word ever since," said Plymouth Deputy Fire Chief Kip Springer. "That brought us all together to say 'what more can we do?' "
Benedict Richardson, 16, was the first drowning in Plymouth this year and one of seven in Minnesota. His death came two months after 12-year-old Abdullahi Charif drowned during a swimming class at St. Louis Park Middle School. And on May 9, 16-year-old Davis Paul Colley of Norwood Young America drowned in a Carver County lake.
"This is a crisis," Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said after Richardson's death.
More than 20 children and adults attended the free half-hour session at Plymouth Square Apartments on Saturday, learning to use a shepherd's hook or life ring to pull a person to safety. Experts also reiterated that drownings are silent and happen in seconds.
That's what happened to Benedict.
The teen was excited to be living in Minnesota, immigrating just two months earlier from a refugee camp in Guinea to join his three siblings and father, who has lived in the U.S. since 2001. About 7 p.m., he was playing in the water with Samantha as their father sat by the pool.
Emmette Richardson said his daughter is still learning to swim and wasn't allowed to be in the deep end. But Benedict went into the deeper water and seconds later his sister screamed that he was underwater. Emmette Richardson said he grabbed the shepherd's hook, pulled his son from the bottom of the pool, and did CPR until paramedics arrived.
But it was too late. He was taken to North Memorial Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
"We were so happy to have him join us. Less than two months in America and then this," Emmette Richardson said Saturday. "We pray every day."
His 15- and 12-year-olds are still too traumatized, he said, to visit the pool. But he and Samantha wanted to be part of the training.
"I don't want them to be afraid of water or a pool," Richardson said of his children and others. "Tragedies happen, but that cannot stop life."
The father, who works two jobs to support his family, is still trying to raise money for his son's funeral and a visa for his wife so she can be in the U.S. to attend it. A fund has been set up; donations are accepted at all Wells Fargo branches.