A child drowning call I will never forget

By Joe Vargas

I must have responded to more than a dozen child drowning calls over the course of my career. In some cases, the children were rescued, revived and no worse for wear. Others suffered lifelong injuries from which they would never completely recover.

In some cases, the children didn’t make it.

Maybe the worst part is knowing how preventable childhood drownings are.

One child drowning call always has stood out.

I was working as a patrol sergeant when the call came out about a possible child drowning. Paramedics were dispatched along with the police. The call was just down the street from the police station.

I ran out of the station to my police unit. I already could hear sirens coming from all directions. The only call that gets as quick a response is “shots fired.”

By the time I arrived, officers already were on scene. The smell of burnt rubber and hot brakes from the police units was strong in the air.

Officers were doing CPR on the unresponsive little girl. She was about 2 years old and wearing a sundress.

Paramedics arrived shortly afterward and continued efforts to save her life.

What seemed like dozens of family members and neighbors were gathered around the small backyard dominated by a pool.

There had been a family gathering. During all the socializing, everyone had lost track of the child.

It was by chance someone noticed her at the bottom of the pool.

The little girl was taken to a nearby hospital and emergency room personnel took over.

I responded along with other officers. Family members arrived shortly afterwards. I stood to the side and watched as the emergency room staff worked on her. It seemed like the entire ER staff was clustered around her little body.

In the waiting room, family members, including mom and dad, wept and prayed. An older gentleman walked from person to person comforting them. I later learned he was the grandfather of the little girl.

Officers were questioning the family — a necessary task even during this time. Was there obvious neglect or was this just a tragic accident?

After a time, the ER doctor turned to his team. “I’m calling it.”

The hectic pace ceased. Everyone stepped away and the girl, whose life officially now was gone from her little body.

Along with the doctor, I stepped into the waiting area. All conversation stopped as everyone turned to look. Their faces strained with emotion, fearing the worst but hoping for the best. The doctor took the mother and father to a small side room.

Moments later, the sounds of grief and despair. An entire room filled with overwhelming sadness.

Grandpa turned from person to person reaching out and holding a hand or touching a shoulder. He turned to me and, noticing my concern, asked if I was OK.

He added: “Don’t worry, son. God is great. She’s in heaven now.”

His resilience and faith amid tragedy left an indelible impression.

Was it preventable? Absolutely. It’s something everyone who was there that day probably will have to live with the rest of their lives.

It was a hard lesson that no one should have to experience.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.