NJ boy dies after being found ‘unresponsive’ in shallow pool at summer day camp

A six-year-old boy has died after he was found unresponsive in a swimming pool at a New Jersey day camp on Monday.

Michael Jeffrey Stewart drowned in a pool at Liberty Lake Day Camp in Mansfield Township, New Jersey, his mother Enjoli Stewart told The Independent. The facility had just opened for the summer.

The child was so excited to go to the camp that he wore a pair of goggles to sleep the night before his first day.

“I’m going to miss my cuddles,” Stewart said. “He was my baby. He was my little man. He was my protector.”

News of the child’s death was announced by the camp’s founder, Andy Pritikin, in an email to parents, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I’m writing to share some tragic news,” he wrote. “During the afternoon swim period today for the freshman division, one of our lifeguards noticed that one of our campers appeared to be unresponsive in our shallow pool.

Enjoli Stewart with her children Layla, 2, and Michael, 6. Michael drowned this week at Liberty Lake Day Camp in New Jersey (Courtesy of Enjoli Stewart)
Enjoli Stewart with her children Layla, 2, and Michael, 6. Michael drowned this week at Liberty Lake Day Camp in New Jersey (Courtesy of Enjoli Stewart)

“They and our trained staff immediately followed appropriate protocol by pulling the camper out of the water, administering CPR and calling 911,” he said.

The freshman division is for children in the first and second grades, the camp’s website states.

“EMTs [arrived] quickly, and transported the camper by ambulance to the nearest hospital where doctors feverishly tried to resuscitate him. Tragically, despite all life saving efforts, he passed away.

“We are absolutely devastated and heartbroken. Our thoughts at this most difficult time are with our camper’s family, friends and loved ones — and we are respecting their privacy at this time.”

Stewart described her son as a beginner swimmer and said he was supposed to take part of an instructional swim class that didn’t happen. She said that the swim class was part of the schedule sent out to parents.

However, Pritikin told her that staffers don’t usually do the instructional swim class on the first day of camp.

Separately, she said that her son was assigned a one-on-one that was supposed to be with him around the clock while at the camp. That person is still employed at the facility, she said.

Liberty Lake Day Camp did not respond to an emailed request for comment on the mother’s allegations.

Stewart’s son was set to go to the camp for several weeks this summer. She spent thousands of dollars for him to attend for that period of time.

“I did everything I could to make sure he got placed into the right school and the right camp,” she said.

Stewart said that she gave birth to her son at 23 weeks, adding that doctors did not expect him to live.

“His entire life was a fight from being a micro preemie up until this current situation,” she said.

She described her son as “extremely smart”, noting that he was two grades ahead of his year and had a large vocabulary.

He loved to play basketball, baseball and with his two-year-old sister Layla. He was also planning on starting piano classes this summer. There wasn’t anything he wasn’t interested in, she said. Just last week, he made a volcano that erupted, she recalled.

A clinical social worker who is employed by the camp full-time was counseling individuals who had witnessed the incident, Pritikin stated in the letter.

The Independent emailed Liberty Lake Day Camp and the Mansfield Township Police Department for comment.

Pritikin concluded his statement by saying that the camp will resume activities on Tuesday and that the safety of the children in the camp’s care are his top priority.

“The safety and well-being of our campers and staff is our number one priority,” he said. The camp employs three registered nurses and 25 lifeguards certified in first aid, CPR and using a defibrillator.

Mansfield Air Squad is located “down the street” from the facility, he noted.

“Experts recommend that the best thing we can do is to forge forward and continue on with camp tomorrow, which we will do,” Pritikin said.

Stewart expressed concern over the camp’s pool being open a day after her son’s death. Out of respect for her family, the facility should close the pool for 24 hours, 48 hours or a week, she said.

Pritikin founded the day camp in 2002. With 60 acres, it’s now the largest day camp in South and Central New Jersey, its website states. The organization has cared for more than 1,000 campers each summer since 2006.

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