Aug 3, 2010 1:49 PM by Letitia Walker
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Seven teenagers from two families were
splashing around in the shallow waters of the Red River when one of
them stepped off a ledge and fell into much deeper water. The
others tried to save the boy even though none of them could swim,
but they too toppled into the deeper water.
Their relatives, who couldn't swim either, looked on helplessly
as six struggling teens screamed for help, then vanished and
DeKendrix Warner, the 15-year-old who was the first to fall in,
was rescued by a bystander.
"I stepped and I started drowning," he said from his
impoverished, inner-city Shreveport home in a low voice, his eyes
staring at the ground.
The large group of family and friends had gathered for an
afternoon of swimming and barbecuing in the oppressive heat. The
group had only been at the river for about 10 minutes when tragedy
struck - they didn't even have time to set up the barbecue.
DeKendrix said he was kicking and felt like the river was
pulling him under. When he was finally pulled from the water, he
told the man to go help his cousin.
Those who drowned were identified as the Warners: 13-year-old
Takeitha and her older brothers, 14-year-old JaMarcus and
17-year-old JaTavious. The others were the Stewarts: 18-year-old
Litrelle, 17-year-old LaDairus and 15-year-old Latevin.
The area where the drowning occurred is not a designated
recreational or swimming area but is often frequented by swimmers
and boaters. There are no lifeguards on duty.
"The river is a dangerous place. It's no place to even put your
foot in if you don't know how to swim," said Shreveport Fire Chief
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 compared to 41.8 percent of white children.
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 study didn't look into swimming ability based on rural
versus urban environments.
The drowning "confirms that what we are finding, that this
continuing cycle of people not knowing how to swim and their
children not knowing how to swim and still being around water,"
said Sue Anderson, USA Swimming's Director of Programs and
Services. "It's the continuing lack of awareness of how important
it is that children learn how to swim."
The federal government says African-Americans drown at a rate 20
percent higher than whites. A lack of access to swimming pools and
a lower interest in swimming skills are among the possible
explanations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Marilyn Robinson, a friend of the families, told The Times of
Shreveport she watched helplessly as the victims went under. She
said a large group of family and friends, including roughly 20
children, were out at a sandbar to barbecue and have a good time.
They frequent the area and were familiar with the water, Robinson
said. DeKendrix said he had been going down to the river all week.
"None of us could swim," Robinson said. "They were yelling
'help me, help me. Somebody please help me.' It was nothing I could
do but watch them drown one by one."
It took more than three hours to find all the bodies.