Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Praying for her family, my daughter left flowers and a teddy at the pool fence...

Family deals with loss of 'doll of a girl'
Toddler dies swimming in city pool

Monitor staff

August 19, 2009 - 3:58 pm

Three-year-old Amariah Rivera, seen here in this Easter 2009 photo, was pulled from the Keach Park pool in Concord on Monday and later died.

Faced with another hot day, Michele Rivera brought her four children Monday to the Keach Park pool in Concord, where she swam years before.

The Chichester resident was holding her 3-month-old son in the shade just before 2 p.m. and watching her other children swim when her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter headed for the shallow end. As she watched her children weave among the two dozen young swimmers, she realized 3-year-old Amariah was not with them.

A frantic search ensued, ending moments later when Rivera saw a woman pull Amariah from the water.

"That's when she ran over to find her daughter on the ground," said Freddy Rivera, the uncle of Amariah's father and spokesman for the family.

Lifeguards performed CPR on the little girl, who was taken to Concord Hospital. Doctors worked for more than an hour before declaring her dead, said Freddy Rivera, who had gathered there with family from New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

The police are still investigating Amariah's death, and an assistant city manager said the city will review all pool policies and procedures. Three lifeguards were working at the pool Monday, two watching the pool while a third checked identification at the gate. Nonresidents can swim at Concord pools for a fee.

City swimming pools had been scheduled to close Friday, but excess funds prompted officials to extend days for the Keach, Rolfe and Rollins pools through yesterday. After the death, officials decided to end the season Monday.

Amariah's father, Pablo Rivera, thanked the community for its support and asked for privacy in an e-mail message to the Monitor yesterday. He specifically thanked the two women who pulled his daughter from the pool.

"Without you pulling her out of the water, she would've not even had a chance to fight," he wrote. "Although she didn't survive and is now looking down on us, I still thank you greatly for at least giving her that opportunity."

Pablo and Michele Rivera declined through Freddy Rivera to speak to a reporter, but Michele Rivera described her experience to be relayed to the Monitor. Freddy Rivera, formerly a district manager in the Monitor circulation department, is now a contractor for the newspaper.

He described the Riveras as a loving family that remains close to grandparents and other out-of-town relatives. Those family members quickly congregated at the hospital Monday to be with Amariah, he said.

"She was a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful girl that was very close to her family," Freddy Rivera said. "Loved by all, just a doll of a girl."

He said his nephew was a proud father who had called three months earlier when Maximo was born.

"He said, 'I caught up to you. I have four now,' " Freddy Rivera said. "I was so happy. Now I feel so sad."

At the pool Monday, Michele Rivera's search for Amariah took her around the shallow end and toward the playground before her daughter was found floating facedown. As a father of four, Freddy Rivera said, it frightens him to know how quickly a child can leave the sight of even the most attentive parent.

"She tried her best to make a nice day out of it for her kids," Rivera said. "It was a hot day."

Rivera said the family is planning a funeral to be held in Lowell, Mass., either tomorrow or Friday.

Firefighters stood by yesterday afternoon as water drained from the Keach Park pool. A teddy bear and two stuffed rabbits rested by the fence; flowers were woven among the chain links. A few children played on the nearby playground.

Jim Howard, deputy city manager for finance, declined to comment on how much liability exposure the city would have from the incident.

"Obviously, that happened on our premises, so that question is a legitimate question," he said. "But we really don't know enough about this at this point in time."

The city carries general liability insurance through the New Hampshire Municipal Association Property-Liability Trust, Howard said.

The pool was well below its capacity of 100 people when the incident occurred about 2 p.m., he said. And it had more lifeguard coverage than usual, because the regular closing of the city's other four pools allowed a third guard to work at the pool that day. All city lifeguards are Red Cross-certified, he said. The lifeguards on the scene Monday received counseling yesterday, he said.

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