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Ribbons a sad icon for child drownings
Drowning Impact Awareness Month

Aug. 10, 2007

Carol Achs carefully tied the purple ribbon to a tree. For Weston.

Weston Letter. Age 3.

The grandson who loved dragonflies and couldn't seem to get anywhere without running.

The grandson who would snuggle up with Achs to watch a favorite television show with chocolate milk and M&M'S.

The grandson who drowned in his family's backyard pool in Gilbert in 1998 and lives now only in pictures and memories.

"I think about him all the time, and I wonder what he would be like and what he'd be doing," Achs said. "He would be in junior high. And how many girlfriends would he have? I'll never know that."

After a dramatic decrease in child drownings last year, this year has shaped up to be even deadlier, with fatalities again on the rise.

Officials warn that August is the deadliest month, and they are redoubling efforts to remind adults to watch children around water and erect fences around pools.

More than 72,000 purple ribbons have been distributed across the state to commemorate August as Drowning Impact Awareness Month. Outside Phoenix Children's Hospital, 845 purple ribbons hang on the trees, gently blowing in the warm breeze. Each one symbolizes a child who has been involved in a water incident this decade in Maricopa County.

Underneath one tree Thursday were 11 pairs of children's shoes, one pair for each child who has drowned this year in Maricopa County. Size 4. Size 5. Those little white leather shoes that often are a baby's first pair.

"It's hard," Scottsdale Fire Capt. Sean Newton said. "These tragedies, it's not heart disease. It's not cancer. It's not diabetes. These are 100 percent preventable."

Last year, child drownings were cut in half in Maricopa County.

Ten children drowned throughout the year, but none during the summer months. The 11 drownings this year, though, have already surpassed all of last year.

"They'll go out there and step in that pool, and that's it. . . . They're gone forever," Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan said." There are cognitive decisions we can make as adults for kids. And if we do that, we can save their lives."

Rex Harrington, 18 months, drowned in 1986. Morgan Michele Sherwood-Simzyk, 2 1/2, drowned in 2004. Pictures show her smiling, wearing an angel costume and sitting atop a carousel horse. Derek Samuel Gonzalez, 3, drowned in 2004. Weston Letter.

Achs, who still lives in the Valley, said she has "great memories of that wonderful little boy." But she also has the image of his favorite blanket covering his body as his casket was closed. "You never ever forget that," Achs said.

Around her neck is a gold pendant that holds a picture of her grandson. Certain songs jog her memory. Seeing a dragonfly reminds her. She thinks of Weston every day. The necklace only comes off when Achs goes to bed.

"He hangs there every day, and I look at him," she said, "and I kiss him. Every day."
Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
By Judi Villa
Copyright 2007 Arizona Republic

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