Not a day goes by that Eli Nejat doesn't think about her friendly boy, the one who was always laughing. She hasn't seen that smile for two years now, but it's burned into her memory.
Armahn Adams, 4, drowned June 22, 1997, in the pool at his Tempe home, two days before he was to start swim lessons. He and his mother had been playing in the water by the pool's steps, but Armahn was reluctant to get all the way in.
So, Nejat sent him inside to invite his older brothers to swim, then turned her back to scrub the pool's tile.
She didn't see him return, didn't hear him slip and fall into the water, didn't know he was there until it was too late. She found her son's body on the bottom of the pool but couldn't revive him. Neither could firefighters and doctors.
His death has been tough on her husband and their two other children, and Nejat continues to feel guilt and despair.
"You still have to hold onto your life and you still have to show up at work and you still have to live like nothing happened," she said.
So that his life is not forgotten, Nejat, a pharmacist at a Target in Phoenix, has organized with her employer a water safety awareness day.
The first was held last June at six Valley stores. This year's event has been expanded to 27 Targets -- including 16 in the Valley -- across Arizona, California and Oregon.
From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, local fire departments will be on hand to give children rides on trucks, and the Red Cross will give out water safety information.
Next year, the program is expected to expand to more than 900 Target stores in 41 states.
"My goal is to make sure I get that (Armahn's) smile out and help other people smile," Nejat said.
She's also working with the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Central Arizona to create a support program for parents and siblings who have lost loved ones in drowning accidents.
"If other people would just know that they are not alone," she said.
With six water-related incidents this month already, June is living up to its reputation as one of the worst months for child drownings in Phoenix.
Dr. Tim Flood of the Arizona Department of Health Services said more than half the incidents occur when parents or caregivers and children are together, in or near the pools. For a young child, a pool is a cool, inviting killer.
"This is like taking a 2-, 3- or 4-year-old and putting him on the corner of Central and Indian School and telling him, 'Now, you stay here because I've got to run into the store,' " he said.
"It's like, 'Hey, what do you expect?' Kids that age don't understand, and a pool is just as deadly and dangerous."
Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Byline: Janie Magruder
©Copyright 1999 Arizona Republic
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