Archive for Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Drowned children are mourned

July 11, 2006

Advertisement

— On a quiet street without many kids, Edris Moore's brood of eight stood out.

They played together in the humid afternoons, roller skating past the trim lawns and tiny flower gardens on Margaretta Avenue. They prayed together, too; every Sunday, a neighbor would see them dressed in their best outside their brick bungalow, ready for church.

On Sunday, six of the kids were attending a church barbecue in a leafy state park when - together, as always - they decided to splash in the Meramec River with some friends. The current was slow; the water was shallow. But the rocks on the bottom were deceptively slick.

One of the children lost his footing. His siblings waded out to help him - and one after another, three of them slipped. The current carried them downstream to a deep pool of faster-flowing water.

Within moments, Moore had lost four of her children: a daughter, Dana Johnson, 13; and sons Bryant Barnes, 10; Ryan Mason, 14; and Damon Johnson, 17. One of their friends, 16-year-old Deandra Sherman, drowned as well.

Edris Moore, 36, of St. Louis, right, tries to talk with members of the media Monday about the death of four of her children who drowned Sunday during a church outing along the Meramec River in Ballwin, Mo. Standing next to her is Jeff  Allensworth, senior pastor at the St. Louis Dream Center, which sponsored the outing.

Edris Moore, 36, of St. Louis, right, tries to talk with members of the media Monday about the death of four of her children who drowned Sunday during a church outing along the Meramec River in Ballwin, Mo. Standing next to her is Jeff Allensworth, senior pastor at the St. Louis Dream Center, which sponsored the outing.

"As they were playing, one by one, like a domino effect, they had their feet taken out from under them," said Sgt. Ralph L. Bledsoe of the Missouri State Water Patrol. "Witnesses said they saw some heads bobbing up and down, but they couldn't get to them. ... They disappeared very quickly below the surface."

It took nearly 12 hours, until 6 a.m. Monday, for divers to recover the body of the final victim.

As Moore huddled with her family and pastor in her home, friends of the five young victims wandered over to the St. Louis Dream Center, an urban ministry founded by wealthy televangelist Joyce Meyer. Using hair ribbons and twist-ties and bits of thread, they tucked teddy bears, balloons, even a Tonka truck into the chain link fence around the church.

Fourteen-year-old Vivian Wilson and her friends brought a brown fuzzy bear with well-worn paws. They tied it to the fence to honor Dana. Vivian, eyes puffy with tears, thought about the many hours she and Dana had spent hanging out in the middle-school bathroom, talking about boys and music and clothes and "what we would do when we grew up, if we were ever able to get out of here."

They had settled on seeing the world, Vivian said. Or at least, seeing some place other than north St. Louis.

"I just don't know what I'm going to do when school starts," Vivian said. "I can't believe she won't be hanging out with me in the bathroom again."

The barbecue in Castlewood State Park was intended to honor volunteers with the Dream Center, which bills itself as "a healing place for a hurting world."

Moore's children could not swim. But at the barbecue by the Meramec, they and several friends apparently kicked off their shoes and waded into the cool water. Close to the beach, the river is just a few feet deep and gentle, with a current estimated at 2 to 3 miles per hour, Bledsoe said.

That was just strong enough to sweep the children about 200 yards downstream, to a fast-moving stretch of water up to 15 feet deep.

Two witnesses unaffiliated with the church saw one child slip, the others rush to help - and then several heads go under at once.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.