ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – FOX 2 has uncovered alarming failures surrounding the drowning of a 6-year-old at his summer camp.
TJ Mister drowned July 20 at St. Louis County’s Kennedy Recreation Center, where an internal audit reveals a lack of both lifeguards and the proper life-saving equipment.
Those failures are exposed in an investigative audit by the lifeguard company called StarGuard. St. Louis County has repeatedly said it cannot talk about this case because of a $40 million lawsuit. As a result, FOX 2 has been looking for answers by requesting documents through Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
Olga Mister, TJ’s mother, also describes finding a lack of answers, when asking “…just all the questions that a normal parent would ask.”
TJ drowned in an Olympic-sized pool in south St. Louis County, during a summer program TJ loved.
FOX 2’s investigation has learned that a month before the drowning, the Kennedy Recreation Center had closed the pool over safety concerns.
We found the record in a June 3 St. Louis County health report.
“It was decided just before I arrived to shut this pool down due to lack of lifeguards,” an inspector wrote. “It will be drained Friday 6-3-22 per the facility manager.”
That appears to be the same manager who refused to answer basic questions in our previous FOX Files investigation in August. Though the county won’t say why it reopened the pool, we learned of critical failures, based on the lifeguard audit we obtained through Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
The audit, conducted by the county’s lifeguard certification company StarGuard Elite says, “2 lifeguards were scheduled to work” the day TJ drowned.
“Shortly before letting the kids onto the pool deck, one of the lifeguards called to let the facility know they would not be coming into work,” the report says. “A decision was made to open the pool without the additional lifeguard,” even though the facility’s emergency action plan states the “facility must have two lifeguards to open.”
The report also documents that the center was missing parts to its life-saving device like an AED. It’s a device so valuable that you should be able to find one in every public building.
The audit says Kennedy Rec’s AED “did not have child AED pads available” and that staff “left the airway position to look through the AED case for child pads.” The report says “..staff decided not to use it,” adding “AED’s can/should still be used on a child even when adult pads are the only pads available.”
TJ’s parents are determined to keep seeking answers, no matter how difficult.
“We’re going to make a difference, you know? My son didn’t die for nothing,” Olga said.
TJ’s family is asking for $40 million in a lawsuit they say is more about preventing the next tragedy. They’re on a mission to regulate summer camps, which are currently exempt from licensing by Missouri, as we reported in August.