Friday, July 1, 2011

Marie Joseph

The questions are many and the facts are few about the events surrounding the death of a 36-year-old woman in Fall River, Massachusetts, on Sunday. As you may have heard, the body of Marie Joseph (1st image, holding the daughter of a friend) was found in a public swimming pool 2 days after her apparent drowning. During that interval, the pool remained open and was inspected twice.

Here are the facts:
On Sunday, Marie went to Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Pool (3rd image, from above) in Lafayette Park with neighbors. She was last seen at 1pm, but friends assumed she had gone home and did not report her missing. A 9-year-old boy whom Marie had been watching told a lifeguard that she had not surfaced after accidentally sliding down the water slide (shown in 2nd image) with him, but the guard did nothing. According to a friend of Marie's, the boy attempted to rescue her himself when he was ignored. “The little boy was trying to pull her back up, but he couldn’t. She was too heavy, and she was too slippery from the water.’’ Marie's body was found at 10pm on Tuesday by teenagers who jumped the locked fence for an after-hours swim

Here is the fallout:
Pool staffers have been suspended and the 2 city inspectors have been placed on paid leave. Two dozen state-run pools were temporarily closed, but are expected to reopen this weekend. Fall River mayor William Flanagan ordered the immediate inspection of 21 public and semi-public pools in the city, including hotel pools. The mayor and Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Commissioner Edward M. Lambert, Jr., held a press conference outside the pool yesterday. Governor Deval Patrick has ordered DCR to conduct an internal investigation into Marie’s death, but the state has agreed not to question the pool’s employees until the district attorney’s office does. Investigators are examining video footage from the pool while awaiting autopsy results, which could be released today.

Here are the questions:
Why would Marie have climbed the slide if she did not intend to slide down, and in fact could not swim? Why didn't the lifeguard respond to the boy's concern, and why didn't the boy bring the problem to the attention of any of the adults at the pool? How come none of the swimming patrons nor the 6 lifeguards on duty saw or came into contact with Marie's lifeless body? How was the body missed during the protocols for opening and closing the pool each day? How did inspectors, who closed the 12' deep end on Monday and Tuesday because the water was cloudy, fail to notice the submerged body? And why was the pool allowed to operate when the Health Department permit had expired 6 months earlier?

Marie is survived by her 5 children, her heartbroken partner of 8 years (on video here) who calls her death "a big shock," her father who called the circumstances "terrible...unbelievable," and her puzzled friends and neighbors who never knew her to frequent the pool. This is a mystery, a tragedy, a failure of the public trust, and certainly much more than a "teachable moment."

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