New Jersey

‘Senseless tragedy': Boy, 6, drowns at NJ summer camp

A child died at Liberty Lake Day Camp in Bordentown, New Jersey, on Monday, June 24, a spokesperson confirmed

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An investigation is underway after a 6-year-old boy drowned on the first day of a New Jersey summer camp.

The incident occurred at the Liberty Lake Day Camp in Bordentown on Monday, June 24.

The boy -- later identified as Michael Stewart -- was found unresponsive in a swimming pool at the camp shortly before 2 p.m. and was pulled out by a lifeguard. Camp staff members tried to revive the boy and called 911. He was taken to Virtua Hospital in Mount Holly, New Jersey, where he was pronounced dead.

"During the afternoon swim period today for the Freshman Division, one of our lifeguards noticed that one of our campers appeared to be unresponsive in our shallow pool," Andy Pritikin, the camp's director and owner, wrote in an email to families on Monday. "They and our trained staff immediately followed appropriate protocol by pulling the camper out of the water, administering CPR and calling 911. EMTs arrived quickly, and transported the camper by ambulance to the nearest hospital where doctors feverishly tried to resuscitate him. Tragically, despite all lifesaving efforts, he passed away."

The Burlington County Medical Examiner performed an autopsy on Stewart on Tuesday but have not yet released the results pending the notification of his family members. The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office and Mansfield Township Police are both investigating. Camp staff members said they're fully cooperating with the investigation.

“All of us at Liberty Lake Day Camp are devastated and grieving over the tragic passing of our young camper,” a Liberty Lake Day Camp spokesperson wrote to NBC10. “This senseless tragedy took a life that was far too young. There are no words that feel appropriate enough to capture our heartache and mourning.”

Two photos of Michael Stewart

The campers at Liberty Lake range in age from 4-years-old through 9th and 10th grades, according to their website. The camp runs through Aug.16 this year. The camp has three registered nurses and 25 lifeguards certified in first aid and CPR/AED on staff as well as the Mansfield First Aid Squad located nearby, according to Pritikin.

The camp remains open this week. In his email to families, Pritikin said a licensed clinical social worker who works exclusively with children was currently at the camp to provide counseling to those who witnessed Monday's incident and other campers.

Pritikin also spoke with families during a Zoom meeting Tuesday night.

"I am so sorry this happened," Pritikin said. "Unfortunately, there's a lot of questions that I won't be able to answer tonight and some that I may never be able to answer. Like, 'What exactly happened? How long was he underwater for?'"

Pritikin also said he spoke with the boy's mother and learned he lived a short but heroic life.

"She shared with me how the last six and a half years have been a journey of epic proportions, starting at birth," Pritikin said. "I'll leave it at that but trust me, it's a tale of love and resiliency beyond what most families encounter."

Pritikin also said the boy was found in the smallest of the camp's two pools which was 20-feet wide and very narrow.

"Michael was in a first grade boy's group with an adult female leader," Pritikin said. "Sixteen to 17-year-old counselors and three adult advocates for kids with special needs, which was assigned to Michael. It's a lot of supervision."

The pool is one and a half foot at its shallowest and four feet at its deepest, according to Pritikin.

"The normal breakdowns in the afternoon during free swim are that there's three lifeguards in chairs at the little pool, with a fourth roving lifeguard, which far exceeds the ratios," Pritikin said.

Pritikin told families the pool was immediately cleared by staff. He also said he made the decision to reopen both the camp and the pool on Tuesday.

"Our safety protocols are sound," he said. "Have been for years. But given the circumstances, we want to make everyone feel better, including the staff here, the campers and their families."

A 6-year-old boy drowned at a summer camp in South Jersey on the first day of the camp. In a letter sent to staff and families from the superintendent of the Lumberton School District it said the boy that drowned was a rising first grader and identified the little boy as Michael Stewart.

Stewart was a rising first grader in the Lumberton School District. The district's superintendent Dr. Colleen Murray sent a message to school staff and families.

"Earlier today, we learned that one of our students, Michael Stewart, a rising first grader, passed away unexpectedly and tragically yesterday. On June 24, 2024, Michael drowned while attending a summer camp. We extend our deepest condolences to the family as well as our education professionals who knew and worked with Michael," Murray said in a message.

The school district will also be holding a fundraiser for Stewart's family.

"This Saturday at noon, there will be a lemonade stand fundraiser at the Old Fire House on Main Street to help the Stewart family," the message stated.

Stewart's relative told NBC10 the family has retained a lawyer but would not be making any further comments at this time.

Fire starts near the camp

A fire started in a wooded area near the camp Wednesday afternoon.

Thick smoke could be seen billowing from a fire just off of Florence Columbus Road (Route 656) shortly before 4 p.m.

SkyForce10 was over the scene shortly before 4:30 p.m. and captured fire crews working to put out the flames and smoke. The fire appeared to be placed under control shortly after that. Officials have not yet revealed the cause. No injuries were reported.

SkyForce10 was over the scene of a fire in a wooded area near Liberty Lake Day Camp
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