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'It's such a tragedy'

By Izaskun E. Larrañeta

Publication: theday.com

Published July 05. 2013 6:00AM   Updated July 06. 2013 2:08PM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
New London Police Chief Margaret Ackley, right, meets with detectives from her department at Greens Harbor Beach as lifeguards check the conditions of the waters Friday, July 5, 2013.

Outside Anthony Bernoudy's apartment, resting against the stairwell, is the bike he received on his sixth birthday.

Next Wednesday, he would have turned 7.

Anthony drowned Thursday at city-owned Greens Harbor Beach in New London. He had last been seen about 5:30 p.m. near the water.

A search for Anthony on land and in the water quickly ensued. At 11:10 p.m. an emergency diver found his body a short distance from the beach. He was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, where he was pronounced dead.

Yellow tape closed off access to Greens Harbor Beach on Pequot Avenue Friday. The single lifeguard stand was empty. A white teddy bear was tied to the fence outside the beach. A faded inscription appeared to read "RIP Love Mom."

The small public beach will reopen today.

Anthony's drowning was the second that occurred Thursday as many celebrated the hot, muggy Independence Day holiday by the water. Brandon Jozile, 16, a member of the youth group at the First Haitian Baptist Church of Norwich and son of the pastor, drowned at Hopeville Pond State Park in Griswold.

Every day, about 10 people in the country die from unintentional drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the causes of unintentional injury or death in the United States.

According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, there have been two drownings at state parks this year.

Family, friends grieve

Jane Glover, New London's chief administrative officer and founder of the now closed Kente Cultural Center, last saw Anthony Bernoudy on June 21 during the center's closeout sale. Bernoudy's great-grandmother, Jane Bernoudy, was the last director of Kente, and Anthony was there often.

"He was a vivacious boy with a bright smile," Glover said. "He was a typical boy; he liked superheroes, and I believe one year he dressed as Superman for Halloween."

Glover said when she saw Anthony handing out free posters during the sale, his mother, Tamyra, grandmother, Tara, and great-grandmother, Jane, were there as well.

"They were a close-knit family," said Glover. "They were always together. I know this is a devastating loss for them. We all mourn with them."

Glover said Tara and Tamyra were at the beach on Thursday with Anthony. Family members could not be reached to comment Friday.

City Recreation Director Tommie Major was at the scene Friday morning. He said he received a text from Jane Bernoudy around 6:15 p.m. Thursday to let him know that Anthony was missing. Major remained at the scene until the little boy's body was discovered.

Major said the park is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. He said four lifeguards who were on duty left for the day at 5 p.m., before Anthony was reported missing. "They're a well-known family," he said. "It's such a tragedy."

"We are heartbroken," said Laurelle Texidor, principal of Jennings Elementary School, where Anthony was a first-grader. "Anthony was the sweetest boy. He always greeted me with a hug and little tidbits of what he was learning or what was happening in his day. This was devastating news, as we were hoping and praying for his safe return."

A few families and individuals went to Jennings School Friday for counseling, according to Julianne Hanckel, communications manager for the school system.

No lifeguard in Griswold

A sign at the entrance to Hopeville Pond State Park in Griswold warns patrons that there is no lifeguard on duty and that swimmers must remain inside an area marked by buoys.

Brandon Jozile, a student at Norwich Free Academy, was at the park Thursday with a youth group from the First Haitian Baptist Church of Norwich. He was first reported missing in the water at about 1 p.m.

Jennifer Hebert, who was selling ice cream in the parking lot on Thursday and Friday, said two young boys approached her Thursday and asked for help because their friend had gone missing in the water.

Hebert said emergency responders quickly arrived and she saw several state troopers with their uniforms still on dive into the water.

State police responded with the state DEEP, the Griswold Fire Department and the Norwich Underwater Search and Rescue Team, comprising divers from Taftville and Yantic. Officials said Jozile did not know how to swim.

He was found unconscious and pulled from the water by first responders who began rescue efforts and took him by ambulance to the Plainfield Emergency Care Center, a satellite facility of The William W. Backus Hospital.

On Friday, a sign posted on the door at the First Haitian Baptist Church of Norwich on Central Avenue in Greeneville asked for respect and privacy as the church members and family mourn the young man's death.

NFA, which is offering counseling to students and adults connected with the school, issued this statement: "The entire Norwich Free Academy community mourns the unfortunate death of Brandon Jozile, NFA '15. Brandon was a vibrant member of the Academy family, a well-liked and highly respected student, a member of the Football Team, Project Outreach, and the Haitian Student Club.

"Words are inadequate to express our grief at his passing; we are all diminished by his loss. Brandon's parents, family, friends, and classmates can count on NFA's full measure of support."

Victims often young

On Friday, the day after the drownings, dozens of families were at Hopeville Pond State Park. All of the picnic tables were in use and people were swimming both in the designated and non-designated areas.

As she was selling ice cream, Jennifer Hebert said that people can stand on their feet in the buoyed area. She said Jozile was not found there. Several news outlets reported that Jozile was swimming outside the marked swimming area.

Both drownings occurred on one of the busiest days of the year for state parks, many of which were full to capacity by mid-morning Thursday, the Fourth of July.

New London Fire Battalion Chief Keith Nichols said the department was called out to Ocean Beach Park three times during the course of the day, twice for reports of missing children who were later found.

Jack Harder, aquatics specialist for the American Red Cross, said that in Connecticut there are two main groups most likely to become drowning victims — young children and males from the ages of 15 to 25. He said the drownings of teenage boys and young men usually occur because they are outside the boundaries of designated swimming areas.

For young children, Harder said, it comes down to supervision. "Children don't exactly make the best choices, so we have to make sure that we're always around and constantly watching," he said.

ilarraneta@theday.com

Day staff writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.

MORE

Schools to offer grief counseling

Grief counseling will be available Monday for students in the Camp Rotary program at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and throughout the summer for students and staff, according to a press release from the New London school system.

The counseling is intended to help those grieving after the drowning death of Jennings School first-grader Anthony Bernoudy at Greens Harbor Beach Thursday.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Monday, a social worker will be available to help students at Camp Rotary. The camp's boating program for middle school students at the city-owned Greens Harbor Beach has been suspended indefinitely. When it resumes, counseling will be available if needed.

New London Public Schools will continue to assess the need for grief counseling on a school-by-school basis as summer programs are currently in session and will offer counseling services to staff of the city Parks and Recreation Department.

In Norwich professional counselors were on campus Friday to offer counseling to NFA students and adults and will be on campus again Monday from 8:30 a.m. to noon in the Ensemble Room of the Frank Center, easily accessible from the east entrance to campus on Joseph Perkins Road.

For more information contact NFA Director of Student Affairs John Iovino at (860) 425-5510 or at iovinoj@nfaschool.org.

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