‘Messed Up. Big Time’: Devastated Mother Questions How Georgia 6-Year-Old Drowned on the First Day of Camp with Staff and Lifeguard Around

A 6-year-old Black child with special needs drowned last week at a youth summer camp swimming pool despite the presence of at least one lifeguard, according to New Jersey authorities.

Michael Stewart died June 24 after he vanished beneath the water at Liberty Lakes Day Camp on Florence Columbus Road in Mansfield Township, where a lifeguard noticed the lifeless boy and jumped in after him, but it was already too late.

Enjoli Stewart told CBS News Philadephia that Michael was excited about swimming that day.

“Someone asked me how my day was going, and I told them about Michael and how Michael fell asleep the night before with his goggles on,” she said, “and he was excited about swimming and then my phone rang and I was told I needed to rush to Mount Holly-Virtua.”

Devastated Mother Seeks Answers After 6-Year-Old with Special Needs Drowns First Day of New Jersey Summer Camp with Lifeguard on Duty
Michael and Enjoli Stewart (Photo: GoFundMe)

Camp staff members rushed to the boy’s aid and administered CPR, but he never regained consciousness, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at Virtua Hospital in Mount Holly, according to reports.

The following day, Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia L. Bradshaw and Mansfield Township Police Chief Eric Campbell confirmed the victim as Michael Stewart, whose recent photos show a shy child with a winsome smile.

Records show the boy had been assigned an advocate to help supervise him, but it’s not clear whether that person was present when Michael took to the water.

The boy’s parents have retained a lawyer.

Liberty Lakes messed up. big time. And now I don’t have a son anymore. That’s heartbreaking,” the mom told Fox 29 Philadelphia.

Officials with the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mansfield Township Police Department said the drowning remains under investigation.

Neither office has indicated whether anyone at the summer camp was deemed at fault, but so far, authorities have not publicly classified the drowning as an accident.

The Burlington County Medical Examiner, Dr. Ian Hood, has performed an autopsy in recent days but has not announced the findings.

The New Jersey Department of Health oversees the licensing and safety regulations for youth camps throughout the state.

According to the safety guidelines, one lifeguard supervisor and lifeguard must be present to supervise non-instructional swimming when there are 30 or fewer campers in the water. 

An additional lifeguard is required for each additional group of 30 swimmers.

It’s uncertain how many swimmers were in the pool when the boy drowned.

The camp owner suggested that more than one lifeguard was on duty, while emphasizing that the staff there at the time were experienced in pool safety despite the obvious tragedy.

During a Zoom meeting before the outing, camp owner Andy Pritikin reassured parents that the camp’s safety protocol complied with state law.

“We exceed the lifeguard ratios and standards of the New Jersey Board of Health, of the American Camp Association. We’ve always tried to exceed everything. We try to make Liberty Lake as safe as possible in every aspect,” Pritikin told parents, according to ABC affiliate WPVI.

Lumberton Township School District Superintendent Dr. Colleen Murray released a statement expressing “our deepest condolences to the family as well as our education professionals who knew and worked with Michael.”

She urged the community to embrace and support the boy’s grieving family.

“We are aware of community efforts that are being organized to support the family as they navigate this unimaginable loss,” she said while announcing a lemonade stand fundraiser at the Old Fire House on Main Street to help the family make final accommodations for their son.

The Lumberton Police Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 201 established a GoFundMe that has so far raised nearly $27,000 to help the family.

“We’re going to do right by my son,” Stewart said to CBS News Philadelphia. “We’re going to make sure he has the fair arrangements. I think I’m going to take some time to process and heal.”

Back to top