WEST FARGO – Police Chief Heith Janke was visibly distressed as he briefed media Friday, June 29, on the tragedy that earlier unfolded a 90-second drive from the southside fire station.

What began as a possible water rescue of a child Friday afternoon shifted to recovery of a body from a stormwater retention pond near the 2900 block of Fifth Street West in West Fargo’s Eagle Run neighborhood.

“This is a sad day in West Fargo. Recovering any body is never a good day, but when it’s a young child it’s a horrible thing, not only for those family members, but the first responders that are out there and the dive team,” Janke said. “When it’s a child, it takes it to a whole new level for everyone, especially us that are parents and have those young ones at home.”

A South Sudanese family is reeling from the loss of a 6-year-old boy who drowned Friday afternoon. Authorities have not released the identity of the victim, but the child’s uncle, John Lino, told The Forum that the boy was energetic and loved to frequent the nearby park – which is where Lino hoped his nephew was while crews searched the pond.

“I hope it’s not him in there,” Lino said, adding that he always worried his nephew would one day wander into the water.

Authorities checked the apartment area and parks and were unable to find the child.

The child’s mother and grandmother stood nearby talking and praying with a police chaplain and other officials. They both wept and dropped to their knees during the somber three-hour search.

Lino attempted walking into the water to find his nephew, but authorities ushered him out of the pond, which is 500 feet long and up to 12 feet deep in the middle. He stood beside his brother with blank stares and soggy socks, folding hands in prayer.

West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller said there were enough witnesses at the scene to pinpoint the victim's likely last-known location in the retention pond.

"They saw hands splashing around and the head go underwater," Fuller said.

Fuller confirmed that Valley Water Rescue found the body of a child at 6:58 p.m. at the bottom of a retention pond. He said at 7:07 p.m. the body was recovered and taken by the coroner.

Crews were in the water searching within a minute of arriving on scene, trying to find the child who was reported to be possibly drowning at 3:51 p.m. Fuller said the boy was submerged when crews arrived.

The murky stormwater pond was challenging to search. Divers said they could barely see up to a foot in front of them. Water rescue crews used a sonar water drone and a watercraft to aid in the search.

Asked why witnesses didn’t attempt saving the boy, Fuller said that people should always call 911 right away and leave the rescue to first responders so that in situations like this, there is one victim, not two.

Janke said that “it takes seconds for a child to go under,” and stressed the importance of prevention and keeping an eye on younger members of the community, as this was the second child drowning in the area in three days.

On Wednesday, June 27, 9-year-old Grace Bettie of Moorhead drowned in a swimming area at Buffalo River State Park near Glyndon, Minn.

Despite the recent heavy rain, Fuller said the West Fargo pond was at a “normal height.” He added that this is the first drowning in a retention pond that he is aware of in recent memory. While it isn’t illegal to swim in retention ponds, he added it’s not advisable.

Janke said the drowning remains under investigation, but they believe it was accidental.

Asked how the family is doing, the chief said that there are “no words that can express.”

“I would tell you as you head into the Fourth of July next week to hug your kids, tell them you love them tonight, because it’s days like this that reinforces how quickly things can be taken away from you.”

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts