WEST FARGO — A 14-year-old boy died early Thursday, May 28, after he was taken to the hospital Wednesday evening following an apparent drowning in the Sheyenne River diversion channel, West Fargo city officials said.

The boy has been identified as James Nyei, a West Fargo High School freshman who played on the school's football team.

The West Fargo School District sent a message to parents and staff Thursday afternoon alerting them of the death.

"While at a distance, West Fargo High School Staff continue to support our students through this loss," the statement said. "Each student will react to James’ death in their own way. Feeling sad is a normal response to any loss. Some students may not have known James very well and may not be as affected, while others may experience a great deal of sadness."

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The West Fargo Fire Department was dispatched at 6:37 p.m. Wednesday on a report of a drowning in the Sheyenne River. As firefighters and police officers arrived, bystanders were pulling the boy from the water, officials said.

West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller said it appeared a group of students, as many as 18-20, had been in the area at the time of the incident. Fuller said he was not aware of the area being a popular place for large groups to go swimming.

A retired teacher who lives next to the area and was home at the time of the incident said adults, families, teens and children are often seen walking on the diversion berm or towards the water. She has often seen people walking with fishing equipment as well.

Officers and firefighters performed CPR on the boy, who was in cardiac arrest when he was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. The boy was pronounced dead early Thursday, officials said.

The diversion channel in the Goldenwood Addition of West Fargo was the scene of a swimming accident on Wednesday, May 27.
David Samson / The Forum
The diversion channel in the Goldenwood Addition of West Fargo was the scene of a swimming accident on Wednesday, May 27. David Samson / The Forum

West Fargo Police Sgt. Ryan Haskell said the drowning happened in the Sheyenne River diversion channel near where it rejoins the river.

The channel and river are next to the Goldenwood Addition, a large, secluded neighborhood in the far northwest part of the city. The channel is about 50 yards from the roads on the west side of the housing development.

Interim West Fargo Police Chief Jerry Boyer said while it is not illegal in the city to swim there, it is discouraged.

"The currents are unpredictable along with varying depths," Boyer said.

Fuller said bystanders at the incident told responders Nyei was not a very skilled swimmer.

Observers at the scene Wednesday evening saw first responders give the boy CPR on the banks near the channel before carrying him away in a gurney to an ambulance.

Another youth who was apparently involved in the situation was seen sitting alone in distress in a dried mud patch near the scene of the accident. Other juveniles wearing swimming suits were also seen in the area.

The incident remains under investigation by the West Fargo Police Department.