UPDATED with comments from girl's mother

A woman’s claims that her grandchild spent “12 seconds on the bottom of the pool” while taking swimming lessons at the LaFayette city pool don’t exactly match up with video of the incident, officials say.

Video taken by security cameras at the pool show that the 4-year-old girl slipped off a float and into the water in the shallow end, city manager David Hamilton said. She was under water 5-6 second, he said.

Grandmother BJ Sherlin on Wednesday morning, June 10, posted about the incident on social media. She told of her granddaughter’s near-drowning during a swimming lesson the previous day for pre-beginner swimmers. Her story prompted city leaders to investigate.

However, Hamilton emphasized, the conflicting account of Sherlin’s experience with the video footage does not mean there isn’t room for improvement at the city pool.

Hamilton said he has met with city recreation director Patti Scott and pool manager Greg Neal to discuss opportunities to improve lifeguard response time.

The city has also invited Sherlin family members to view the video.

Sherlin, in her post, wrote:

“I can't sleep thinking about the psychological damage that has been done to my granddaughter by the city of LaFayette,” Sherlin wrote in her post. “I will confront the responsible employee in the next couple days, as soon as I find out who is responsible…. I’m posting this as public. I want everyone to share this, cause anyone thinking about letting their kids take swimming lessons at LaFayette pool needs too know the $50.00 doesn't get you a qualified instructor or a safe environment.

“A group of teenager's came out, got the children, put them on their lifeguard floats (3' x 4”x 2”) and drug them into deep water saying, ‘kick your feet.’ That's the extent of their “qualified” instruction. It would have done just as good to go old school...toss them in the lake and say, “Sink or swim!

“15 minutes into the lesson, they abandoned my granddaughter saying, “kick your feet.” As she struggled to hang onto a float that was too large for her tiny hands to grip, the teenagers turned away and started a conversation, ignoring the fact that a child right behind them was crying and sinking.

“As I yelled, and other parents joined in, she sank to the bottom of the pool. Eight ‘lifeguards’ within 5 feet of a drowning child and none had any idea. Finally, one teenager turned around to see what we were yelling about but still was oblivious to the small body underwater at his feet. When I finally yelled, “KID UNDERWATER,” he looked down and grabbed her. 12 seconds on the bottom of the pool. It doesn't seem long when you're on land breathing.

“On the way home she said she didn't want to swim anymore. I shouldn't have sent her back in with them. They were not qualified to deal with that level of fear. A “Qualified” instructor would have been. Of course, a qualified instructor would have never turned their back in the first place.”

Investigation

After the post was seen by Hamilton, an investigation of the events began and Hamilton reviewed video footage of the swim lesson.

There are five students with three lifeguards present for the swim lesson. There were seven lifeguards total at the pool area during that time.

Hamilton said the video footage shows the young girl at the shallow end of the pool, which is 3½ feet deep, just off the pool steps.

Hamilton provided a screenshot of when the girl went under water at the shallow end of the pool, while an adult city employee, Deb Taylor, was present and standing on the pool deck.

The footage shows the young girl slip off a float and into the water, while flailing her arms in panic.

The count time differs from the grandmother’s account, as the young girl was under water 5-6 seconds, rather than 12 seconds.

Hamilton said all three lifeguards were alternating attention between the five children, giving individual time to each child.

A lifeguard was with the child prior to the incident. When the lifeguard began to assist with another child, the young girl slipped off the float and into the water.

Once the incident was made aware to the lifeguard, the girl was pulled out of the water.

Hamilton said the video has been studied and shows roughly 6 seconds from the time the girl slipped into the water and the time the lifeguard pulled her out from under the water.

Hamilton said since it is a group swim, there is not one lifeguard for each child. The lifeguards have to alternate attention between the children, meaning the lifeguards rotate between swimmers. A private lesson would consist of one lifeguard for each individual swimmer.

The video shows that once the girl is removed from the pool, within four minutes she returned to the pool, continuing her lesson with the lifeguard and kicking her feet.

Mother’s concern

The young girl’s mother, Kalei Taylor, said her concern was never about how deep the water was, but that she was left unattended and shouldn’t have been.

Taylor’s 4-year-old daughter, Tieta, told her mother the lifeguard that pulled her out of the water is her hero and that is something Kalei appreciates.

The mother said her daughter was excited about returning the next day to the pool for her lesson; but when she approached the water, she had a panic attack and did not return.

Kalei said Tieta has been taking showers instead of baths since the incident.

The family is planning a vacation soon and wanted their daughter to learn to swim.

Kalei said she plans view the footage to see what happened herself to be able to help her daughter overcome it.

“It’s an ocean to her. To her it is a lot of water, whether it is just three feet or four feet.”

Josh O'Bryant is a reporter for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.