ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Two children warned a camp counselor that 6-year-old TJ Mister was struggling to stay afloat in a pool this summer, but she didn’t do anything with their warnings, according to a police report obtained by the I-Team.
TJ drowned on July 20 at the Kennedy Recreation Complex in St. Louis County.
The St. Louis County Police Department conducted a criminal investigation, and released its report to the I-Team following a Sunshine request after St. Louis County Wesley Bell’s Office declined to issue criminal charges.
We reached out to Bell’s office for comment on this story Monday night, and a spokesperson sent 5 On Your Side this statement: "This request came after 5 p.m. on a state holiday asking for a comment for tonight's broadcast on a case that was reviewed more than a month ago. The senior attorney who reviewed that application for charges has since left the office for another opportunity. We will review the evidence tomorrow to see how the snippet of evidence that you quoted fits into the totality of evidence based on the law. At the time that charges were declined, a veteran attorney, reviewing the totality of evidence available, did not find probable cause that any one individual was guilty of criminal conduct in this incident. However, we will take a fresh look at the evidence. Certainly, whether or not this child's drowning was the result of criminal conduct, it was a tragedy."
In the report, two children told police detectives that they warned the camp’s director that TJ was having a hard time swimming and were told he was “fine.”
The I-Team is not naming the camp director because she has not been charged with a crime, something TJ’s mother, Olga Mister, believes is a mistake.
“How is this not neglect?” she asked. “It’s one thing to grieve, but it’s another to relive the nightmare over and over.”
There were 47 children at the pool that day, and only one lifeguard was on duty. County policy requires at least three lifeguards to be on duty.
One of the juveniles told detectives: “She was in the pool at around the 4-foot section and she observed Travone Jr. in the 4-and-a-half-foot section. She further stated Travone Jr. was ‘flailing’ his arms and his head was bobbing in and out of the water, as he yelled for help…(The juvenile) said she was close to where (the camp director) was, and told (the camp director) about Travone Jr. (The camp director) said it was “Rowan” and he was fine. (Juvenile) stated she did not know who Rowan was and advised she went back to swimming in the 4-foot area, and approximately five to 10 minutes later they were all told to go inside to the gym area. (Juvenile) said as she went inside, she observed one of the counselors doing CPR on Travone Jr.”
The other juvenile told detectives: “(Juvenile) stated on the day of the incident, she observed Travone Jr. jump in the 4-foot to 5-foot portion of the pool. (Juvenile) further stated she jumped in and she saw Travone Jr. It appeared Travone Jr. was ‘having trouble’ said she notified (the camp director) that Travone Jr. appeared to be struggling. relayed (the camp director) said he was fine, and another counselor grabbed him and took him out of the pool.”
A spokesperson for St. Louis Co. Prosecutor Wesley Bell’s office later clarified their previous statement by adding: "The attorney who reviewed that application for charges just called me back after talking to the lead detective. The detective told him that they investigated the claim made by this child witness and determined that the child who was bounding up and down and flailing his arms, as described by this child witness, was not the child who drowned, so this was not a missed opportunity to save T.J. Mister's life."
“It’s really hard to not be angry at this because nothing is being done,” said Olga Mister.
“What happened to our son could’ve been prevented,” said Travone Mister Sr.
TJ’s parents recently spent the day in Jefferson City pushing lawmakers for legislation to reform summer camps to make them safer for children.
“We’re on a mission for kids that adults overlook,” said Travone Mister Sr. "Our son was overlooked.”
“We’re not giving up,” said Olga Mister. “We won’t give up. This has to change.”
The Mister family will be celebrating his 7th birthday on Sunday, February 19th, at the St. Louis Zoo by unveiling a bench in his honor near the primate canopy.
The Misters are also asking concerned parents to speak out by signing their petition seeking to reform summer camp safety protocols.