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A tragedy unfolds

Police release the names of drowning victims

July 6, 2012
By DAVID ALEXANDER - Staff Writer ( , Times-Republican

Police have released the names of the children who apparently drowned in the Iowa River Wednesday night.

Lee Meh, 9, her brother Sae Reh, 7, and the two's cousin, 7-year-old girl Thay Mo, were swimming in the river with family Wednesday night when they went missing, Chief Mike Tupper, of the Marshalltown Police Department, said.

"We certainly aren't blaming anyone." he said. "It's a tragedy. We are still determining how it happened at this point."

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Rescue teams searched the river for about 2.5 hours before recovering the three children's bodies just after 9 p.m..

Getting boats in the water was problematic, Tupper said. Police called in dive teams and a helicopter to fly over the area. The helicopter pilot was unable to spot the bodies from the air, and police located them before divers could arrive on scene.

Tupper said it appears that the children drowned, but a medical examiner conducted autopsies Thursday. Complete results will not be available for a couple weeks. In the meantime, police are continuing to investigate the children's cause of death.

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The bodies of three Marshalltown children were recovered from this portion of the Iowa River — near Riverview Park — in Marshalltown Wednesday night. The drownings of the three children make a total of four on the Iowa River in the past two weeks. 10-year-old Andres Favela drowned just one mile up river June 18.

John Steinbach, a conservation officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the river can be dangerous despite water levels being lower than normal.

"One minute you can be ankle deep and the next, the water is 12, 15-feet deep," he said. "It's not a controlled environment. There are many hazards below that river that cannot be seen."

Strong currents can make the river treacherous for child and adult alike, he said. However, children are more likely to fall victim because they likely don't understand how to use the current to their advantage and are not as physically strong as adults.

Swimmers and parents of swimmers need to be aware that the river can be dangerous for anyone, he said. Taking proper safety precautions is essential.

"The cheapest insurance police when you are in the water is a life jacket," Steinbach said.

Marty Mitchell, funeral director at Mitchell Family Funeral Home, said it is no time to point fingers. He said he has spoken to the family and it is time to support the family during this tough time.

It is part of Burmese culture to cool off in natural bodies of water when it is hot, Mitchell said.

"The family needs to be loved and supported, not challenged," he said.

As is also congruent with Burmese culture, Mitchell said his funeral home will host a grave-side service for the children 2 p.m. Sunday at the Center School Cemetery just southwest of Marshalltown.

He said several other Burmese are buried there.

Mitchell said he would count himself blessed if he never had to witness the death of another child.

"Tears come in English as they do in Spanish as they do in every language," he said. "Hurt is hurt in every language."

Several families have already dropped off or donated money for tickets to the Marshalltown Family Aquatic Center to the Mitchell Family Funeral Home, he said. The tickets are for those who cannot afford safe, water-based activities for their children.

Marshall County Search and Rescue Team, Marshall County Emergency Management, Grundy County Sheriff's Office, Mercy One-Air Wing, Iowa DNR, State Center Police Department, Marshalltown Area Paramedic Service, K-9 Authority Incorporated, Marshall County Medical Examiner's Office and the Marshall County Sheriff's Office assisted the Marshalltown Fire and Police Departments with the search.



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