Friends and family of the three children who drowned in the Iowa River on the Fourth of July turned out Thursday evening for a community gathering.
Fisher Community Center's auditorium, 709 S. Center St., played host to those in need of comfort - in need of a way to process the terrible tragedy. Rogers Elementary, Anson Elementary and Area Education Agency 267 crisis teams were on hand to provide support for those affected by the deaths of Leh Meh, 9, brother Sae Reh, 7, and their 7-year-old cousin Thay Mo.
The gathering is similar to the one held for 10-year-old Andres Favela June 25, who also drowned in the Iowa River. Counselors and teachers led children in the favorite activities of the deceased - games such as Twister, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders and Sorry.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Those who attended the community gathering at Fisher Center Community Center Thursday evening signed books bearing the images of the three children, shown here.
Mark Church, a counselor at Rogers Elementary, said children tend to share more when they play games.
"You just try to get into their world," he said.
Visitors signed books bearing images of the children. Inside, comments expressed condolences, saying that the families were in the writers' prayers and that they will miss the trio of youngsters.
Chelsea Kasal, a second-grade teacher at Rogers Elementary, was Thay Mo's teacher the past school year.
Kasal said she is going to miss Thay Mo's little voice repeating everything she said in class.
One of Thay Mo's former classmates approached Kasal and asked why Thay Mo died. Kasal said she put it in kids' terms,
"I told her the water was too strong," she said. "It's too strong for adults sometimes."
Teachers will address many questions such as this at the beginning of the next school year, Kasal said.
Questions still linger regarding whether a language or cultural divide prevented the families from knowing about Favela's drowning not three weeks earlier.
But Mark Bethel, who is the assistant medical examiner and funeral director at Mitchell Funeral Home and provided both services to the families of the children who drowned on the Fourth of July, said being near water is just part of Burmese culture.
He said the deaths have affected many.
"I wish I could take it away for them, but I can't," Bethel said in an interview before the community gathering.
His funeral home also provided funeral services for Favela's family.
Bethel has been an assistant medical examiner for 12 years. In that time, he said he has learned something about drownings in the Iowa River: they require several things to go wrong in succession. No single thing leads to a drowning.
"Things happen fast," he said.