Houston moms band together to prevent summer drownings

There have already been 24 drownings in Texas this year and this holiday weekend is just the start of swim and boat season. So two Houston moms have teamed up to keep that number from rising.

One of those moms was supposed to be watching her daughter graduate from high school this year. Instead this Memorial Day weekend marks the anniversary of when little Bria drowned in a swimming pool.

A dip in the pool can leave you with a day of fun memories or for too many parents a lifetime of tragic heartbreak.


"I was consumed with a lot of grief and a lot of guilt,” explains Jenny Bennett who’s 18-month-old son Jackson drowned in the family’s backyard pool.

"It’s hard. It’s really hard,” adds Deonesia Grays. Grays' daughter Bria Harvey was 4 years old when a Memorial Day pool party turned tragic.

"This year will make 15 years ago that I lost my daughter to a drowning in an apartment pool,” Grays explains.  

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"I never thought it could happen to me. I was very vigilant in watching Jackson,” says Bennett.

On that day in 2016 Jackson’s family talked about going swimming but didn’t.

"He snuck out through our dog door which was normally locked and made his way to the pool and he drowned. I had Jackson enrolled in swim lessons and he took them for several months but they were parent-child lessons that didn’t teach him any safety skills. They taught him water is fun,” says Bennett.

Bennett now advocates for swim lessons that teach self-rescue, recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The AAP now recommends children start swimming lessons at one year of age. They do recommend high-quality swim lessons that teach them how to float and how to exit the pool on their own," said Bennett.

”Of all the drowning deaths that we see half are under five,” explains Dr. Anastasia Gentles Medical Director for Night Light Pediatric Urgent Care.

"I think people look for children screaming or gasping for air but that’s not how it goes,” adds Grays.

"It’s not like it is in the movies. There’s no splashing. there’s no yelling for help,” says Bennett.

“And it doesn’t take that long. It can be really quick,” adds Dr. Gentles who says COVID-19 could also now play a role in child drownings.

"COVID can lead to some distractions if the parents are working from home and they’re not watching the kids. Don’t assume somebody else is watching the kids. Distraction plays such a huge role in a lot of drownings. What we hear from a lot when people who come into the emergency room is 'I just turned my back for a second' and that’s all it takes,” Dr. Gentles said.

“The best supervision is constant supervision,” adds Grays.

"Make sure you designate a water watcher, where parents work as a team, taking shifts watching the kids,” says Bennett.

"Every 15 minutes you switch,” adds Grays. 

“It’s important to make sure you know you are the water watcher so you can have a tag like this that says Water Watcher that you wear around your neck, around your wrist. It could be a hat, a sun hat. When you’re wearing the special hat you are in charge of watching the kids. Then you hand it off to the next person when it’s their turn,” says Bennett and there’s no socialization during the time you are designated Water Watcher.

“Put the phone away, anything else should be set aside if you’re at a pool with your kids. Nothing else should be more important than your eyes on your children,” Grays said.

The moms want to remind parents the importance of knowing CPR.

Both of their non-profits pay for free swim lessons. Find Bria’s House at www.briashouse.org and Swim Safe Forever at www.swimsafeforever.org.

“I want parents to know 69% of drownings happen when kids are not supposed to be near water. I never thought my son would drown while we were all supposed to be inside the house,” Bennett said.