Posted: Aug 1, 2011 4:53 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
Updated: Aug 1, 2011 4:53 AM
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - A year after three of his cousins and three of his friends drowned in the Red River trying to save him, 16-year-old DeKendrix Warner wishes he'd never called for help.
Warner was splashing in shallow water near a sandbar at Charles and Marie Hamel Memorial Park, then stepped off a ledge on Aug. 2, 2010.
Six teens went to rescue him. One by one, they fell into the 25-foot drop-off. None could swim. None wore a life vest.
"I just want to tell them that I'm sorry," Warner told The Times, his voice cracking, as he sat outside his Shreveport home. "I'm so sorry. I should have never gone out there."
A bystander rescued him but couldn't save the others.
For Warner, a sophomore at Woodlawn Leadership Academy, it's been tough. He has blamed himself for the deaths. Counseling helps some, he said, but there are constant reminders.
"Every day when I look at their moms, I think about them," he said. "I walk through the living room and see their pictures, and I think about them. I miss them a lot."
Family and friends plan a memorial Tuesday for brothers Litrelle Stewart, 18, LaTevin Stewart, 15, and LeDarius Stewart, 17, and Warner's cousins, siblings Takeitha Warner, 13, JaMarcus Warner, 14 and JaTavious Warner, 17.
Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones came to Shreveport shortly after their deaths to promote `Make a Splash,' a water safety program for children. The Community Foundation partnered with the city of Shreveport to offer free swim lessons to underprivileged children.
The Stewart-Warner Swim Project and raised more than $36,000 to teach more than 1,000 participants. Rock Solid, the company that runs Shreveport's pools, was awarded the grant.
"Obviously, I think those drowning affected all of us," said Shelly McMillan, CEO of Rock Solid Athletic Club. "We saw these as senseless deaths, and because of our impact on the community, running the city pools, we felt we were in a position to really make a difference as far as swimming goes.
The two-week sessions began June 6, and 300 to 400 people remain on a waiting list. Rock Solid also provided private lessons for the parents of the Warner victims and their younger brother, McMillan said.
"It was an extremely rewarding program," McMillan said. "Giving kids tools that can save lives later on."
Shreveport Fire Department's Dive Team gave emergency water rescue demonstrations and life-saving advice to hundreds of people at city swimming pools, to show how someone who cannot swim can help save someone from drowning.
Knowing how to swim, using life jackets and swimming in a designated area are a must when cooling off in a river, lake or other water recreation area.
Warner says he doesn't plan to learn how to swim.
"There's no need to learn to swim," Warner said. "I will never, ever get in water like that again. And I wish I would have never got in then.
"I just wish I could turn back the hands of time."