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Thousands Gather To Remember 4 Drowning Victims

About 2,000 people gather for a prayer vigil after three children and an adult from Chicago drown Wednesday night at the Fort Worth Water Gardens.
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About 2,000 people gathered Thursday morning for a prayer vigil after three children and an adult from Chicago drowned Wednesday night at the Fort Worth Water Gardens.

The prayer vigil began at 9 a.m. at the pavilion on the south end of the Fort Worth Convention Center.

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"Today our city extends our wings to enfold and comfort you," Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief told the crowd, many of whom held hands and wiped away tears. "We are very, very sorry about your loss."

Friends and conventioneers are dealing with the tragedy amid a time of spiritual upliftment during the National Baptist Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress convention.

The Rev. Gerald M. Dew, pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, where all victims were members, told his teary-eyed flock God was still in charge after the drownings.

"In spite of the tragic events of yesterday, God is still on the throne," he said.

Thursday afternoon, the church steps on Chicago's South Side had been piled with flowers and teddy bears in a memorial to the victims, identified as Myron Dukes, 39; his daughter Lauren Dukes, 8; his son Christopher Dukes, 13; and Juantrice Deadmon, 11, who was not related to the other three. The children reportedly went to the gardens, which are not meant for swimming, to play because the hotel pool was closed. Dew said the children's mother did not go.

Apparently, Lauren Dukes jumped or slipped into the water. The other girl fell in when she tried to reach in and help her. Her brother then jumped in to try to save them.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Myron Dukes was nearby when the children entered the water.

"When they went down, I mean, it was like the water was just coming off the waterfalls, going down and down, and I had to tell my daughter to get out because there wasn't [anything] else we could do," witness Stephanie Johnson said.

Suction Complicates Rescues

A pump at the bottom of the pool that pulls water to a waterfall apparently created a suction that made rescues difficult, Fire Department spokesman Lt. Kent Worley said. Police officer Tony Moldanado, one of the first rescuers at the scene, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that when he jumped in the suction "literally sucked the socks off my feet."

The pool where the four drowned is called the Active Pool. Water comes down several irregularly spaced steps, creating waterfalls that empty into the pool. The water there is 9 feet deep and recirculated through a drain at the bottom of the pool.

Officials did not know whether the suction was created by the drain or the water coming down, which was quickly shut off after authorities were called.

Christian Tillis, 14, was standing at the top of the fountain area with his brother and friend when they saw the girls go into the water.

"I dived in after them. I felt a little-bitty hand, but it slipped out," Tillis said. "And then I had to get out because I couldn't breathe."

Paramedics frantically tried to revive them, but all four died at hospitals.

Dukes was a caring family man who was active in church and had patents on several inventions, Dew said. The children were bright, energetic and loved church activities, especially the junior drill team, relatives said.

Juantrice, who turned 11 last week, made straight As in school, played the clarinet and never misbehaved, relatives said. She enjoyed playing with Lauren, who really looked up to her.

"When you saw one, you saw the other," said Cleo Deadmon, Juantrice's grandmother.

At her Richton Park school, Juantrice also taught friends to double-dutch jump rope and was good at math.

"You never want to let one day go by without telling your child that you love them," her father, Fruenz Deadmon, told the Chicago Sun-Times in Friday's editions. "All I got to do was wave goodbye to her. And I haven't talked to her since Sunday. Now I'll never talk to her again. What an awful way to start Father's Day."

Residents: People Wade In Pools On Hot Days

Though the Water Gardens are not meant for swimming, residents say people often wade in the pools on hot days.

Each minute, 19,000 gallons of water courses through the 5.4-acre park, which opened in 1974, according to the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Center. At one pool, visitors stand 38 feet below street level as 1,000 gallons of water cascades down a 710-foot wall.

Before Wednesday, the park's most serious accident was in 1991, when an 80-foot light pole fell and killed two people. The city has paid thousands of dollars in claims to visitors injured in falls, the Star-Telegram reported.

Dot Kent, a spokeswoman for the city of Fort Worth, said "no swimming" signs are posted in the park.

Some park visitors, though, told NBC 5 they did not see the signs. The Star-Telegram reported that Fort Worth police asked that the signs be changed out for more prominant warnings, but were told larger signs would compromise the aesthetics of the park.

Jesse Spann, one of the church's deacons, said there are no barriers around the steps that lead down to the swirling pool.

"As a child, when you see a waterfall, you think you can go play and swim there," he said.

Worley said the Water Gardens would remain closed until police finish their investigation.

Prayer Vigil To Replace Musicfest

This weekend's annual Musicfest at the Water Gardens is canceled.

The Fort Worth Juneteenth Committee will instead hold a prayer vigil after the Juneteenth parade.

It will be held at the General Worth Square in front of the Fort Worth Convention Center.

The parade starts at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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