Death is so common in news stories that all too often, we don't really register it. That's particularly true of reporters, for whom heartbreaking stories about lives lost are part and parcel of their profession. But that changes when things get personal, as they did a few weeks ago for me following the delivery of an email from my daughter Ellie.
"I have some sad news," she wrote from New Zealand, where she's spending the year. "Yevaeh from my first year of teaching passed away. She drowned in a hotel pool."
Ellie added, "Thought I would let you know since I know you knew her too, and worked with her when you helped in my class."
Her full name was Yevaeh Patrick-Moon, and she was nine when she was found unresponsive in the pool at Colorado Springs's Hotel Elegante on December 16 of last year.
What happened to Yevaeh involves a potential crime. Last month, Lynthia Washington, the grandmother of two young girls who accompanied Yevaeh to the hotel, was arrested and subsequently charged with child abuse — negligently causing death. She was supposed to be supervising the children at the pool but was allegedly nowhere to be found when Yevaeh sank beneath the waters for the final time.
We're not naming the other kids to protect their privacy.
In the meantime, attorney Meredith Quinlivan has been retained by Yevaeh's family to further investigate the circumstances of her passing. The inquiry suggests the possibility of a lawsuit that could target the hotel over questions about the safety of the pool area. Kenneth Lyman, the attorney representing Hotel Elegante, has not responded to Westword's interview request at this writing.
These developments are certainly newsworthy. But what's just as important to me, as someone who did indeed know Yevaeh, is that as many people as possible get a sense of what a wonderful little human she was and how much everyone in her orbit will miss having her around and someday meeting the fascinating grownup she should have had the chance to become.
Before moving with her family to Colorado Springs, Yevaeh was a second-grader at Green Valley Ranch Elementary, a Denver Public Schools facility on the eastern edge of the city. Ellie, a graduate of CU Boulder, was hired as an instructor at the school after being accepted by the Teach for America program, and early on, I began volunteering in her classroom on a weekly basis.
Upon my arrival, Ellie would usually designate students with whom I'd work one-on-one, usually by reading with them on the carpeted hallway floor just beyond the classroom door. Yevaeh quickly became a regular not because she was struggling, but for reasons of motivation. I got the feeling she had too much going on in her head to stay on task all the time and simply needed some help focusing — and while I did my best to assist in that regard, I definitely benefited from the opportunity to spend time in her company.
Yevaeh was the sneaky kind of funny. She would tend to pause before making a comment, allowing time for her eyes to brighten, her brows to rise and the corners of her mouth to curl into a subtle smile before delivering an off-kilter observation in a voice that was lower and slower than the average second-grader's, but a lot more knowing.
This effect suggested a wisdom beyond her years, as well as a unique sense of humor that anyone could tell would ripen in the years to come. It's hard to imagine some kids as an adult, but not Yevaeh. She was clearly going to get more and more interesting with each passing year.
Unfortunately, she didn't have many more left. At the end of second grade, she relocated to the Springs, and a few months later, a fresh group of second-graders arrived in Ellie's classroom. I volunteered that year, too, and had a great time getting to know a whole new batch. But upon receiving the email and clicking on the link to a Fox31 report about Yevaeh's fatal accident, memories of her instantly came flooding back.
They did for Ellie, too, and one of her recollections was especially disturbing. As part of her duties, she took children in her class to swimming lessons — and she vividly recalled that at that time, Yevaeh couldn't swim at all. She was restricted to the shallowest part of the pool, where she could safely stand with her head well above the water and needed to be carefully supervised at all times.
Her swimming skill level at Green Valley Ranch resonates with attorney Quinlivan's summary of what took place on December 16.
"Yevaeh was supposed to go swimming with her friend, who was nine, and the youngest daughter, who was around five," Quinlivan says. "Lynthia picked them up at Yevaeh's house, and there was a kind of foreshadowing, if you can call it that. They were about to drive away, but before they could leave, Yevaeh realized that her mom had forgotten to pack her swimming suit — so they turned around and went back to get the suit."
This last anecdote haunts Yevaeh's mother, Quinlivan adds. "She keeps going back to, 'I forgot to pack her suit. It should have been a sign' — because if they'd gotten to the hotel and realized she didn't have a swimming suit, they might never have gone to the pool."
At the Hotel Elegante, Quinlivan continues, "the girls ended up at the pool alone, unsupervised. There's a video that shows Yevaeh's friend getting into the hot tub and Yevaeh getting into the swimming pool."
She notes that "there are three or four entrances into the pool area. Three are garden gates and one is a double glass door from the lobby. Two of the garden gate entrances were padlocked shut, but one was open. And the pool goes from three to nine feet. We're guessing what happened is Yevaeh got to the drop-off, and there was no rope or flotation device that separated the shallow end from the deep end. She went under and struggled for about three minutes."
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After ten minutes or so, Quinlivan estimates, "someone pulled her from the bottom of the pool. It wasn't an employee. Kaiser Permanente was having a Christmas party, and someone from Kaiser pulled her out and yelled for the hotel to call 911."
Washington "never showed up," Quinlivan goes on. "Yevaeh was taken to the hospital by herself and was unable to be resuscitated."
According to Quinlivan, "there was signage at the pool that said children shouldn't be left unattended. One spot says they have to be fourteen, one says sixteen or eighteen. But the front desk looks almost directly into the swimming pool area."
The next court appearance for Washington is a May 2 preliminary hearing, and no lawsuit has been filed at this writing. But no matter what happens next, the world will still have a hole in it shaped like Yevaeh Patrick-Moon.