PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Sunday's drowning in Riviera Beach now marks the 88th child to have drowned across the state of Florida in 2022, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
DCF said at least nine of those children were diagnosed with autism.
Riviera Beach police said the child who drowned is 10-year-old Tahfin Chowdhury. He went missing from his home Sunday, and was later found in a body of water in the Turtle Cay gated community.
Police, a dive team and a Palm Beach Sheriff's Office helicopter assisted with the search.
The news of Chowdhury's death felt like a knife to the chest for Palm Beach County mother Tara Boyd.
“I looked at my phone and I saw [the news], and it took me from up here to down here," said Boyd, gesturing to the floor.
Boyd is a parent of two children with autism, and has feared that exact scenario.
“I knew that they were curious about water," she said.
According to the National Autism Association, it's a common tendency in children with autism. The association said 50% of children with autism tend to wander, and nearly all of them gravitate towards water.
"I was terrified to let them in the water, because they didn’t know how to swim," said Boyd.
That's when Boyd found Keri Morrison, who started up a nonprofit in Palm Beach Gardens called the Live Like Jake Foundation.
"We created Live Like Jake after losing Jake in a drowning accident," said Morrison.
He said in 2013, Jake wandered off while she and her family were visiting the boy's grandparents, and fell into the intracoastal. By the time they found him, it was too late.
"When you lose a child, your heart is shattered into a million pieces," said Morrison. "You don’t know how to get through the next day."
Morrison said the pain she felt then resurfaced with the news of yet another child drowning.
"In two days, it will be nine years since we lost Jake. Every time I hear about a new drowning or see a now drowning, it really affects me, because it is so preventable," Morrison said. "What happened to Jake that night was preventable. It's what really drives me every day to raise awareness."
That's exactly what Morrison set out to do. She now provides scholarships for families who can't afford lessons on their own, and paid lessons for those who can. Many of the children she serves have autism.
"You want them to learn how to save themselves in an aquatic emergency," Morrison said.
The National Autism Association said 91% of deaths in children with autism under 15 are due to drownings. According to the Autism Society of Florida, the state leads the way in child drownings resulting in death.
"It's obviously the number one cause. Whether they are 10, 17, 2 years old," said Morrison. "They're drawn to the water, so they need to know what to do if they are in a water emergency."
Boyd's children are two of the many children who have since received lessons through scholarships. Altogether, Live Like Jake has helped at least 600 children learn life-saving skills.
"By the time I finished, I had two children I knew are safe in and around water," said Boyd.
Boyd now volunteers at Live Like Jake to repay the favor. She hopes others will hear her story, and feel inspired to enroll their own children.
"I don't want you to be a parent of a child that, unfortunately, is now gone," she said.
Boyd said her heart breaks for the family in Riviera Beach, knowing they are living out her worst nightmare.
"My heart goes out to that family," said Boyd. "I hope we can prevent the next one."
Live Like Jake teaches Infant Swimming Resources, or Self Rescue. It teaches children to not just swim, but float on their backs if they are in a water emergency where they can't just swim to the edge of a pool and climb out.
"My son fell into the Intracoastal," said Morrison, "there are no ladders or stairs there."
If you are a family interested in signing up for lessons through Live Like Jake, you may be able to qualify for free.
Live Like Jake offers free lessons to any family members affected by a water drowning or a near water drowning.
You can also apply for free lessons if you have:
- 1-2 children and make under $60,000 annually
- 3-4 children and make under $70,000 annually
- 5 or more children and make under $80,000 annually
In addition to swimming lessons, you can also safeguard your home by installing a pool fence, learning CPR, keeping a close eye on children, and checking door locks, especially if you are at a home you don't live at.
Morrison said many drownings, including her own son's, happen at grandparent's houses, Air BnBs, and other places typical of a visit.
Data fromDCF reflects the same thing.
To learn more about how you can protect your child with autism, click here.
To learn more about Live Like Jake, or to get in touch with the organization, click here.