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Three Little Boys...

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

Frantic Anoka County search ends in tragedy
Jim Adams and Peg Meier
Star Tribune

Published Nov. 21, 2002 BOYS21

When Marie Ostendorf noticed that her three younger sons were missing, she searched around her home in rural Anoka County and then checked with Jim Day across 199th Avenue and other neighbors.

The day had grown dark when she returned to Day's home, and she was worried, Day said. He and his teenage sons joined the hunt, checking busy Hwy. 47 and in the forts and ponds in neighbors' yards.

Then Ostendorf drove her car behind her home Tuesday evening, shone the headlights on the pond covered in thin ice and spotted her 2-year-old son, Mark.

She pulled him from the water and began CPR before rescue workers arrived and found 6-year-old Cody and 5-year-old Shawn in the water. The older boys died, but Mark remained in critical condition this morning at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.

Two brothers died after falling through thin ice.

Richard Sennott
Star Tribune

The deaths of Shawn and Cody were caused by hypothermia and drowning, the Hennepin County medical examiner's office said today.

The Rev. Michael Kennedy of St. Patrick's Catholic Church was with the Ostendorfs on Tuesday night. "It is beyond anybody's worst nightmare," he said Wednesday.

So many Minnesota children drown -- in lakes, rivers, ponds, swimming pools and even bathtubs and buckets -- that the Department of Natural Resources has a motto:

If your child is near the water, you need to be with your child.

Since 1997, 50 children under age 13 (including the Ostendorf boys) have drowned in Minnesota in accidents that didn't involve boats.

Between 1997 and this past spring, eight children younger than 13 died in ice-related incidents.

Marie Ostendorf and her husband, Ron, weren't ready to talk, a relative said Wednesday. While the couple were tending to the three boys Tuesday night, their oldest son, 8-year-old Cole, stayed with Mary Green, who lives on a farm across Hwy. 47 from the Ostendorfs.

She said that her family was crushed by the tragedy and had prayed the rosary Tuesday night for their neighbors. Cody had attended kindergarten with her son, and one of her daughters has baby-sat with the boys.

"When they come here, they go in four different directions," she said.

On Tuesday evening, Marie Ostendorf called authorities for help about 5:40 p.m., which a neighbor said was after she found Mark. St. Francis police and Anoka County sheriff's deputies began arriving within 10 minutes.

A St. Francis officer found one of the boys, Sheriff's Capt. Bob Aldrich said. He said a sheriff's diver who is about 6 feet tall waded into the pond up to his face before he felt the last boy with his foot and pulled him out.

The boys were taken to hospitals in Coon Rapids and Robbinsdale. Mark remained at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, a spokeswoman said.

Aldrich said investigators have determined that the deaths were accidental. The Hennepin County medical examiner's office has yet to release an official cause of death.

Aldrich said investigators determined that Marie Ostendorf knew her boys were outside and had been checking on them periodically before she realized they were missing.

Family dug out pond

Ron Ostendorf was at one of his two jobs Tuesday night. Marie Ostendorf also works but was often home with the boys. "They are good, hard-working people," Day said.

The Ostendorfs dug out the pond on their property in Burns Township. Many homes in the area have such ponds because the water table is high and the ponds allow water to pool in one spot and reduce the amount of marshy land, Day said.

Town zoning doesn't require fences around ponds, said Barry Olson, the building official for Burns Township. He said he knows of no place where fences are mandated.

Minnesota DNR records show that an average of seven ice fatalities have occurred in the winters from 1976 through spring 2002. In the 30 ice fatalities since 1997, 14 people died in snowmobile or ATV accidents, eight in other motor vehicle accidents and eight on foot.

People can survive about four to five minutes under water without oxygen before brain damage occurs, said Dr. Andrew Kiragu, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Sometimes younger children recover better than adults from near-drowning episodes, he said.

The surviving boy's chances depend on many factors, including how long he was under water, how cold it was and if he had any other injuries, Kiragu said. Extended hypothermia from being in cold water could also injure internal organs, he said.

A few cases have been reported of children who survived after being submerged 10 to 20 minutes or even longer in ice-cold water, Kiragu said. Doctors have speculated that this was partly because humans may have a diving reflex similar to that of diving mammals, such as seals. The reflex reduces blood flow to the skin, muscles and extremities in order to conserve oxygen for the heart, lung and brain to protect these vital organs, he said.

Kiragu stressed that the best medicine is prevention. He suggested showing children where they can and cannot go, supervising those too young to know the difference, and fencing off ponds and pools.

Fascination with ice

Kim Elverum, the DNR's boat and water safety coordinator, said he didn't know the details of Tuesday's accident, but he does know that water and ice fascinate children who can dart away from those supervising them. Children ages 2 to 8 are especially prone to get into trouble in the water, he said. They're too young to know the dangers.

For water accidents, November historically is the fourth worst month, after July, June and August, in water fatalities. Children especially seem to think, "Oh, great, ice. I can walk on ice." Adults, too, are overconfident as ice forms in November and early December.

Recalling the boys

The Ostendorf boys often waved as Day drove by their driveway, where they rode bikes or trikes, several of which sat in the yard Wednesday.

"Shawn always had a frog or grasshopper or bug. They were typical boys," Day said.

Shawn was in kindergarten and Cody in first grade at St. Francis Elementary School, where a social worker was available to talk with students and staff members about the tragedy. Principal Kathy Kohnen said that Cole, a third-grader, often watched out for Shawn and Cody.

"He wanted to make sure his brother got the same teacher he did," Kohnen said.

Kennedy said the family is active in parish life. The funeral for Cody and Shawn will probably be held Saturday, he said.

On Wednesday, Day said he and his sons had searched the neighborhood for about 15 minutes before the emergency workers arrived.

"I wish we went directly to the pond," he said.

A memorial fund was established for the family in the boys' names at Sterling State Bank, 3550 River Rapids Dr. NW., Coon Rapids, MN 55488, which can be reached by telephone at 763-422-8600.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.-- Jim Adams is at jadams@startribune.com.-- Peg Meier is at pmeier@startribune.com.

© Copyright 2002 Star Tribune. All rights reserved. Related content
post #2 of 4
This is going to be a cold and empty Christmas for this family
post #3 of 4
Thread Starter 
DragenLady, I agree this is so sad.

I heard a news update while I was at work today. As of 12 noon CST, the little two-year-old was still alive but his condition was extremely critical. For this family's sake, I hope something will happen either way very soon.

The reason I am sharing this story here is because this is one of those terrible things that could happen to anyone at any time...
post #4 of 4
Some things are just too hard to take, and the loss of a child is one of them. God bless the whole family and give them comfort.
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