SHREVEPORT, La. — DeKendrix Warner, 15, was splashing around in the waist-high waters of the Red River with his cousins and friends, trying to escape the heat, when he stepped off a slippery ledge

– and was plunged into water 25 feet deep.

In all, six teenagers tried to save DeKendrix – and each other – but none of them could swim. Their relatives, who can’t swim either, looked on helplessly as the teens screamed out for help. Six vanished and drowned Monday; DeKendrix was rescued by a bystander.

“It’s hard when you can’t save your kids,” said Maude Warner, whose daughter Takeitha, 13, and sons JaMarcus, 14, and JaTavious, 17, were among those who drowned.

The other victims were brothers Litrelle, 18, LaDairus, 17, and Latevin Stewart, 15.

The area where the drownings occurred is near a public park, but it’s not a designated recreational or swimming area and there are no lifeguards on duty.

Only one life jacket was nearby and it was thrown to the victims, but none of them could reach it.

The tragedy highlights an unsettling statistic among blacks like the teens who died: 69 percent of black children have little or no swimming ability, compared to 41.8 percent of white children, according to a study released last spring by the governing body USA Swimming.

For decades, segregation limited the access of blacks to pools, and poor and working-class children still have limited access to pools or instruction.