POLAND — What should have been a fun, end-of-school-year field trip to the beach turned tragic Tuesday when a Lewiston Middle School student drowned at Range Pond State Park while playing football in the water with a group of friends.

One parent who received an automated call about the drowning from the school district said she heard that the boy “fell back with the ball and never resurfaced.”

The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the 13-year-old’s death. The seventh-grader was missing underwater for at least half an hour, Chief Deputy William Gagne said. Police did not release the teen’s name Tuesday.

School Superintendent Bill Webster said the district is grieving for the family that is “experiencing what no parent should experience, the loss of a child.”

“They obviously expect their child to be safe while in our care,” Webster said. “This is just a real tragic situation. We’re just overwhelmed with our grief about this tragedy.”

Indications are the boy might not have known how to swim.


“Too many Lewiston students don’t know how to swim,” Webster said.

Gagne said police received a 911 call at 11:47 a.m., reporting a student missing.

“Preliminary investigation indicates the boy was playing in the water with friends within the buoyed swimming area when he went under,” Gagne said.

Emergency crews from the sheriff’s office, Maine Warden Service, Poland Fire-Rescue, and the Auburn and Greene fire departments, both with boats, responded to the state park.

“While they were getting ready to launch the Auburn boat, the first boat, some of the firefighters went in the water,” Gagne said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “One had a wet suit, one had a bathing suit, they just immediately started looking for the child underwater with goggles.”

They found him at 12:17 p.m., still within the buoyed swim area, took him to shore and tried to resuscitate him.


An ambulance crew tried to revive the boy on the way to the hospital, but “he was declared dead at the hospital,” Webster said.

The student went underwater while playing football with friends, Webster said.

“My understanding is he did not hit his head,” Webster said. “One question I do not have a good answer for is what was the depth within that safety swimming area, because if it was 6 feet, that’s too much.”

Students playing with the boy noticed what happened right away.

“They all rushed in to get adults,” Webster said. “The adults went out there to do a search.”

The adults, including the lifeguard on duty, were not able to find the boy.


“The water was murky, so it took longer,” Webster said.

He said the 113 students on the seventh-grade outing were accompanied by 11 chaperones and one lifeguard.

Lewiston Middle School Principal Jana Mates and Assistant Principal Eric Anderson met with the boy’s parents at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

“We have spoken with the boy’s parents, but no words are sufficient,” Webster said.

At the middle school, Mates was not taking questions. She appeared to have been crying.

“Jana’s not in good shape,” Webster said.


Students on the field trip returned to the middle school, where they were met by a team of 20 to 25 counselors, Assistant Superintendent Shawn Chabot said. The counselors will be at the school for students and staff Wednesday “and as long as we need them,” Webster said.

Before there are more field trips, “we’re going to reflect on our procedures, and on the investigation, when it’s completed,” Webster said. “We’ll reach out further to the family and ask how we can best support them.”

At the direction of the Maine Warden Service, the beach area was closed during the rescue attempt, according to the state spokesman whose department oversees the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. It was reopened by midafternoon.

No other groups were scheduled to visit Tuesday, and no other schools had canceled upcoming field trips, he said.

Parents of Lewiston students received automated calls Tuesday notifying them of the boy’s death.

Jennifer Belanger, the parent of a Lewiston Middle School eighth-grader, was in her vehicle at the school’s parking lot Tuesday waiting for her daughter to return from her field trip. Eighth-graders took a different field trip than the seventh-graders.


Belanger said she had received one of the automated voice messages.

“We heard the boy was playing football in the water, he fell back with the ball and never resurfaced,” she said. “I literally sat in the car and cried for a half hour. It’s so shocking, so tragic. There’s been so many losses here. It’s awful.”

It is the third death of a Lewiston Middle School student in 18 months. In November 2017, Jayden Cho-Sargent, 13, died when he was struck by a vehicle as he was walking to school. In May 2017, Anie Graham, 13, took her life at her home.

Belanger said she feels for the parents who lost their son during the field trip.

“Getting that phone call – oh my God – you put yourself in that position,” she said. “I can’t imagine.”

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