A woman who was at Memorial Park when a young child tragically drowned on Sunday says she has witnessed other children get into difficulty at the park’s fountain and says it should no longer be in use.
The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she would not discuss Sunday’s tragedy out of respect for the family, but said she had seen “so many” near-misses in the fountain.
This included a past incident where a young boy went completely under that she had to jump in fully clothed to save him.
She said the fountain should no longer be in use due to safety risks and at the very least major safety improvements were needed.
The park was quiet on Sunday morning with only about three or four families there, she said.
“When I walked into the park in the morning, before it all happened, I looked at the fountain and thought, ‘gosh, it looks beautiful with the sun in the background’.
“It looked picturesque. I can imagine a child just going ‘Wow, I want to see that.’”
The woman said the fountain flooring was slippery and the depth was deceptive.
She said it was shallow, around ankle depth, on the sides but gets about 45cm deep in the middle which is not visible on the side.
She said it was enough for a child to quickly get into trouble as they ran and slipped into the water.
She was with a friend once and her little boy, who was four years old at the time, was in the water and he did not realise the change in the depth of the water.
“He went forward and went straight under and we couldn’t reach him so I jumped in fully clothed and grabbed him and pulled him out,” she recalled.
“At the time I thought, ‘gosh, that’s dangerous’ because he didn’t know it was deeper and he didn’t know it was slippery.”
“I should have said something when that little boy nearly drowned,” she said.
She said she has also jumped in after her children on other occasions and both she and the children had slipped over.
She said at the very least, the bottom needed to be gritted to make it less slippery. She said it would also be safer if the depth was levelled out.
“To be honest, I’d like for it to not operate ever again ... I’ve just seen so many times where kids have gone under.”
“All I want is to see the fountain is safer from now on if they’re going to continue using it ... I don’t think they should.”
A man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he saw a policeman guarding the entrance of the south side of the park on the morning of the incident.
From the northern entrance, he saw several police officers near the fountain, some holding a screen.
He said he tried to take a general photo of the scene but was told by an officer to “respect the personal moment” and move on, which he did.
”I think the park is well overdue for a revamp and much more attention needs to be paid to security.”
He said he occasionally walked his dog at the park and, just this year, had “seen several groups of very young children playing in the fountain with not an adult in sight”.
In his view, it had been “a tragedy waiting to happen”.
Earlier, police said in a statement that they responded after recieving a 9.50am report of a “drowning incident”.
“Emergency services responded and a child was located unresponsive,” the statement said.
“CPR was commenced, but sadly the child was unable to be revived.”
The statement said their thoughts were with the child’s family who had requested privacy.
The death would be referred to the coroner.
In a statement, Tauranga City Council said on Sunday it was aware of the “tragic accident” at Memorial Park.
“Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to the affected family,” the statement said.
“Fencing is in place at the Memorial Park fountain and will remain there until a blessing can be performed.”
Flowers have been placed on the fence next to a handwritten sign that reads, “Keep out”.
According to the Tauranga Historical Society, the Memorial Park fountain was unveiled on December 15, 1962 after volunteers gave up 5000 hours of their time over 27 weekends to build it.
The fountain received a $15,000 upgrade in 2009.