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Blind Girl, 7, Drowns in Minnesota Lake

July 22, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ In a lake with two lifeguards on duty, a 7-year-old blind girl drowned after asking a blind camp counselor who accompanied her into the water if she could head back to shore.

Brianna Nelson had tired of playing Marco Polo in Lake Calhoun on Friday and asked one of the three blind counselors if she could head back. That was the last anyone heard from Brianna, of Grant, Mich., who was some 60 feet from shore at the time.

The organization that sponsored the swimming trip and Brianna’s father said blindness had nothing to do with her death.

``When something like this happens, you do think about the fact they were blind and wonder,″ said Joyce Scanlan, executive director of Blind Inc., who is blind. ``But I believe that blindness _ either in the child or the counselors _ had nothing to do with this. There are many sighted children who also drown.″

She said that the blind counselors have techniques for keeping tabs on the children, such as listening, touching and staying close to them.

``There’s no blame here _ it was just her time to go,″ said Brianna’s father, Carl Nelson. ``We knew going in that the counselors were blind.″

The children and counselors were swimming in an enclosed area in front of the lifeguard stand.

Two guards were working, which is the normal staffing level for a beach of that size, said Minneapolis Parks Police Chief Brad Johnson. There were 25 to 30 people in the water.

The lifeguards ``got on it right away,″ Johnson said. ``They blew the whistle ... got everybody out of the water,″ then formed a human chain with counselors.

Brianna was one of eight students attending a monthlong camp to help blind children learn basic skills. The program is operated by Blind Inc., a training program affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind, and is aimed at helping blind children become self-sufficient and employed adults.

Brianna had retinopathy of prematurity, a blinding disease that affects premature babies, Scanlan said.

She had been to many other camps, and was very excited to go to Minneapolis for the month, her father said. She was a good swimmer, often swimming with her family in Lake Michigan, he said.

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