Residents mourn drowning victims
DANVILLE — When Liz Benjamin thinks of Survella Chapman, the 11-year-old girl's smile immediately comes to mind.
"She had an infectious smile. She smiled all of the time, and it just lit up the room," recalled Benjamin, who had Survella in her fourth-grade class at East Park Elementary School last year.
On Thursday, area residents were mourning the deaths of Survella and 3-year-old Brysom Dillon of Danville, both of whom drowned in separate swimming pool incidents in Danville this week.
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Survella was pronounced dead at 2:10 p.m. Wednesday at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.
According to police, Survella and her father went to the Crosspoint at the Y pool, 201 N. Hazel St., on Tuesday to go swimming. They went to their respective locker rooms, and when the father went to the pool, his daughter was on the bottom.
When police arrived around 12:30 p.m., the fitness center supervisor was conducting CPR on the girl. She was taken to Presence United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville, then transferred to Carle.
Relatives told police the girl did not know how to swim.
Northrup said Brysom was pronounced dead at 5:13 p.m. Wednesday at Carle.
Danville fire and Medix personnel were called to a residence on Hampton Road around 7:30 p.m. Monday for a possible drowning.
Police said the toddler went outside after his evening meal. When another child asked his whereabouts, he was discovered in the family swimming pool.
The boy was taken to Presence United Samaritans before being airlifted to Carle.
Autopsies were being scheduled for both children, Northrup said. Inquests may be held at a later date.
The drownings were being investigated by Northrup's office and Danville police.
Although East Park is on summer break, Principal Chris Rice said a social worker would be available to talk to students and staff when school resumes in late August.
Benjamin said Survella moved to Danville from Chicago in the third grade. She and Rice said Survella loved school and made "tremendous" academic growth, particularly in reading, during the fourth grade.
"She was always taking home extra books — math books, reading books, anything she could get her hands on," Benjamin said. "She would work on it at home when she wasn't in school. She was very determined. She gave everything she did 110 percent. She always wanted to do her very best."
"She worked so hard last year and was really successful. And she took a lot of pride in her effort," Rice said of Survella, recalling she stopped by the office to show staff her progress reports and report card.
Rice and Benjamin also recalled Survella as a loving person.
"She would always say hi and give you a hug as she entered the building," Rice said.
"She always gave me hugs, and she would tell me every day how much she loved me," Benjamin added.
Benjamin said Survella was friendly toward her peers and, at times, acted as a peacemaker.
"If there was an issue, she would try to intervene and talk to them about the positives. She was one of a kind."
Rice said he heard about the Y incident on Tuesday. "I didn't hear a name, and you always wonder, 'Is it one of your students?'" he said, adding he was crushed when he learned it was.
Benjamin said she was heartbroken when she learned her former student was gone.
"When you take a student in your classroom, they become one of your own," she said, her voice choked with emotion.
Benjamin said she wants to do something special to remember Survella in the upcoming school year. She also is thinking about what teachers might be able to do to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.
"They have Splash in the second grade, and they think they can swim," Benjamin said, referring to a Danville Family YMCA program that teachers children basic swimming skills and water safety. "I really think we need to consider doing more to encourage water safet at the end of the school year ... to make sure they are safe."