BELMAR, NJ — On a day that should have been a time of celebration at Belmar Elementary School is a time of grief as the school mourns the drowning of one 13-year-old student and prays for the 12-year-old student who is clinging to life.

Today, June 16, marks the final day for Belmar Elementary School — less than 15 hours after the sixth-grader and the fifth-grader, who were cousins, were pulled from the surf off the Ninth Avenue beach along Ocean Avenue. While attempts to save the older girl were unsuccessful, the younger girl is in critical condition on life-support at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune.

What makes the situation even more heart-wrenching for those involved is that the tragic scene began to unfold at about 6:30 p.m. on June 15 — the same time 55 eighth-graders were participating in their graduation ceremony at Belmar Elementary School, unaware of the massive emergency scene just six blocks away.

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Grief counseling sessions are being held at Belmar Elementary School today, and there will be a prayer service at 1:30 p.m. at St. Rose Catholic Church, Belmar.

Meanwhile, Mayor Matthew Doherty said that lifeguards will be on duty along the Belmar beachfront today — a day earlier than they usually begin weekday hours after the last day of school. Daily lifeguard hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and between the 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the weekends, now through September 4.

The girls were not accompanied by an adult, and there were no lifeguards on duty at the time of the tragedy.

“We warn beachgoers constantly not to swim when there are no lifeguards, but it can be very tempting, unfortunately,” Doherty said. “There is a risk any time you go in the ocean.”

According to Doherty, the first girl was pulled out of the water face down by Belmar police officers at about 6:30 p.m. on June 15. Belmar First Aid immediately responded with one of its members performing CPR on the victim while on their way to the hospital. Shortly after that, a person on the beach alerted rescuers of the second girl, and then she was found and pulled out of the water face down as well. A report of a third swimmer turned out to be unfounded.

For nearly three hours until after 10 p.m., a full-block area of the beachfront along Ocean Avenue was closed off as police, fire and emergency responders, including a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and rescue boats from various agencies, converged to assist in the effort.

 

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