In a flash, the joy of a school trip to the beach turned to panic and ultimately sadness for sixth graders from a Harlem school.
Their classmate, 12-year-old Nicole Suriel, drowned in the waters of the Atlantic ocean, off Long Beach.
Suriel was among more than 20 students from the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering who traveled to Long Beach.
Her identity has been confirmed in a memo from the Harlem school memo to parents. The memo from the school’s principal called the drowning a ” tragic event.”
“All the kids were hysterical, screaming on the floor, crying that their friend was gone,” said witness Cassie Perez.
The other students watched in horror as rescuers searched frantically for Suriel after she was reported missing. The search lasted for more than an hour before Suriel’s body was pulled from the surf. She was taken to Long Beach Memorial hospital, but was eventually pronounced dead.
“She could have been caught in a rip current,” said Long Beach fire chief Scott Kemins. “But the bottom line is, she should not have been in that water.”
That’s because there were no lifeguards on duty in Long Beach. They don’t begin working seven days a week at the city’s beaches until next week. Signs indicating that fact are on display around the beach.
A teacher and two interns were with the group of students at the beach; but, it’s unclear why they let the sixth graders into the water.
According to the DOE there were 24 6th graders on the trip and 3 supervisers: two eachers and on undergraduate intern teacher.
“I saw her head moving and I said to my friend, like why is there a kid out there by herself? said beachgoer Brittany Polini, who claims to have seen Suriel, unattended, far off shore, before the drowning.
Questions, tears and anger were on display outside the Harlem school after the drowning. Grief counselors were called in and all after school activities were can celled.
A member of the school’s Parents’ Association wondered why the school’s principal authorized a class trip to a beach without lifeguards.
“He is to blame for this child’s death. No one else,” said parent David Suker of school principal, Dr. Jose Gabriel Maldonado-Rivera.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said the incident is under investigation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Suriel family and the entire school community at this sad and tragic time,” Klein said in a statement. “Obviously, we are working diligently to determine exactly what happened and to provide immediate support to the students and staff of the school.”
For out of city middle school trips the rule is to have 2 staff members, one who must be teacher and one adult for 30 kids.