A Georgia swim instructor who was providing lessons in a backyard pool has been charged in connection with the drowning death of a child, authorities said.
Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jared Williams announced in a Dec. 30 press release that he instructed the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to issue an arrest warrant for Lexie Tenhuisen on a misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter.
“Izzy Scott is not a case. He is not a file on a desk, nor an article in the news. He is a child whose loss has broken the heart of our community. He is a symbol of how we should cherish our little ones and hold them tight,” Williams said.
The decision comes after “months of dedicated inquiry, investigation, and legal analysis,” he noted. Initially, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office declined to pursue criminal charges in the June 14, 2022, incident that left 4-year-old Israel “Izzy” Scott dead.
Israel was one of 10 children attending lessons being provided by Tenhuisen that day at a home in Hephzibah, according to a police report obtained by PEOPLE. She told police she allowed the kids to take a lap across the pool in the shallow end, even encouraging them to put their heads under water as much as they could, the document states.
Israel somehow ended up in the deep end just as the lesson was coming to a close, police said in the report. Tenhiusen and the other students had already gotten out of the pool by that point.
She told police she didn’t notice the boy was missing until her granddaughter, who was about to pull out the pool vacuum, noticed his limp body at the bottom of the pool.
Tenhuisen immediately jumped back into the pool to pull out the boy, police said in the document. Tenhuisen, along with a parent who also happened to be a registered nurse, administered CPR on the unconscious boy. Police said the parent was there waiting for her child’s lessons to begin.
Deputies and EMS workers soon arrived at the scene, and continued CPR until they established a pulse, but the boy wasn’t breathing on his own, authorities said. Israel was then taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he later died.
The boy’s mom, Dori Scott, was waiting outside in her vehicle when she was notified about what had happened. According to police, Tenhuisen did not allow parents in the swimming area during the lessons.
During the investigation, Tenhuisen said told police she didn’t know how the boy drowned, according to the report.
“Tenhuisen claimed that the only thing that she can think of in her mind is that while the kids were swimming, he got a little too close to the drop off, but she doesn’t remember that because there was just splashing, and she was watching them swim across,” the document states.
At the time, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office stated that the drowning was an accident, and the boy did not die as a result of a criminal offense.
But, after consulting with Israel’s family and the Burke County Solicitor General’s Office, D.A. Williams said he believes there needs to be accountability under the law.
“Why should a child so innocent, so precious, leave us so young? How could the law be so insufficient, placing no safeguards over the very people who are entrusted as lifeguards over our children,” he said in the press release.
Israel’s dad, Walter Scott, applauded the D.A.’s decision in a statement to WFXG.
“Any time you leave a child under the care of someone else and you don’t get that child back the same way that you sent them off, then that person ultimately is responsible, to whatever extent it may be,” he said.
In an effort to turn their tragedy into something positive, the Scott family has established a foundation in Israel’s name.
“Our goal is to help raise awareness and change laws that will protect children against instructor led drownings and more,” reads a GoFundMe launched by Naomi Jones. “We are determined that our sweet Izzy’sdeath will not be in vain.”
Tenhuisen, who lives in North Carolina, was expected to return to Georgia to face the charge. It is not immediately clear if she has retained an attorney who could speak on her behalf.