Even though it recommended improved marking of deep areas and better testing of young swimmers, an independent review of Morses Pond in Wellesley suggests that the drowning of a 10-year-old New Hampshire boy at the popular town beach last summer probably could not have been prevented by the town.
“In sum, Morses Pond is a well-run waterfront facility,” said the report, compiled by DeRosa Aquatic Consulting and recently posted on the town’s website. “Like many recreational activities, swimming involves an element of risk that can never be fully eliminated.”
The investigation was ordered after Alexander Glennon, of Manchester, N.H., was found dead June 1 in a designated swimming area of Morses Pond. Glennon’s father told authorities at the beach that his son knew how to swim.
The consultants said the town followed their recommendations before reopening the pond after the drowning.
Police Chief Terrence Cunningham agreed with the report’s assessment.
“It’s just one of those terrible tragedies,” he said Monday. “There’s always inherent danger when in an outdoor environment like that. It’s virtually impossible to mitigate every single issue. You just can’t do it.”
The chief previously said Morses can get up to 20 feet deep, but said the boy, who was about 4 feet tall, was found around a 5-foot depth where the pond slopes. Glennon had last been seen in ankle-deep water, Cunningham said.
The chief previously told the Globe that according to an investigation by his department into the boy’s death, “it looks like the cause was accidental by drowning.”
“There is just no way for us to know exactly what happened,” Cunningham said this week. “We have no idea if he got in over his head, or if he had a cramp, or if he became disoriented.”
However, he said, the pond’s operations stood up to scrutiny by both the consultant and Glennon’s family. He said he has had conversations with the family since the drowning.
“If I thought something could have been done dramatically different, I would have been the first one to say so, but from my standpoint I think they did a great job,” Cunningham said. “People can point blame all they want in any direction, but the family told us they thought everyone there did everything they could.”
John Glennon, Alexander’s grandfather, contacted by phone this week, said he was aware of the review.
“I know they did the report, and whatever they decide, they decide,” he said. “I have nothing else to say about it.”
The consultants said the pond’s operators should have better marked the steep drop-off where the shallow swimming water becomes suddenly deep. They recommended placing a new contrasting-color buoy line where the change occurs, as well as installing signs noting the measured depths. The changes were made before the beach was reopened about three weeks after the drowning.
Consultants also recommended changing the pond’s swim test to assess swimmers based on height, not age, by requiring anyone under 4 feet tall to pass a deep-water swimming test before they use the water slide or swim in the deep end.
“Town administrators took swift action to address the issues identified for immediate action, including the addition of a new buoyed rope to mark the drop-off as well as new signs to provide notice to patrons of the drop-off and changes to the swim test,” the report states. “By addressing the areas noted for immediate action, the Town of Wellesley enhanced safety at Morses Pond prior to reopening the beach in late June 2013.”
DeRosa’s report also recommended that the pond’s lifeguards should be moved from the top of the water slide to its base so they could assist swimmers in trouble more quickly, and said that the town should install signs in the beach area telling parents to watch over their children.
After an audit in early August, consultants praised the town for adhering closely to the safety recommendations. They also recommended the town start a beach-safety team composed of public safety officials to meet year-round, and suggested lifeguards be given additional training before they are allowed to begin work.
“Through the continued involvement of multiple town agencies in lifeguard preservice training, awareness of waterfront safety should increase and communication and coordination among town agencies should improve,” the report said.
Alexander Glennon was at the crowded beach on a hot day with his father, his father’s fiancee, and some members of the fiancee’s family when he went missing, police have said.
Police said that just before 6 p.m. on June 1, a lifeguard approached a woman looking for the boy and learned that he was missing. The woman was not frantic, Cunningham previously said, and told the lifeguard that she did not think he was in the water.
Lifeguards began their search, activating their emergency action plan. In addition, 911 was called and more than 60 people were ordered out of the pond as lifeguards began searching in the water for the boy.
The lifeguards started searching in the shallow area and then used goggles and fins to look in deeper water, Cunningham previously said.
Cunningham added that the pond was fully staffed with eight lifeguards at the time, and they did “absolutely what they were trained to do.”