6-Year-Old New Jersey Boy Dies on First Day of Pricey Summer Camp He Was Eagerly Anticipating

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What began as a thrilling summer adventure for young Michael Stewart turned into a devastating loss. The unexpected incident has stirred grief and concern over the camp’s safety measures, prompting a thorough investigation.

A tragic incident unfolded at Liberty Lake Day Camp in Burlington County, New Jersey, on Monday, as six-year-old Michael Jeffrey Stewart drowned on the first day of summer camp. The heartbreaking news has left a family grieving and a community in shock.

Enjoli and Michael Stewart seen in a photo, dated June 26, 2024 | Source: Facebook/Kayla Ogletree

Michael’s mother, Enjoli Stewart, expressed her devastation and disappointment with the camp. “Liberty Lakes messed up. Big time. And now I don’t have a son anymore. That’s heartbreaking,” she told FOX 29.

Michael had been eagerly anticipating his first day at the camp, unaware that it would be the last day of his life. He was supposed to be at the camp for several weeks, for which Enjoli had spent thousands of dollars. She said:

“I did everything I could to make sure he got placed into the right school and the right camp.”

Michael Stewart smiling for pictures, dated June 25, 2024 | Source: Facebook/En Jolie

The incident occurred during the afternoon swim period for campers entering first and second grades.

According to camp officials, a lifeguard found Michael unresponsive in a shallow pool, pulled him out of the water, and administered CPR.

Despite efforts to revive him, Michael was pronounced dead at a local hospital later that day.

Michael’s entry into this world was a battle. Born as a micro-preemie at 23 weeks and weighing only one pound and three ounces, doctors did not expect him to survive.

However, with his mother’s relentless advocacy and faith, Michael defied the odds and grew into an intelligent, loving, and caring boy. His resilience and love of learning endeared him to everyone who knew him.

“Michael taught me how to fight and he taught me to fight without using my hands,” Enjoli said. “He taught me how to fight in a different manner.”

Michael was particularly fond of his younger sister Layla, and they played basketball and baseball together. Enjoli said her son was “extremely smart,” and had a large vocabulary.

Layla and Michael Stewart having a meal, dated June 26, 2024 | Source: Facebook/Kayla Ogletree

She described him as a kid who was interested in learning new things. Piano classes were the next thing on his summer to-do list.

Liberty Lake Day Camp, which opened for the summer on the day of the incident, expressed their grief in a statement.

Camp founder Andy Pritikin wrote, “All of us at Liberty Lake Day Camp are devastated and grieving over the tragic passing of our young camper. This senseless tragedy took a life that was far too young. There are no words that feel appropriate enough to capture our heartache and mourning.”

Michael’s mother was recounting her son’s excitement about the camp to a coworker when she received the tragic news.

“Someone asked me how my day was going and I told them about Michael and how Michael fell asleep the night before with his goggles on,” she said, “and he was excited about swimming and then my phone rang and I was told I needed to rush to Mount Holly-Virtua.”

The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and Mansfield Township police are investigating the incident. An autopsy was performed on Tuesday by the Burlington County medical examiner.

Michael Stewart and Layla enjoying food, dated June 26, 2024 | Source: Facebook/Kayla Ogletree

Enjoli has raised concerns about the camp’s safety protocols. She mentioned that Michael, a beginner swimmer, was supposed to participate in an instructional swim class that did not happen.

She also stated that Michael was assigned a one-on-one aide who was supposed to be with him around the clock, but that person is still employed at the camp.

Pritikin acknowledged that staffers usually do not conduct instructional swim classes on the first day of camp.

A person swimming | Source: Unsplash

The camp employs 25 lifeguards certified in first aid, CPR, and the use of AEDs, along with three registered nurses.

Despite these measures, Enjoli believes more should have been done to prevent her son’s death. She suggested that out of respect for her family, the camp should have closed the pool for 24 to 48 hours following the incident.

However, Pritikin stated that experts recommended continuing camp activities, emphasizing that the safety and well-being of campers and staff are their top priorities.

A group of children | Source: Unsplash

Michael was a rising first-grade student in the Lumberton School District. The district released a statement expressing their deepest condolences to the Stewart family.

In support of the family, a lemonade stand fundraiser will be held at the Old Fire House on Main Street in Lumberton on Saturday.

This event is particularly poignant, as Michael loved making lemonade and hosting lemonade stands in his neighborhood.

Additionally, a GoFundMe campaign has been set up to assist the Stewart family with funeral and memorial expenses. The campaign highlights Michael’s remarkable journey, from his premature birth to his joyous life.

The campaign organizer recalled the time Michael was born and the doctors told Enjoli the chances of his survival were very thin.

“Michael’s mother refused to believe that and with every ounce of her strength, advocacy, and faith, fought for his life,” the campaign states.

As a result, watching her little one grow into a wonderful little boy made Enjoli’s heart swell with joy. However, she had no idea her happiness was short-lived.

Michael is being remembered as a little boy with a heart of gold because of his kindness.

Michael Stewart and Layla, dated June 26, 2024 | Source: Facebook/Kayla Ogletree

Not only was he there for his mother and younger sister, but he also touched the lives of everyone around him.

“The family is in need of a lot of support at this time, as you can imagine,” the GoFundMe campaign states. “We are asking for your help in raising money for Michael Jeffrey and his family so that he can be given the funeral and memorial services that he deserves to honor his life. Anything you can give to the family is much appreciated.”

The online fundraising campaign aims to raise $40,000. Through over 670 donations, the campaign has collected more than $32,000. People continue to donate whatever they can to help support the grieving family.

After seeing the response to the fundraiser, the GoFundMe campaign organizer posted an update:

“The outpouring of support is amazing. We want to thank everyone so much for helping Enjoli, Layla, and the rest of the family during this devastating time.”

The update informed people about another GoFundMe campaign circulating online, created by the Lumberton Township.

The family feels grateful for the other fundraising campaign and asked people to donate to any of the online fundraisers.

In response to the tragedy, Liberty Lake Day Camp has made its clinical social worker available for counseling to those affected by the incident.

The camp has also pledged to continue its summer program with an increased focus on safety.

A child in a swimming pool | Source: Pexels

For anyone needing mental health support, Care Solace is available 24/7 to connect individuals to verified providers in the community. They can be reached at 888-515-0595.

As the investigation continues, the Stewart family is left to grieve the loss of their beloved Michael and seek answers about the circumstances surrounding his death.

“We’re going to do right by my son,” Enjoli said. “We’re going to make sure he has the fair arrangements. I think I’m going to take some time to process and heal.”

Michael’s memory will live on in the hearts of those who knew and loved him. The community’s outpouring of support through fundraisers and memorials underscores the impact Michael had during his short life.

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