My name is Carissa Jo and I was born on May 4, 2006 on an Air Force base in Colorado!. My daddy was a Military Policeman. May is national drowning and awareness month and who knew my birthday of May 4 would later have such irony. BTW, she was “Nana”, but I called her Nanni, so she changed her name for me. Nanni said I had such an angry sweet confused little expression when I was first born! She thought of my adorable little face looking so upset at the new change in my world and it made her giggle and cry all at the same time. She went outside to call my Papa to tell him I arrived and the first song she heard was was Daniel Powter ‐ Bad Day. Later that song and its meaning changed too. This is my story according to my Nannis heart.
My Nanni and Papa, who you are riding with today …called me Scooter. I got the name when I was a few months old at their house. I was getting so active Papa said to Nanni, “go to walmart and get her one of them things with wheels”. We got it home and put it together, when I got in it…My eyes got even bigger than normal , If you could believe that! I knew I had wheels and the world was mine to conquer now!!! My very first Rally! From there Papa said “ you like your little Scooter huh”. He got out the sharpie and put Scooter right on the back of my walker. Nanni said tell Papa thank you and I stood up and said for the first time “Papa” in a growly voice! That made my Papa almost cry. He said well yes, I am your papa. Who knew I was building muscles to become such a beautiful dancer!
My mom and dad had my sister Jasmine “Jazzy” in July when I was about 14 months old. My Nanni and Papa had a new baby, Mattie, that September, when I was about a year and half old. My little sister “ Jazzy “ and I would go to my Nanni and Papas house a lot! Because in my sweet little voice on the phone I would say “Nanni, can I come to your house tormorno” ( my way of saying tomorrow) so Nanni would come get us in Garden City which was halfway to Colorado where I lived. My mom would meet her there.. I was Aunt Matties first best friend. Me, Jazzy, and Mattie were so close. Nanni called us her little women. Nanni let us get our hands and even our feet into finger paints. We did a lot of crafts and played. She would read us bed time stories, one called Farm Kisses…It was my favorite because Nanni would make funny animal noises as she read it to us. That would make us all giggle. Then we would get tucked into the big princess canopy bed, where I learned to say my prayers. By the time I was three, I could say them. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. May the angels watch me through the night, and keep me in their blessed sight. Amen”……. But now my Nanni doesn’t pray anymore. When I moved to Maine with my mom…..That Christmas….I wished on a star for a go go walking dog. Guess what?? I got one from Nanni for Christmas! And Jazzy got one too! When we talked on the phone, I asked her how she knew my wish! She said that I wished so hard on that star that it fell and hit her in the head when she was outside in her yard weeding!!! She said when it hit the ground, she could see me wishing on it for that doggie. I giggled so hard, cause my star bonked my Nanni right in the head! Those were good times in the olden days when I was a real girl. Now I have my own star in the sky that my daddy got for me…all registered and official in the books.
August 28, 2015, their world changed when I was in a river in Maine with four adults and was lost in the river. Those adults took me and my sister down a 7 mile dirt road, then through slippery with pine needles trail in the woods, down a steep bank onto some huge rocks where the river was raging due to so much rain. The river was running so hard, the whitewater was tan. My Nanni thinks the men wanted to show off, cause they each took me and my sister on their backs, to show the two girls how they could swim across the river. I never came out until the next day when the Deemi divers recovered my body under water. The truth about my last moments will likely never be told. Nobody was held accountable for my death and I was only 9 years old. That makes it hard for my family.
My Nanni and Papa got the call in Kansas at about 10:45 PM. My Nanni was so struck with grief, she crawled around her backyard, screaming and mostly unable to form words. My Papa and her sister said she had screams and sounds like a wounded animal in so much pain and helpless… They said they never saw anyone with pain so indescribable in their lives. Nanni talked to rescuers and they said they had to stop looking for me. She cried and screamed, please don’t leave her out there! You will kill her!!!! She will not hold on through the night!!!!( they did not tell her that the search had changed from a rescue to a recovery). Nanni immediately got on a plane and said she would go in the river and get me herself. She could not get to Maine fast enough.
During a flight connection in Washington DC, Nanni found out from my grandma that they found me and I was not alive. A flight stewardess, found my Nanni collapsed in the bathroom, she said they could hear her screams outside. She put my Nanni on the plane and stayed with her the entire flight to Maine where a volunteer from Deemi met her. My Nanni says nobody should hold a child in a morgue….she says it changed who she is completely. My hair and swimsuit were still wet when she held me, my fingers and toes were wrinkled like they would get when I sat in the bath tub too long. My Nanni held me in her arms and just cried and cried and said over and over…No No No Scooter!!! She just kept rubbing my hair and kissing me over and over. Months and months, she could barely get out of bed to take my Aunt to the school bus. My family has decided that is not where my story will end. So this is where my life and my death will have meaning to them and they hope that no family ever feels this.
My Nanni, Papa and Aunt Mattie are here in Kansas and they dont want to see anymore news of a child drowning on the local tv as it makes us re live our horrible day. Nanni says she cannot ever escape the pain, all she can do is hope our tragedy does not become anyone elses story. I was always so lively as you can read about me on my web page. Just days before I was taken by the river, I had a beautiful dance solo in West Virginia.
I loved helping people and making them laugh. My Nanni is in touch with the Army Corps of Engineers here in Kansas and they said they would love to partner up with us to expand on their life. Contrary to belief, lifejackets are not a luxury for only some to afford…they are a necessity that everyone should have available to them…especially children in case adults forget to make good choices or get distracted by a phone or conversation with other grown ups at the water. When a child drowns, you won’t hear screams or see splashing, we don’t have the energy for that. We want to call out, but the water hurts our throat and our lungs. You will blink, we will be gone and your life will change more than you could ever imagine.
It’s a very sad story, but my Nanni feels that people must know the reality of this situation. If you came today and everyone pretended they were happy, my Nanni fears you would not understand the true impact that drowning can have. Like my Nanni says “there are no big erasers in this life” People need to think it all the way through before they make choices or don’t pay attention. This tragedy can never be undone. But with your help, maybe it wont be for nothing. Cause my Nanni says the only thing worse than my death is that it has no value to others and it would be all for nothing. My Nanni says please don’t feel sad for us, but never forget our story could become yours. The best way to remember and honor me is to swim safely and help us spread our message.
Please ride safe on my annual Birthday Rally the first Saturday in May every year! Do not be sad, celebrate your contribution to honor my life. PS…My Nanni loves humor and music! I will be happy watching everyone being positive. Nanni says us being happy or silly here, makes my light shine brighter. If there is anything you need or can think of to further our cause, please contact my Nanni! Those of you who support her and have helped her through missing me, thank you! There are not words to describe what it means to my Nanni.