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Park pond where child drowned reopens after staff meets with trauma expert

The entrance to Buffalo River State Park is seen Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, east of Glyndon, Minn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

GLYNDON, MINN.—A popular swimming pond near here where a young girl died this week is preparing to reopen on Saturday, June 30.

The pond at Buffalo River State Park has been closed since 9-year-old Grace Bettie of Moorhead drowned late afternoon on Wednesday, June 27.

She was there as a participant of the Moorhead Police Summer Youth Program.

Melody Webb, assistant regional manager for the Division of Parks and Trails in Minnesota, oversees Buffalo River State Park.

She said the pond was closed Thursday for the safety and well being of park staff, including lifeguards and rangers.

"This was a very traumatic incident for them," Webb said.

A person who specializes in dealing with trauma came in to meet with those staff members. Webb wants to ensure they're in the right frame of mind to keep the public safe when the pond reopens.

"Unfortunately for us in the recreation field, these things happen and they leave a mark on a person through their entire career. We want to do all we can," she said.

The pond was also closed Friday, so workers could catch up on maintenance involving filtration and chemical treatments they missed the day before.

Webb also said the pond was adequately staffed the day of the drowning.

For most pool operators, obtaining lifeguards can be a challenge, she said, but Buffalo River hired as many lifeguards for this summer as they expected.

Meanwhile, the Clay County Sheriff's office continues to investigate the incident.

Chief Deputy Stephen Landsem said they have about 50 people to interview, including witnesses at the pond that day.

"Everybody's perception of what they believe happened might be different," he said.

Landsem said he also wanted to dispel a statement made by one witness in news stories about the drowning.

Jeanne Broadbent of Fargo told The Forum and WDAY TV that she heard a park ranger tell several chaperones of the youth group there were too many children in the water and that "all eyes were needed on deck."

Broadbent said the group stayed put, at a picnic table in the shade.

Landsem said the chaperones in question were sitting with a young woman who had fainted or hit her head, and that's why they didn't get up.

"There was a perception there they didn't do anything, but there was a reason," Landsem said.