Witnesses say Fun-Plex lifeguards response to unresponsive boy was ‘by the book’

Omaha couple says the water park’s lifeguards ‘did an amazing job’
The couple told 6 News that they were in the Fun-Plex wave pool and witnessed the entire ordeal.
Published: Jun. 28, 2023 at 9:31 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Jeff and Kari McElderry are calling for compassion in the aftermath of a tragedy.

The Omaha couple told 6 News that they were in the wave pool Sunday afternoon when a 6-year-old was found unresponsive and pulled out of the water at Fun-Plex Waterpark & Rides. The boy died Wednesday morning after he was taken off life-support.

“That Sunday night, it was the last thing I thought about. And then Monday morning before I went to work, it was the first thing I thought about. So, I mean, it was something I wish I would have not seen,” Jeff McElderry said.

He and his wife recall watching the traumatizing and heartbreaking event unfold in front of them Sunday afternoon.

“Like him, I close my eyes and it’s the only thing I see. And for the parents, that’s the only thing we’re going to see for a really long time,” Kari adds.

The McElderrys say they witnessed the entire ordeal.

“I mean, just the way it happened was, we were probably no more than 20 feet away from where he brought the boy up,” Jeff says, referring to the lifeguard who pulled up boy out of the water.

“I looked to my right, and I saw a male lifeguard with this red buoy out there; and he had somebody, I didn’t know at the time who was what it was.”

Some have questioned the response of Fun-Plex staff and lifeguards. But Kari and Jeff claim the lifeguards did everything they could.

“I think, personally, the lifeguards did an amazing job. Considering the circumstances and the situation, from what I saw, everything looked per the book. I mean, I did not see the lifeguard stop at any point other than to do the A-E-D paddles and the blowing in his mouth,” Jeff says.

“I actually saw them doing the breathing on (him) before they even pulled them completely out of the water. They had started the CPR on him while he was still on the buoy in the water,” Kari adds.

Jeff and Kari both say there’s no single person to blame and ask that the community tries to imagine the hurt the family must be feeling.

“As a parent and a grandparent, you can look away for just a second and that’s how quickly it can happen,” Kari says. “I mean, it actually happened to us last year. I mean, we looked away and, you know, he was all the way over there already. We were able to grab him back, but something like that can happen very, very quickly. And especially in a big, you know, fun environment.”

The boy’s family had told 6 News earlier this week that they were hoping for a miracle after the incident, saying he had no brain activity. His mother set up a GoFundMe to assist with funeral expenses and transportation of his body to the family’s home in Sioux City, Iowa.

“We are heartbroken as we have to ask for help to bury our son ... We were hoping for a miracle, but sadly we had to make the decision to remove him from life support as his brain was showing no activity,” the post states, noting that the boy, Kidus, was a twin.

“I mean as a parent or a grandparent, you don’t plan on setting savings aside for your grandson or your son for a funeral,” Jeff says.

Fun-Plex has been closed since Monday. 6 News reached out to park officials late Wednesday afternoon to ask when the park might reopen.