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Lara Love recalls the close call that happened on Wednesday, Nov. 29 where her toddler daughter ran to a nearby pond. Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News

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The minutes when 3-year-old Ema Cooper darted away from her mother could have ended tragically in a drowning.

Instead, the toddler’s older brother, Jack Cooper, found her at a community pond — struggling to stand in the water — at the Berkshire Reserve apartment complex in Golden Gate where the family lives.

Ema came to her 9-year-old brother when he called out to her. All is well.

“She is literally alive by the grace of God,” Lara Love, the toddler’s mother, said Tuesday. “I was just so relieved.”

The heart-thumping scare happened the afternoon of Nov. 29 and was captured on a surveillance video at the community center.

It isn’t easy for Love, 42, to watch, but it shows how a child out of sight for mere seconds can potentially escalate rapidly into a tragedy. The mother of four wants other parents to become more aware.

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An older brother found his three-year-old sister wandering near a community pond at Berkshire Reserve and prevented a possible drowning. Submitted

Florida leads the United States in drownings among children ages 1 to 4, according to the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee. The drowning rate in 2013 was seven in that age range per 100,000 population and is enough to fill three or four preschool classrooms each year, according to the state. The state health department conducts a “water smart” campaign to educate families.

Locally, the NCH Safe & Healthy Children’s Coalition of Collier County helps families learn about layers of protection to prevent drownings, which can mean extra seconds to become aware that a child is not in sight, said Paula DiGrigoli, executive director of the coalition.

The protective layers include uninterrupted adult supervision, door alarms on sliding glass doors to outdoor pools, gate locks at pools and use of life jackets

“Time is what you need,” DiGrigoli said. “The kids are going to be drawn to the water. It happens in seconds, and that is why the coalition recommends the layers of protection.”

There have been two drownings in Collier County among children this year, she said. Statewide, 74 children have drowned in 2017 to date.

The coalition and several local Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotillas have joined to offer a life jacket loaner program at a dozen or more beaches. In the event that parents have forgotten to bring a child’s life jacket to the beach, one is handy to borrow. The program is modeled after an initiative in Alaska that began in 1997 and is making a difference.

Love, 42, said she was outside her front door watering plants and her 3-year-old was with her. When Love came inside, she thought her daughter was just behind her.

“I heard the door slam,” she said.

That’s when she knew Ema was still outside, and that’s when she and Jack ran outside. Love headed toward the nearby busy street, and Jack got on his bike and gathered friends to begin a search. Love also called 911.

A gated community park is nearby that her daughter is familiar with, and also near is the gated community park. An ungated pond is also nearby.

Her daughter has never run from her in the past.

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“She had run the other way,” Love said.

Her son spotted Ema at the pond in the nick of time. It’s a miracle the toddler didn’t fall in the murky water, Love said.

The next day, Love went to the Berkshire Reserve office and staff retrieved the surveillance video.

“She ran left down a path and across the parking lot,” Love said. The gate at the park stopped her, and that’s when she headed toward the pond.

“We had never been to the pond,” she said. “I almost died. The whole thing lasted 10 minutes.”

Her son, who is in third grade at Lake Park Elementary School, was quick to act, she said. Christmas will bring something special for him. She’s already given his friends some craft school supplies that she makes.

“They immediately dispatched like little soldiers to find her,” she said. “Jack’s a hero, and his friends are heroes.”

More: An ounce of prevention: Pool safety lessons for kids key to avoid drownings

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About 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 years and younger. Here are ways you can prevent it. Wochit

 

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