by: Gary Horcher Updated:
ARLINGTON, Wash. - The last people who saw 10-year-old Elijah Gene Spratt alive thought he was a good swimmer.
“He asked us if we wanted to swim all the way across the river with him,” said Oscar Campos-Cruz, who is also 10 years old.
Campos-Cruz and several other children watched Spratt swim into deep water, struggle to hang onto a log, and then swept away in the rapid current.
“The river was too strong for him,” Campos–Cruz said.
Spratt was underwater for 54 minutes before he was located and pulled to the surface by Snohomish County rescuers.
Hours after Elijah Spratt’s body was found nearly a mile from where he was swimming in the Twin Rivers County Park, his mother approached a KIRO-7 crew and asked to share a strong message through her heartache.
“This could have been prevented. He should have been wearing a life jacket,” Stephanie Spratt said, through tears outside the Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, where her son was pronounced dead shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday. “I’m not blaming anyone. But if he wore a life jacket, this would not have happened, I believe,” she said.
Elijah Spratt was swimming during an outing with his foster parents, who had legal custody. Eyewitnesses told KIRO-7 Elijah’s foster father risked his own life swimming after Elijah, but the cold and current made reaching him impossible.
About 10 children watched Elijah Spratt struggling in the water, and several tried to save him.
“I felt so bad, so scared for him when he let go of the log,” said eyewitness Kimberly Sanchez.
Snohomish County Lieutenant Rodney Rochon agreed with Elijah’s mother.
“The water's moving, the water's cold, Rochon said from the banks of the Stilliguamish River. “You cannot take Mother Nature for granted under these circumstances. If you're going to play in the water you have to have a life jacket on, that's the thing that's going to keep you on the surface, it's going to help you survive."
Snohomish County does have a strict law requiring life jackets for anyone using a flotation device, raft, or boat. Rochon told KIRO-7 deputies he would ticket several people seen in the search area who were not wearing life vests. The violation comes with an $87 fine.
Elijah’s mother is hoping other parents avoid being struck with the grief that her family has.
“His stunning blue eyes, I think is what I'm going to miss the most,” she said.