Wichita police investigating the accidental drowning of an 11-year-old girl at a lake party Sunday attended by more than 100 children were told that she was swimming without a life jacket.
Four to five adults were helping supervise the church-sponsored back-to-school party from a beach at a Big Slough lake, lined by houses near 29th and Ridge.
At least one witness saw Shelby Cramb swimming near water that is chest deep and then drops off. She was seen swimming up to about 10 minutes before her father arrived and it was discovered that she was missing.
Two minutes before the party ended, she was not in a group photo.
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Those are among details in police investigative reports obtained Thursday by The Eagle through a public records request.
Shelby was a student at Maize Middle School. Her funeral was Friday. Her obituary said a memorial has been set up with Sedgwick County Zoo.
“Shelby loved nature, animals and everyone she met,” the obituary said. She “recently scripted a stuffed animal movie on her computer.”
The lake party
The investigative reports give this account:
The party was from 2 to 4 p.m. From 105 to 110 children attended. Four to five adults were supervising the beach front.
It was at a couple’s home in the 3200 block of North Ridge Port Circle. The house sits on a cul-de-sac. The beach front was described as “a small sandy shore area between the yard and the lake where there is a private dock.”
Shelby’s father said he dropped off his daughter with a man who is a Pathway Church student ministry director.
One report refers to someone whose name was redacted and “who was the last to see … Shelby alive swimming.”
Another witness said she last saw Shelby swimming, without a life vest, around 3:50. At 3:58, a group photo was taken in front of the lake.
Later, Shelby’s mother couldn’t find her in the photo.
Father can’t find her
Shelby’s father said he and his wife arrived at 4 p.m. to pick her up.
Her father “said no one could find Shelby and that she was last seen near the lake behind the house,” a report says. Her father called 911 “after looking for Shelby and not being able to find her.”
At about 5:30, a police officer got a call from a supervisor with the Exploited and Missing Child Unit, directing the officer to go to the house to help with a “lost 11 year old.”
At 5:35, two officers spoke with the couple hosting the party. The husband said it was the third or fourth year they had hosted it. He said the event was coordinated with the church’s middle school director.
For two hours, the children could join different activities, including boating. Several groups of eight signed up for tubing, and the children were allowed to swim in the lake.
Four to five adults supervised the beachfront, the husband told the officers.
The wife told police “that she heard, after the incident, that Shelby was not a strong swimmer and had asthma.”
The couple’s understanding was that Shelby had last been seen around 3:30 to 3:45.
Kids swimming, in boats
The youth ministry director told the officers that when children came to the party, they were “briefed on activities, and directed to sign up if they wanted to go tubing on boats,” a report says. The children could swim while waiting on a boat.
Shelby was in Group 6. One witness whose name is redacted said “they saw Shelby swimming with another girl but did not know her name.”
The report indicates that children had life vests for the boat. They loaded onto a boat from the beach. Someone “last saw Shelby on the boat.”
There were eight kids on a boat. According to a witness, a boat had an adult driving and a teenage spotter.
Someone said that when they returned from tubing, they went swimming again but didn’t see Shelby.
Some children jumped off a dock.
The search by officers included nearby homes and the home of the party’s hosts.
Shelby was 4 feet 7 inches tall, weighed 70 pounds, had red hair and wore an aqua-blue two-piece swimming suit.
As the search continued and by the time firefighters were searching in the water, police were keeping people away from the back of the house, which faces the lake.
At 6, a Wichita police officer arrived with his K-9 dog, Blue. At 6:15, Blue was put in his harness and “was on scent” until 6:20 p.m.
“Blue did not leave the shore line of the residence,” a report says.
A Wichita fire rescue dive team found Shelby’s body at 6:23 p.m. about 20 to 25 feet north of the shore line. Another investigative note said she was 10 to 15 feet out. It said the water was chest deep, then dropped off.
She was completely submerged, about 10 feet down in the water.
Her body was brought to the shore, and she was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m.
Police went to the other side of the lake to check houses for cameras that might have footage, but couldn’t find any.