CARROLL COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - What was supposed to be a day of fun for a group of Girl Scouts, turned into a scary situation. On Tuesday, 36 Girl Scouts and five leaders had to be rescued during a canoe trip, after the canoes got separated and several got stranded on the Tippecanoe River. The Girl Scouts came from Camp Sycamore Valley. Now people are asking questions about the safety of the situation.
"That's an experience they will never forget," said Colleen McCormick, who lives along the Tippecanoe River. She said her family owns Goose Poop Island.
She arrived back at her home to an alarming situation happening on the island.
"When I was walking in my house I heard some kids screaming for help, saying help us help us," she said. Along with the help of some men, they were able to get the girls to her shore. She said another neighbor came by on a boat to help.
That neighbor was Cari Henderson. Henderson's mother told News 18 that she helped rescue six of the girls and brought them to the McCormick's property. Another man who lives right across the street from a large fallen tree in the river said several of the Girl Scouts' canoes got stuck under the debris. He did not want to speak on camera, but he said he jumped into the water to help the girls.
"I called the sheriff's department and said you need to get some boats out here with CO's to rescue these girls," said McCormick.
Danielle Shockey is the CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. She explained why the scouts were on the river.
"Girls are attending week long residence Girl Scout camp and one of the activities they were participating in was a canoe trip," she said. She added that she could not speak to the level of canoeing experience the scouts had.
She said that more than half of the girls were middle school aged or older, and that the younger ones were placed in canoes with leaders or with older members of the group. There were five leaders, one older than 40-years-old, three 18-year-olds, and one 17-year old.
"Our camp guidelines allow for staff to be 17," she said. "That staff member is also a licensed lifeguard, which is an American Red Cross Certification."
McCormick wondered if that was enough supervision.
"Five adults and 36 kids? That's not safe," she said.
Shockey said that the camper-to-staff ratio of the group met their standards.
"Our guidelines would be, given the ages of the girls, the ratio would be at least one to nine," she said. "We certainly met that by having five."
Shockey also said three of the leaders had essential training.
"Of our five staff members on the canoe trip two of them were lifeguards and one had an additional certification as a canoe certified instructor," she said. That member who was canoe certified was the older-than-40 leader.
She also said the head leader had been in contact with the canoeing company the week before and the morning of the excursion to make sure water levels were safe.
"As we looked into all of this, we looked at the National Weather Service height of the river, which was between three and five feet," she said. "This height is not flagged as any kind of safety concern."
The girls were boating with Hodges Canoe and Kayak Trips. News 18 did talk to the owner of Hodges, he said that the girls had life jackets and instruction from them. He said he is thankful all scouts are safe.
DNR Lieutenant Dan Dulin said the canoeing company did not break any laws be letting the scouts onto the river. He added that the water may have been too fast for an inexperienced group, but that the use of life jackets most likely saved lives. He also felt a larger adult-to-child ratio may have helped.
McCormick made sure the scouts that were brought to her home from the water felt at home with water bottles, Oreo's, and fruit snacks. She said seeing people on the river when it may not be safe is not unusual to them, but hopes people will learn from this in the future.
"Please listen to the authorities if they say to stay off the river," she said. "If they say the river is too high, the stay off of it."
Shockey also sent News 18 an official written statement:
"I am taking this incident very seriously and reviewing our safety procedures to ensure that all of our guidelines were met. I was happy to discover that more than half the girls on the trip are entering middle school or older. And the youngest girls were paired with adults or our teen Girl Scouts. We had one camp staff member on the trip whose canoe certified by the American Red Cross, plus two others who are certified by American Red Cross to be lifeguards.
Of course, all the girls had personal flotation devices, and we complied with Girl Scout safety guidelines with one camp staff member for every four canoes, with a total of five camp staff on the trip. I am so glad that everyone is safe and sound."