Winnipeg police are investigating the drowning death of a nine-year-old Winnipeg boy at a backyard gathering involving several young friends, the Free Press has learned.
Steven Gauthier was discovered unconscious at the bottom of a swimming pool outside a North Kildonan residence on June 15. It's believed he may have spent several minutes underwater before being noticed by other children who were nearby.
There was at least one adult home at the time of the Saturday incident, although her exact location and actions surrounding the tragedy are key parts of the ongoing police probe. Sources told the Free Press there were approximately 10 children at the party, all around the same age.
Gauthier was pulled from the pool and rushed to hospital, where he remained for several days on life-support. Family members were told there was no sign of brain function or hope for improvement, and a decision was made to harvest his organs so others could be saved.
Gauthier died on June 19 "in his loving mother's arms," according to an obituary published this week. He is survived by both parents, two sisters, and a brother, along with numerous other extended family members.
"Steven was such a beautiful child. He was always kind to everyone, and knew how to lift everyone's spirits. He will be truly missed," reads one online tribute posted to the little boy.
"Words can never describe what a family feels when such a tragic thing happens to a loved one, and more so a young one," says another.
Children who were present at the time of the drowning and witnessed the immediate aftermath are being offered counselling.
Sources told the Free Press on Tuesday members of the child-abuse unit are now looking into whether criminal negligence charges could be laid. Officially, police have not released any information about the incident other than confirming they are now working the case.
"We are still investigating, interviews are not completed," a police spokesperson said in an email.
Criminal negligence is one of the more difficult charges to prove in court because there is so much room for interpretation in the wording of the legislation. Investigations often take weeks, if not months, to complete and typically involve consultation with senior justice officials.
To prove such an offence, one must show the accused is guilty of "a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons" either through commission or omission of an act.
Gauthier's family couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday. A balloon-releasing ceremony in the boy's honour is slated for Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at North Kildonan Community Club, 1144 Kingsford Place.
An average of 20 people drown annually in Manitoba, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.