Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
April 2, 2024 ·  4 min read

‘My 6-Year-Old Son Drowned in Our Pool. Here’s What I Wish I had Known to Keep Him Safe’

Fifteen years ago, six-year-old Zachary drowned in his family’s backyard pool. His mother, Karen Cohn, still grieves the horrific death, as she writes on HuffPost, “Each traumatic detail is etched into my memory ― the chlorine scent, the reflection of the late afternoon sun on the pool, the sweaty humidity, the piercing screams. The chaos of my son’s drowning death comes rushing back in a wave of indescribably intense pain.” [1] Therefore, the Cohn family created The ZAC Foundation, which provides free swim camps for kids, pool safety education and research, and drowning prevention plans. Their goal is to save others from experiencing the same loss they had.

Zachary Cohn
Zachary Cohn. Image Credit: Karen Cohn

Remembering Zachary

The Cohn family recently had their fourth child and moved into their dream home with a new backyard pool. It was in compliance with safety codes, including fencing and entrance alarms to the pool area. The children, including Zachary, were strong swimmers and were always supervised.

However, the family had no idea the pool’s drain cover was defective. It came loose, exposing the powerful vacuum pump, which immediately suctioned Zachary’s arm and held him under the water. They couldn’t free him until they shut off the pool’s power. By then, it was too late.

As they grieved, the family tried to find sense and meaning in what happened. They learned statistics about water safety, namely that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children aged one to four, and the second-leading cause of death for children under fourteen. So they created The ZAC Foundation, because “the more we knew we wanted to prevent other families from ever having to experience the loss of a child from drowning.”

In addition to educating people about pool safety and helping kids learn how to swim, The ZAC Foundation contributed to developing a national Water Safety Action Plan to promote water safety and prevent drowning all over the U.S. 

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Read: Family shares carbon monoxide warning after daughter, 21, drowns on boat trip

The ABCDs to Prevent Drowning

At the end of her post, Cohn provides the ABCDS of drowning prevention. These include:

  1. An Adult should always be present and actively watching the children swimming.
  2. Barriers, like gates and fences, should restrict children’s access to unsupervised pools.
  3. Classes are a must, swimming lessons for kids and CPR training for adults.
  4. Drains should be checked regularly for loose or broken covers. Also, lifesaving Devices like life jackets should be worn at all times near open water.

During the year of Zachary’s 21 birthday,” she concluded, “I look back and feel grateful for life’s lessons learned and the opportunity to hopefully prevent a tragic loss for others.”

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More Pool Safety Tips

Drowning can happen in a matter of seconds, all in silence. It can happen in a backyard pool, a hot tub on vacation, or even in the bath. Children can wander from inside the house into the yard in moments. Therefore, safety precautions are vital. These include proper fences and gates. They should be at least four feet tall with four sides, completely separating the pool from the rest of the yard. Ensure the slates are too narrow for a child to slip through and the latch should be out of a child’s reach. Because drowning is silent, use alarms. Place them by the pool, the fence, and the back door. If a child gets through during non-swimming times, their parents will get immediately notified. [2]

Here are some safety rules to teach kids:

  • Only swim if there is an adult supervising you.
  • Don’t push or jump on other people in the pool.
  • Don’t eat or chew gum while swimming.
  • Don’t use floating toys (like beach balls or tubes) as swimming aids since they can lose air or float away.
  • Walk, don’t run, around the pool.
  • Always swim with a buddy.
  • Don’t try to open the pool gate during non-swimming times.
  • Don’t use mermaid tails or fins; they make swimming more difficult.
  • Only swim at a comfortable depth. New swimmers should stay in the shallow end.
  • Check the big numbers on the side of the pools to determine the deep and shallow end. [3]

Here’s a final general rule for parents: If a child goes missing, check the pool first, especially if the child likes wandering around.

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Keep Reading: ‘I’m not going to let you die’: Pregnant mother rescues 3 girls from drowning in Lake Michigan


  1. “My 6-Year-Old Son Drowned In Our Pool. Here’s What I Wish I Had Known To Keep Him Safe.HuffPost. Karen Cohn. June 4, 2022
  2. “Pool Dangers and Drowning Prevention―When It’s Not Swimming Time.Healthy Children. Karen Cohn. July 13, 2020
  3. “Pool Safety.” KidsHealth. Kate M. Cronan, MD. August 2021