A helpful teenager is now being remembered as a hero after she drowned during a selfless rescue mission. The 18-year-old swimmer witnessed several children struggling in the rough waters of a Minnesota lake and rushed to their aid but tragically paid with her own life.
A group of children was enjoying an afternoon swim on Aug. 17 in a river near a dam on Clearwater Lake in Leonard, northern Minnesota, when they ran into trouble. “[S]ome of them were caught up in the turbulent water that was coming over the dam,” Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office explained in a Facebook post.
“The water level at the dam was considerably higher due to the large amount of rain received recently,” they clarified.
Upon seeing the young group struggling in the water, Raina Lynn Neeland swam toward the dam to help. According to her family, the people in the group were her younger cousins aged 10, 8, and 6, reports Kare 11. According to eyewitnesses, she managed to pull some of the children to safety. However, unfortunately, she was then pulled under the churning water herself.
Deputies from Clearwater County Sheriff’s office, members of the Clearbrook Fire Department, and Bagley Sanford Ambulances arrived at the scene and took over the diligent efforts of bystanders, some of whom had retrieved and were trying to revive the unconscious teen.
Neeland, however, remained unresponsive. “Witnesses had estimated that she had been in the water for approximately ten minutes,” said the Sheriff’s Office.
Sanford Life Flight arrived and took over the resuscitative efforts but to no avail. Neeland was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
One 8-year-old girl, dragged from the treacherous undercurrent that later took Neeland, was also unresponsive when she came out of the water. But quick-thinking bystanders performed lifesaving resuscitation. When medics arrived on the scene, the child was breathing on her own.
Hundreds of netizens responded to Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office’s post on Facebook, praising the 18-year-old swimmer’s heroic efforts and mourning the town’s tragic loss. Neeland was a Clearwater County resident herself, hailing from rural Bagley.
“I truly hope her family can find comfort in knowing their daughter, loved one, died being a hero so that the babies could live on,” wrote one netizen.
“This broke my heart,” wrote another. “[T]his is one selfless act one can do for another human being. Hope the family realizes what a true hero their daughter is and finds comfort that she’s flying high with the angels […] she truly is one.”
Neeland’s full name was released to news media after her family had been informed of what transpired.
As her family mourns her death, Neeland’s grandmother and aunt said that she wanted to become a law enforcement officer and was responsible. Additionally, as she was raised by her grandmother and stayed with her, she helped her care for the younger children at home.
“She always wanted to help people and protect people, and that’s exactly what she did,” Lenny Neeland, her grandmother, told Kare 11. “I thank God for Raina, that she saved my other grandkids, because this could have been worse than it is now.”
Just weeks prior, a 44-year-old father of two lost his life in Lake Michigan while trying to rescue his children from a deadly rip current. The children, aged 12 and 17, survived.
The family was visiting Lions Park Beach in St. Joseph, southeastern Michigan, on July 30. Four swimmers in total got caught in an undertow, St. Joseph Public Safety Department said in a statement.
“The 17 and 12-year-old were rescued by St. Joseph Reserve Officer Everett Gaston,” they explained. “However, the 44-year-old male drowned.” The father, from Indiana, was retrieved and pulled ashore but was later pronounced dead at nearby Spectrum Health Lakeland.
One of the four swimmers who were rescued, Meghan Lynch told WSBT, “We were being kind of reckless … probably shouldn’t have been swimming, but that’s kind of the lesson to be learned.”
“Don’t go out there when it’s this bad,” she advised.
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