Attorney L. Chris Stewart talks about snakes being in the area where the boy was found. Video by Ellen Eldridge / AJC

Summer camp where 5-year-old boy drowned not licensed by state

He had just finished having lunch outdoors when Benjamin “Kamau” Hosch III was last seen conscious — later dying after frantic volunteers at a day camp found the 5-year-old under water.

The little boy was one of 13 campers who adults told could splash in shallow water at Cochran Mill Park in south Fulton County last Friday. When it was time to leave, only 12 children could be found.

Kamau was missing and the adults responsible for him couldn’t remember what he’d been wearing. At least 30 minutes would pass before he would be found unresponsive in a creek, away from where he should have been. Despite life-saving efforts, Kamau was in cardiac arrest and died at the hospital later that afternoon.

Benjamin "Kamau" Hosch III , 5, drowned at Cochran Mill Nature Center Friday. (Family photo via press conference)

On Monday, investigators worked to determine how the boy managed to go unseen and drown, and a state agency shut down the camp in the final session of the summer before school begins.

Kamau’s parents struggled to find words to express their overwhelming grief.

“I have to live (with the idea) that I gave them money to kill my son for the rest of my life,” Ayisat Idris-Hosch said on Monday. “I paid them to kill my son.”

The summer day camp where the little boy drowned was not licensed through the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, or DECAL, and was ordered to close Monday, agency spokesman Reg Griffin said.

For 23 years, Cochran Mill Nature Center has hosted camps and outings for children without incident, beyond minor scrapes and bruises, a camp board member said. In 2016, more than 15,000 children visited the center, located in Chattahoochee Hills.

Her 5-year-old son drowned Friday at the Cochran Mill Nature Center in Palmetto.

Camp Cricket offered rising kindergarten and first-grade students a variety of outdoor, nature-themed activities, each week with a different theme. Like many summer camps, hiking, canoeing and fishing were on the schedule. Last week’s session, full of lessons on animals playing hide-and-seek in nature, was titled “Can you see me now?”, according to the camp’s website.

But in a horrifying twist, one child was able to slip from the sight of four adults, according to the camp. Meanwhile, the state agency that monitors camps said Camp Cricket was not licensed to operate at all.

“Camp Cricket Summer Day Camp at Cochran Mill Park is an unlicensed program that was unknown to the state of Georgia until the reporting of this tragic incident today,” Griffin said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “We are currently investigating this incident.”

IN-DEPTH: Many Georgia camps avoid of oversight

Georgia law allows for a child care service to file for exemption from state licensing requirements based on the ages of children, duration of the program, hours of operation, specific activities, or when services are offered free of charge, Griffin said. Camp Cricket had not applied for exempt status from the state.

A 2015 AJC investigation revealed that hundreds of camps in Georgia are exempt from regulation, and countless others likely operate on their own illegally. And Kamau’s drowning was not the first serious injury or death at a camp in Georgia.

In June 2013, a youth had to be resuscitated and transported to the hospital after nearly drowning at a Gwinnett County YMCA. In 2011, a 16-year-old Florida boy attending Camp Ramah Darom, a Jewish camp in the north Georgia mountains, drowned on a whitewater rafting trip.

When a child is seriously injured or dies while in a child care center in Georgia, criminal charges are often filed.

In 2014, a daycare owner and her daughter were both sentenced to prison after a 2-year-old girl in their care was left in a hot van and died. In 2015, Janna Thompson was arrested after a 3-year-old boy hanged himself while outside her in-home day care center. She was acquitted in September.

No criminal charges have been filed in Friday’s drowning. But Kamau’s parents spoke with reporters Monday morning from their attorney’s office, saying they plan to sue the camp.

Kamau’s mother, Ayisat Idris-Hosch, broke down, collapsing at the waist as she absorbed the reality of her son’s death.

“I can’t live through this right now,” Idris-Hosch said.

Kamau was the eldest of her two sons, Idris-Hosch said, and the two boys were the best of friends.

“We were a four-pack,” she said. “Anyone who knew us knew if you saw one you saw the four of us. We were always together. He was his father’s shadow, and he was my heart.”

The group of young campers was taken to a rock ledge for lunch and afterwards permitted to splash in a shallow creek, a camp spokesman said Monday. Kamau’s parents said they would never have allowed their son to go swimming without a life jacket because he couldn’t swim.

When the group gathered to leave the creek area, the adults realized one child was missing. A call to 911 was placed and city workers began searching for the boy at 12:27 p.m., according to Chattahoochee Hills City Manager Robert Rokovitz. A volunteer found the boy at 12:54 p.m.

Steve Hurwitz, a spokesman for the camp, said Kamau was found, “in a pool of water in an area that had not been visited by the group.”

But while the boy was missing, no one from the camp alerted his parents, the family said Monday. Benjamin Hosch II said Monday he could have been on site within 10 minutes if someone had called him to say his son was missing.

“He shouldn’t have been alone,” Hosch said.

After the boy was pulled from the water, emergency workers gave the boy CPR and took him by ambulance to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding. When Hosch got to the hospital, he said his son had a faint pulse.

“Daddy’s right here,” he told Kamau.

With tears streaming down his face, Hosch described his final minutes with his son.

“He was cold,” Hosch said.

It would be 30 hours before a trustee from the camp called the parents, Hosch said. By then, the parents and a detective had visited the site where the boy drowned. 

The family’s attorney, Chris Stewart, called the boy’s death an example of “gross, insane negligence” and said he plans to file a lawsuit against the camp.

Idris-Hosch said no parent should be left feeling as broken and cheated, robbed of their child by a negligent day care. As she fell into her husband’s arms, she said she simply couldn’t go on.

“I’m so broken,” she said.

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— Staff writer Lauren Foreman contributed to this article.

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