Camps are supposed to be where children from all walks of life find joy in the great outdoors, where they engage healthy and enlightening activities and where they entertain important social interactions.
Sadly, Roxie’s experience at Summerkids day camp in Altadena had a very different outcome. She was grossly neglected at the camp pool, and she drowned. We drowned that day with her.
As a freelance journalist and an attorney, we undertook our own investigation.
We also did some very difficult soul-searching about the camp and ourselves to determine:
We did not ask the right questions, even though we did ask many.
We did not do enough due diligence on the operation, even though we did our fair share.
We did not know enough about the owners, though they had operated for decades.
We did not know enough about their pool operations, though they falsely painted themselves as vigilant.
We simply trusted them and our referrals to this camp without trusting our better instincts.
Our girl deserved more. All children do.
Here’s What We Know
Due to legal restrictions, we are limited in what we can reveal. We will release as much objective, factual information as possible. This information will help illustrate how important it is to ask specific questions before handing children off to others. Check back here or on the news page for updates.
Summerkids business background
Summerkids said they have been operating for 41 years. Joseph and Maria Di Massa founded and incorporated Summerkids, Inc. July 3, 1990, 29 years ago.
Joe and Maria Di Massa, now in their 80s, remain wholly involved in Summerkids camp operations. Cara Di Massa, their daughter and former Los Angeles Times columnist, is camp director. Their son, Giancarlo Di Massa, is an ER doctor and apparently makes periodic visits to the camp when available. Jaimi Harrison is the camp’s assistant director.
Two people, Cara and Jaimi, represent the entire day-to-day full-time staff, which serves between 700-900 children each summer. Approximately three dozen 15-22-year-olds serve as counselors primarily running daily activities.
Summerkids is not licensed. California does not license day camps. Because of Summerkids’ negligence, we are determined to change that legislation — more here.
Summerkids has, year-over-year, chosen not to be accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). Tom Sawyer Camp in Pasadena is accredited. The YMCA camp in South Pasadena is accredited. Steve and Kate’s Camp in Altadena is accredited.
The ACA is “a community of camp professionals who, for over 100 years, have joined together to share our knowledge and experience and to ensure the quality of camp programs.”
Summerkids and other local camps offer swimming, rock wall climbing, archery, hikes along the Angeles National Forest and other rigorous, challenging, at-risk activities. Yet, California health departments do not want to provide oversight to ensure children are safe. On the contrary, non-rigorous daycare providers are licensed.
Summerkids said they have a $1 million dollar insurance policy. Such a policy for 700-900 children per summer is extremely limited. We do not know why Summerkids assigns such a limited value to children in its care.
Summerkids’ owner Joseph Di Massa is the registered agent of the The Di Massa Family Foundation which has been a tax exempt nonprofit since 2014. According to its 2017 990-PF tax return, the Foundation apparently spent approximately four percent of its assets on donations.
Summerkids pool and lifeguards
According to their Summerkids parent newsletters/emails, website copy and public statements, the Di Massa family repeatedly refers to its counselors as American Red Cross certified lifeguards.
Summerkids hires young adults (15+), many or most of whom do not possess any prior lifeguard experience. In other words, Summerkids expects that every counselor who attempts to certify as a lifeguard will be successful.
For years, Summerkids has used the same person to certify counselors as lifeguards.
According to American Red Cross (ARC) documents, this person does the vast majority of certification assessments for Summerkids counselors at the Summerkids private camp pool, not the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, Rosemead Aquatics Center or YMCA.
This person administers certification tests of Summerkids counselors only one to two weeks before camp begins.
According to ARC documents, most or potentially all counselors apparently pass the rigorous in-pool test and written test. Their swimming experience prior to immediately being certified is yet unknown.
According to ARC documents and to an ARC representative, the person who certifies Summerkids counselors is not himself a certified ARC lifeguard.
The ARC representative said this person is, however, a certified lifeguard instructor. That would mean he can certify other people as lifeguards. Yet, according to ARC’s own documents, this person is not a certified lifeguard instructor.
The foundation asked numerous camp parents if they knew the lifeguard experience level of Summerkids counselors or if they ever requested to see ARC certificates. All said, “No.”
The foundation asked multiple parents if they sent their children back to the camp after Roxie drowned. All but one said, “Yes.”
OCTOBER 25, 2019: According to a thorough review of recently released police/detective documents:
Four Summerkids counselor-lifeguards neglected Roxie for what could have exceeded ten minutes, which correlates to how the coroner described the circumstances.
A counselor outside of the pool noticed Roxie. Not one of the counselor-lifeguards at the pool noticed Roxie floating face-down and already dead. She was found far from where she was supposed to have been closely monitored.
Counselor-lifeguards at the pool ran from the scene for highly questionable reasons.
Camp operator Cara Di Massa and her family misled the public about the circumstances of Roxie’s drowning.
Cara Di Massa and her family attempted to cover up the facts and circumstances of the drowning.
Multiple sources said that Cara Di Massa and her family told parents that Roxie had a medical issue which caused her death. According to medical documentation, Roxie died of nothing other than a preventable drowning.
Cara Di Massa and her family chose not to inform parents that their pool had been shut down by the health department for nine violations. (See below graphic.)
All counselor-lifeguard interviews illustrate clear inconsistencies about the circumstances, yet not one has ultimately denied neglecting Roxie.
Cara Di Massa repeatedly mentioned how counselors at the pool were Red Cross certified, yet all violated Red Cross standards and practices on Cara Di Massa’s watch.
Cara Di Massa asserted a number of her pool standards on her own website which were also violated on her watch.
Cara Di Massa and her family have never publicly admitted to or apologized for their accountability.
Summerkids pledges about pool safety
“The campsite is a safe and secure location.”
“We consider swimming a fun and exciting part of our program, but it is safety that is our biggest concern.”
“We also meet all the latest requirements regarding drains and hand rails.”
“We have regular training sessions with our lifeguards throughout the summer to review safety rules and to deal with any issues that may arise.”
“Our goal is to help campers reach a point where they are water safe and water aware.”
“In Summerkids, children are divided into age groups for swimming. On their first visit to the pool they are skill-tested and assigned to either the shallow or deep end. Although we do not give lessons to Summerkids campers, our swim counselors work with children who are not water safe to make them water safe.”
Roxie’s preventable drowning
9:00a.m. Friday, June 28: Elena and Doug dropped off Roxie at Summerkids camp.
9:40a.m.: Assistant Camp Director Jaimi Harrison called Elena and said Roxie was being rushed to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena due to an accident. She did not further explain.
10:10a.m.: Huntington Hospital used artificial means to restart Roxie’s heart after approximately 40 minutes.
11:30a.m.: Roxie was placed on life support at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Doctors informed Doug and Elena that her chances of any “meaningful recovery” were essentially null and void.
1:15p.m.: The Di Massa family emailed Elena and Doug to advise about an email they wanted to send to all camp parents which said, “Approximately 30 children and 4 Red Cross-certified lifeguards were at the pool. Approximately 30 children and 4 Red Cross-certified lifeguards were at the pool. The children were all in their designated spots: steps, shallow end or the deep end. The lifeguards were in their positions: the chair, the steps, and on the sides of the pool. The counselor in the shallow end of the pool had just spoken to the child involved, who was in the steps area. Approximately 10 to 15 seconds later one of our counselors spotted her floating on the surface of the water near the steps. A lifeguard grabbed her and started CPR, while another called 911. We also used our camp Automated External Defibrillator (AED).“
1:47p.m: The Di Massa family again emailed Doug and Elena and camp parents and said, “Please do not plan to pick up your child early. We have kept the day as normal as possible, which we feel is in the best interest of all the campers and counselors.“
The Di Massa family kept the camp open after Roxie’s preventable drowning. As they said, they wanted to keep the day “normal.” They denied parents the opportunity to pick up their children early, regardless of a preventable drowning.
They never closed the camp after Roxie’s preventable drowning.
A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department homicide detective said the counselor watching the [pool] steps end was distracted. A counselor leading a different group outside of the pool area noticed Roxie floating face down in the pool.
The Di Massa family said there were four lifeguards at the pool. It is yet unknown why four lifeguards “at the pool” did not notice Roxie drowning in a relatively small pool while a counselor outside of the pool did notice.
The Di Massa family said “10 to 15 seconds later one of our counselors spotted her floating.” They said “counselors,” not lifeguards.
The coroner said Roxie died of “near drowning.” It was not technically drowning only because Roxie’s heart was restored after 40 minutes, even though she had been technically dead.
The coroner said the drowning was “more in the line of minutes.”
The lead paramedic said Roxie was dead at the pool, which would have implied far more than seconds and likely minutes.
Summerkids counselor-lifeguards gave conflicting reports to paramedics of how long Roxie was neglected.
According to the Summerkids website, before Roxie’s preventable drowning, they did not offer swimming/water safety lessons to children Roxie’s age. They did offer such lessons to children 3-4 years of age.
Six days after Roxie’s preventable drowning, Summerkids changed their swim policies to offer swim lessons to children Roxie’s age. They also disallowed “non-swimmers” in the pool other than if those non-swimmers wanted to take swim lessons.
Roxie was classified as a non-swimmer. She was taking lessons at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center and had taken other private swim and water safety lessons.
Summerkids said that they water skills-tested every camper on the first day of camp. It is yet unknown as to who established those water skills tests and what those skills tests entailed.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health learned about Roxie’s preventable drowning on the nightly news three days after the incident.
The following day— a Tuesday—they shut down the Summerkids pool for nine violations.
Through subsequent emails to camp parents the week after Roxie drowned, the Di Massa family did not inform parents about the health department violations. The Di Massa family reopened the pool the day the health department allowed them to do so.
To date, the Di Massa family has not admitted to any accountability in Roxie’s preventable drowning.