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Parents of drowning victim hope loss saves others

ST. PAUL PARK, Minn. -- Dylan Thorp loved being with friends and spending time outdoors.

A smiley 14-year-old, Dylan liked swimming, fishing and geocaching. He also liked to bring the outdoors inside.

“He loved to rescue animals,” recalled his mother, Danelle Johnson. “We’ve had so many critters we’ve had to take on.”

Dylan brought home small turtles, a snapping turtle and, after a fishing trip, even bait fish.

“He couldn’t bear to leave the minnows behind, so we had to come home and house 25 minnows. They put them in an aquarium and fed them for a year.

“We’ve got a lot of tanks,” Johnson joked.

Some of Dylan’s time was spent at the Mississippi River, about a 15-minute walk from his family’s home in St. Paul Park. That’s where he headed with his girlfriend and other friends Sunday.

Dylan was playing in the water at Lions Levee Park when suddenly he started going under. He screamed for help. His girlfriend twice was able to touch him but couldn’t pull him to safety, his mother said. His friends couldn’t find him either. They rushed to call for help.

Six hours later, Washington County emergency divers found Dylan’s body.

Johnson said she doesn’t blame anyone for Dylan’s drowning, but is frustrated that none of the adults who were fishing nearby tried to help rescue him. She said they apparently thought he was playing and joking around.

He wasn’t.

“I’m extremely upset that this is an accident and may not have happened had somebody taken a moment to just go look,” she said, “and my son could still be alive.”

Relatives and friends of Dylan turned out for a memorial at the river the night after his death. It was helpful but it also hurt, his mother said.

“I’m trying to help the kids through all this,” she said. “They’re hurting. They’re in bad shape.

“It helped me to see that many people just dropped what they were doing just to come spur of the moment to be there.”

Dylan was an eighth-grader at Oltman Middle School. Oltman Principal Becky Schroeder said the Youth Service Bureau and extra counselors were at the school this week to help students who were grieving Dylan’s death. Some students weren’t aware of his death until they arrived at school Tuesday. Counseling continues to be available to students, and therapists from the Youth Service Bureau will be available for Oltman staff as needed, Schroeder said.

School staff who worked with Dylan remembered him fondly.

“He loved to fish and participate in our after-school card club,” said his counselor, Mike Busch. “Dylan always had such a sense of positive energy and surrounded himself with his friends.”

“Dylan was such a courteous and polite young man,” added Jesse Hopkins, assistant principal. “We will miss his constant smile and how he treated everyone so nice.”

Dylan would have attended Park High School in the fall. He had mixed feelings about that, his mother said. He was looking forward to being at the school, but wasn’t thrilled he’d have to share it with his older sister, Sara Thorp, who will be a junior in the fall.

Dylan’s other siblings are Hailey Harned, 23; Corey Thorp, 18; and 3-year-old Michael Johnson.

Dylan loved fishing. He’d go with the neighbors on their boat, his mother said. They fished area lakes and sometimes the Mississippi.

“If he caught weeds off the bottom, he was thrilled,” Danelle Johnson said. “He wasn’t picky.”

The family bought an old boat that Dylan was going to fix up this summer so he could take it fishing.

Dylan was a frequent swimmer, but like many kids he wasn’t an expert. Johnson said she wants people to remember to be safe around a river.

“It looks like it’s not deep, and it’s calm-looking,” she said. “It’s just so deceiving that you just don’t know what’s going to happen. It doesn’t take much to knock you off your feet.”

Mark Johnson, Danelle’s fiance, wrote in a letter that he hopes their loss will save someone else.

“Hopefully they will see the consequences of what can happen,” Mark Johnson wrote. “The river is a dangerous place.”

Four boys who are Dylan’s friends also were supposed to be at the river that day, but they changed their plans. Dylan’s mother said the family thinks events happened the way they did for a reason.

“That was Dylan’s way of saving them,” she said of the boys’ altered plans. “I know they would have gone in (to save him), and we could have lost more kids.”

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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