Sunday, May 06, 2001
Wilner Jean Paul held the photograph of his daughter and tried to fathom the rest of his life without her.
“I’m lost. I’m lost,” he said inside his Brooklyn home. “I have to find out the reason Sheila died.”
A day had passed since Sheila Jean Paul, 13, and a 12-year-old classmate drowned in the treacherous waters off Canarsie Beach Park. She and eight other students from Intermediate School 68 on E. 82nd St. played hooky Friday in the 92-degree weather.
“Why didn’t the school call and tell us my daughter was not at school?” asked Jean Paul, a 49-year-old gypsy cab driver. “I still haven’t heard from her school. Nothing.”
A correction officer out fishing with a buddy pulled two boys to safety in his motorboat. Four more were rescued by cops from the currents of Paerdegat Basin, and one boy swam to shore by himself.
Cops found Sheila’s body at the foot of a bridge. They later found the body of Neville Chambers, 12, at the mouth of the basin in the 54-degree water, 500 yards from where they found Sheila’s.
Jean Paul had never been to the place where his daughter drowned, and he had many unanswered questions: Was it a beach? Where was the lifeguard or security?
At Canarsie Beach Park, the children reached the water by walking along a garbage-strewn path girded by wild grass overgrowth, bursting onto an area that would be sandy when the tide is out but deluged by water as high as 8 feet when the tide is in.
Neftali Feliciano, 56, a certified scuba diver who has been fishing in the waters there for more than 20 years, had his rod, line and hook set yesterday.
“This is what they call milky water,” Feliciano said. “I’m a trained, experienced swimmer and I would never swim here. The water is muddy and too filthy. You see a lot of people fishing but you never see anybody in the water swimming.”
At his apartment in a two-family home, Jean Paul stared at photographs of his daughter and cried, talking about how Sheila dreamed of becoming a doctor.
“I just wanted her to be something for her future, something for her life,” he said.