Karen Blaney will never forget the day she found out her eight-year-old son and his eleven-year-old friend had both drowned in an icy pond. It was January 12th, 1996, a snowy day in Mauldin, South Carolina

Snow day in South Carolina

Blaney was helping her eight-year-old son, Nick Camerato, dress in his winter gear to play in the snow with his neighborhood friends. She told Nick she loved him as she watched him walk out the door to play. Watching TV with her one-year-old daughter, Brooke, she heard a loud knock on the door. A knock that would change her life forever.

“I remember opening the door, and Nicks’s friend is telling me Nick had fallen in the pond,” recalls Blaney.

Without hesitation, she ran outside barefoot in the snow and was shocked at the sight as she approached the pond.

“I look at the middle of the pond, and I just see a black hole, and I am thinking “Nick is in that water,” continues Blaney.

Nick had crossed the pond to help save his friend, Brandon Hatsell, 11, who had fallen in the pond first. As Nick was helping his friend, the water collapsed beneath.

As emergency services arrived, Nick’s and Brandon’s parents had no choice but to wait anxiously on the side of the pond. After two hours of searching, divers brought up Brandon.

Soon after, Blaney noticed a pair of Jordans hanging from the side of the tug boat. She recognized those shoes and at that moment, she knew the divers had found her son.

Holding on to hope

Police cruisers rushed both families to Greenville Memorial Hospital, where multiple ER doctors and 25 nurses tried to revive the boys.

“The doctors placed us in a small room, and I knew that this was not a room where parents hear good news. I learned that both of the boys had died that day,” says Blaney.

Twenty-seven years after the death of her son, she has found hope and a new meaning to live life.

“I did not want to be a sad character; I have to live a good life for my son,” explains Blaney.

Now, working as a life coach and a child loss mentor, Karen Blaney uses her time to help grieving mothers. She started her private Facebook group, Helping Bereaved Mothers, and recently shared her testimony in the book Trailblazers.

Fatality rates increase because of warmer weather.

According to a 2020 study done by York University researchers, over 4,000 people have died by falling through ice in the past 26 years—most of these including children and young adults.

Another study was done and found that 50 percent of these fatalities are with children under the age of nine.

However, research says that over the past few years, the fatality rates have increased due to warmer weather, significantly affecting the sustainability of ice-covered waters.

Professor Sapna Sharma at York University explains, “The complex nature of interacting climate factors makes it difficult to predict the safety of ice conditions.”

While ice-covered lakes and ponds are rare in South Carolina, it still raises concerns for first responders.

Senior Deputy Kristy Strange at Greenville County Corners Office says, “Kids are attracted to water and curious, and cold waters are a significant risk factor anywhere. Especially with children.”

Sharing Nick’s Story

As the winter months are coming closer, Karen Blaney uses this time to reach out to the community and remind them of the unlikely dangers of iced-over ponds.

“In the south, the temperatures will never get cold enough for thick ice to form over water. While it might appear to look that way, it will never be able to bear a person’s weight.”

A conversation about the potential danger of ice-covered waters had never crossed her mind 27 years ago. Now, she uses her platforms on social media to spread the conversation about winter safety in hopes that one day it could save a child’s life.