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'I was nervous all day about him being around water': Family's tragic loss following 'senseless' mistake

By Jo Abi|

It has been over 20 years since Victorian mum Josie Costanzo lost her toddler son Justin, and she still lives with the pain.

"I think about him every day," Costanzo tells 9Honey. "I think of him in relation to looking at my other kids, seeing how much he has missed out on in life."

Costanzo and her husband Gino were parents to three children C Jessica, nine, Jacinta, six and Justin, who was about to turn three when tragedy struck.

The family had been invited to a pool party being hosted by their neighbour on a warm summer day with the temperature reaching 42 degrees.

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Costanzo and her husband Gino were parents to three children when tragedy struck. (Supplied)

"?I was nervous all day about him being around water," she recalls. "I put on three types of floatation devices on him including arm floaties and a donut around his tummy. I stayed with him all day to keep him safe.

"When the pool party was over us adults took our kids out of the pool and I was finally able to breathe a sign of relief," she continues. "I just felt calm.

"What I didn't know was that when we took the kids inside the adults outside began playing cricket, and they propped the pool gate open with a large landscaping rock so they could retrieve balls," Costanzo explains.

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"?I was nervous all day about him being around water.' (Supplied)

?"He was with me inside one moment and the next I heard my daughter calling for me, shouting, 'Mum, mum.' I looked out the window and saw her trying to get her brother out of the pool. I didn't know he was dead."

She describes going into "complete shock."

"I just screamed, I can't even describe the sound I made, then I just ran to the pool and I remember yelling out, 'Who the hell left the pool gate open?'"

None of the adults outside had seen or heard Justin walk out of the house and fall into the pool, although he most likely jumped into the pool, having spent the day in there with his floatation devices on.

Instead of floating and playing and splashing around, he quickly and quietly sunk to the bottom.

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"I just screamed, I can't even describe the sound I made.' (Supplied)

"He was just lifeless, just lifeless," Costanzo describes. "The ambulance came immediately and they worked on him for what seemed like an eternity, but to no avail."

Following the failed resuscitating effort, ?Justin was placed in a body bag before being driven away. The next time his mother saw him was in the morgue.

"The pain is indescribable," she says. "You never get over it, never."

She began sharing her family's story "instantly", knowing how easily tragedies like the loss of her son that day can happen and do happen every day around the country.

?"All day I was nervous and on edge about the water and it wasn't until I relaxed in my mind, that I thought I'd removed my child from harm's way, that the water wasn't a danger anymore that the real danger was there, behind my back," she says.

To say they missed him "terribly" doesn't do their pain justice.

"The pain is indescribable. You never get over it, never."

"The children didn't cope, we all slept in the same room together, and Gino felt a lot of remorse because he couldn't fix this," ?Costanzo says.

"And I was tortured by my thoughts. 'Why did I go?' I'd never witnessed a pool gate being propped open like that before and there is a law in Victoria that states you must have a self-locking pool gate, but if you force the gate open with a big boulder it can't lock," she says.

"It was just stupid, senseless and unnecessary."

pool gate safety
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Today, the family makes sure to include Justin in their lives.

"He is included in our every day lives and just after Justin passed away my husband and I had another child and named her Jemma Justine, she is named after her brother."

She is sharing her story once more today as part of ?Kidsafe Australia, who have joined forces with Olympic champion Matt Welsh to launch its annual 'Safe Barriers Save Lives' campaign, calling on home pool and spa owners to 'help save a life' by checking their barriers before the warmer months.

"Never ever leave a pool gate propped open, never, "she says. "And don't assume if you are invited to someone's house that the pool is locked and safe.

"Justin was right by my side and then I turned around and he wasn't there," she says. "He was having his sandwich and he'd just given me his plastic plate with the crusts on it. I was standing at the kitchen sink and the next thing I knew I heard my daughter calling for me and saw her kneeling at the edge of the pool reaching out for her brother.

?"It only takes seconds and the smallest amount of water for a child to drown," she continues.

"I was a counsellor before Justin passed away and after I became a grief and loss counsellor and ran a support group for parents of children who had drowned. I'll never forget one family whose 18-month-old toddler had drowned in a terracotta pot base that had been placed under a tap to collect the drops of water.

"Their toddler drowned in just an inch of water."

?She hopes this new campaign helps raise awareness of drowning risks in people's home.

"Prevention is the most important thing, because there is no cure," she says. "You can't bring them back."?

If you or someone you know is in need of support following bereavement contact Griefline on 1300 845 745 or visit the website.

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