Charlotte, shown in a recent photo, was nicknamed "Sharkey."

‘Little angel’ charmed
folks with big heart

A 5-year-old who perished
in muddy Pearl City waters
was trying to save a boy

In memory of Charlotte

A special fund has been set up at City Bank to help the Schaefers family with expenses. Please make out check donations to:

Friends of Allison Schaefers, c/o City Bank, P.O. Box 3709, Honolulu, HI 96811. Donations can be mailed to or dropped off at any City Bank location.

Also, memorial services for Charlotte Schaefers will be held Thursday at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Pearl City. Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to noon with service to follow.

Part tomboy and part fairy princess, Charlotte Paige Schaefers acted from her big heart, according to family and friends in her close-knit military neighborhood.

At 5, Charlotte was a confident swimmer whose nickname in the neighborhood was "Sharkey."

She liked playing with Barbie dolls and wearing hot pink polish on her toenails as much as rolling in the mud and catching frogs in the rain catch basin that flows like a stream behind some homes in the Pearl City Peninsula Naval Housing.

But heavy rains Friday and Saturday swelled the stream into a muddy lake that was way over Charlotte's head. The water flooded two homes Friday night, and other families piled sandbags to keep the water back.

About 11 a.m. Saturday, when the sun was shining, Charlotte was playing with a group of neighborhood children. She saw a younger playmate fall into the muddy water. Fearless and sure, she jumped in to save him.

As her brother Joshua, 7, screamed and ran for help, Charlotte disappeared under the murky water.

"It happened in a matter of seconds," said Allison Schaefers, Charlotte's mother, who is a business reporter at the Star-Bulletin. "This water had become a death hole, and we didn't know it."

Schaefers said her daughter, whom she called "Miss Charlotte" because of her Georgia roots, "just jumped in after this little boy who couldn't swim, but she couldn't get out. The mud was as slippery as glass."

Schaefers, who was grocery shopping at the time of the accident, said her daughter "dove in and got disoriented. It's hard to believe that a child who could swim so well could drown."

Doctors told Schaefers her daughter probably drowned within the first minute or so of going under.

A flower memorial has been placed near the pond of storm water at Waianiani Court in the Pearl City Peninsula Naval Housing where Charlotte Schaefers, 5, was found.

"She wasn't out wandering around the neighborhood by herself," said Schaefers. "People were right there. It happened so fast. She pretty much died in front of her friends and about 10 adults who knew her and tried to save her."

The little boy Charlotte had tried to save was grabbed from the water by an older boy, who started yelling, "Quick, quick! Charlotte's in the water!" to alert adults who were doing morning chores around their homes not far from the water.

Before Charlotte ever entered the water, her father, Navy Chief Petty Officer Scott Schaefers, was standing in his front yard within sight of the lake. He spotted Charlotte running in the grass and mud near the lake and ran to put on his sneakers before chasing her down to warn her away from the water.

In seconds he heard children yelling and saw Joshua running toward home for help.

Scott raced to the area where a group of children pointed to last seeing Charlotte.

"They pointed to a general area -- that was big -- and said she had been swimming there," he said.

Scott jumped into water up to his neck. He dived and grabbed for her but came up empty. There was no way to see anything in the water, he said.

In seconds, neighbors Karen Eggers, Naomi Johnson, her husband, Jason, and others joined the search.

"I was driving down the street when I saw Josh flagging me down for help," said Eggers.

"I threw the car in park and ran. I hit the water about a minute after Scott. He was already frantically searching for her when I got there."

A public works employee called 911 from his cell phone as more neighbors ran to join the search.

Schaefers said the water was dark, and after five minutes he yelled: "It's too late. It's taking too long."

As Schaefers searched the water, he said he kept thinking, "Five minutes without oxygen is brain death."

Eggers said she has no idea how long they searched. Finally, about 10 adults held hands to systematically sweep the water. Schaefers said the whole search took about 10 minutes.

Charlotte Schaefers, shown with parents Allison and Scott Schaefers in a recent photo, liked playing with her Barbie dolls as much as catching frogs.

"I found her," said neighbor Naomi Johnson, who pulled Charlotte out of the water.

Immediately, Schaefers began CPR on his daughter, then another neighbor took over. Rescue personal arrived and took her to Pali Momi Hospital, where Allison Schaefers caught up with her family.

Doctors worked to revive Charlotte as her mother held her hand, which was still warm, and told her how much she loved her.

"I tried to make a deal with God to save her," said Schaefers, "but it didn't work this time."

When Charlotte was born, she did not breathe. Doctors swept her away from her mother to revive her.

"I saw them bring out the paddles and rush around, and I made every deal with God that I could to bring her back. And she started to breathe."

Schaefers said: "I got my miracle and kept her five years. God gave her back to me on loan."

At the hospital Saturday, Schaefers said there was a moment when she thought her daughter was breathing again. But the doctors said no. It was over. Schaefers took a moment to cradle her child and feel her weight one last time.

Schaefers said she is comforted, in part, with words her daughter burst out with the other day. "She said: 'When I was in your tummy, I was dreaming about you. And I dreamed you would be just like you are.'"

Schaefers said there is never a reason for such early deaths. She said you can never second-guess yourself and that "happiness is a choice you make."

"I think of her as a little angel who jumped in to save another little child. And God said: 'This one is a keeper. She's already working for me, and I'm not going to send her back.'"


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