‘It’s just overwhelming’: Family of 7-year-old drowning victim grateful for support, looks to improve safety

WOODFORD, Wis. – At the same time a family is mourning the loss of a 7-year-old girl who drowned over the weekend, they’re working to prevent something like that from happening again.

Leah Foster’s family identified her as the drowning victim who was found early Sunday after going into the Pecatonica River right outside Woodford in Lafayette County Saturday. Leah had two older brothers and attended Blackhawk School District.

“Leah was very special,” said her aunt, Trisha Foster. “A one-of-a-kind girl.”

What happens to one person ripples outward to many.

“There were over, I think, 150 of them out here that night until we found here at 2 a.m.,” Foster said, sending her thanks to all the search crews and volunteers.

She said Leah and friends weren’t supposed to be playing at the boat launch that day, and that the 7-year-old got taken by the current when she and another child went swimming in the river.

“This is a very dangerous river,” Foster said.

Crews found Leah not far from where she went into the water. Since then, loved ones have set up a memorial full of balloons, photos and dolls in her honor, including a unicorn balloon.

“Horses are her thing,” Foster said. “With the funeral, that’s kind of our theme where we’re going toward, being our magical unicorn going toward heaven.”

Here on Earth, things can feel pretty empty, reflecting on a future torn away.

“She wants to get her ears pierced,” Foster said. “We didn’t get enough time to get her ears pierced.”

But what rips you apart can also bring a community together.

“Our expectation was only a little bit of support, and it’s just overwhelming,” Foster said, adding that fundraisers have exceeded her expectations.

Family has set up a meal train signup and GoFundMe page to help Leah’s father, a volunteer for the Woodford Fire Department, and her mother, recently diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach and liver cancer.

“With (Leah’s) mom having cancer, this is extremely important to them,” Foster said. “We want to set them up to be solely focused on each other and take care of each other.”

It’s also important for Foster to spread messages about safety, especially as a former lifeguard who taught swimming lessons.

“If it’s brown, you don’t go in,” Foster said. “You can’t tell where the bottom is.”

She said the family would also like to put money toward things like a better boat ramp, railings and signs to promote safety in the area so that this doesn’t happen to one more person and their community.

“I can’t even put words to how nice and how thankful we are for what the community is doing,” Foster said.