Parents of Maine Boys Swept Into River Speak Out

Recovery effort for 5-year-old Valerio McFarland continues while 9-year-old brother Maxim recovers in hospital

A 5-year-old boy has been lost in a Maine river, and his 10-year-old brother nearly drowned trying to save him. Now, their parents are asking the city of Auburn to add safety measures to the riverbanks to prevent other tragedies.

"We don't want this to happen to any other child," said Helena Gagliano-McFarland.

She and her husband Jason McFarland just moved to Auburn with their three kids. Those kids were playing in Bonney Park last week when 5-year-old Valerio McFarland and 10-year-old Maxim McFarland approached the Androscoggin River. Jason believes they were trying to skip rocks.

"The area is not a child friendly area," he said. "I never realized how dangerous that river was."

The Androscoggin River was moving quickly that day. Somehow, Valerio fell in. Maxim jumped in the water to try and save him, but he was also swept away.

Rescuers were able to pull Maxim out and get him medical treatment. He is expected to make a full recovery. But Valerio is still missing.

"We just want to recover him so we can give him a proper burial," Helena said through tears.

Relatives are raising money online to help pay for medical and burial costs, and the parents say they want any leftover proceeds to go toward safety enhancements along the riverbank.

"There's absolutely no restraints," said Helena. "There's no protection. It's a dangerous place for an adult. And with a children's park just a few feet away ... it is an extremely dangerous place."

They suggested adding fencing or a life buoy system along the river where the boys fell in.

Auburn's mayor says city leaders have already started a safety discussion.

"You can't prevent every scenario from playing out, but you can look at some obvious things to make adjustments," said Mayor Jason Levesque. He said something like additional signage and river safety education could make a big difference.

But overall, he feels the area around Bonney Park is safe.

"We have got to look at history," he said. "We haven't had an accident there on the river in 20 years. That's a pretty good track record."

Auburn's city manager, Peter Crichton, said he and the police chief have asked the Androscoggin Land Trust to review the walking areas near the river to present their findings to the city.

"We will do this -- not because we believe that Bonney Park is dangerous, but because we want to ensure that the areas along the river, including Bonney Park, are reviewed," said Crichton. "Even the smallest improvement to safety is a good step to take."

The parents said their immediate focus is finding Valerio's body before the river possibly takes it out to sea. They are asking Gov. Paul LePage to authorize resources like the Coast Guard and National Guard to continue the search.

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