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Youth group outing turns tragic

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By John Barnhart

The swimming beach at Smith Mountain Lake State Park recorded its first drowning in its 19-year history, Thursday.

According to Officer A. R. Davis, a ranger at the park, the youth group of Sycamore Baptist Church, of Gretna, was having an outing at the beach when Marvin Strickland Jr., a 12-year-old, was reported missing, at 2:45. The youth group's director was told that Strickland had been missing for 15 minutes and another child reported that he had been last seen in the swim area.

Lifeguards called all swimmers out of the water and began diving in the area where Strickland had last been seen. Huddleston Rescue Squad, Smith Mountain Lake Fire and Rescue and a dive team were called. The Bedford County Sheriff's Department and officers of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also responded.

Davis said that after a search of about 20 or 30 minutes, Strickland was found on the bottom in approximately six to seven feet of water in the location where he was last seen. The Huddleston Rescue Squad performed CPR and transported him to Bedford Memorial Hospital, continuing to work on him on the way. All efforts to revive him failed.

A family member told Davis that Strickland had been trying to retrieve a float for one of the younger children in the group.

"The state park staff and Department of Conservation are deeply saddened by this tragedy," said Davis. "The family and friends of Marvin are in the prayers of all staff at Smith Mountain Lake State Park and the entire staff of the Department of Conservation and Recreation."