Meriden woman uses granddaughters drowning to help prevent deaths with free life jackets

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MERIDEN, Kan. (KSNT)– A local woman is raising awareness of the dangers of drowning, and her message is personal.

Shannon Shaw has always loved being a mom and a “Nani” to her grandkids, including Carissa.

Shannon said when Carissa was young, she was always laughing and happy, and she would leave a mark on almost anyone’s day.

“Carissa never went in a room and left that people didn’t notice that she was not there,” Shannon said. “People felt her long after she left.”

In August 2015, Carissa was at a river in Maine. Later that day, Shannon got a call that would change her life.

“It was my daughter, and she said, ‘mom. We lost Carissa’,” Shannon said.

Carissa died at nine-years-old after drowning in the river. Shannon didn’t see her granddaughter again until after Carissa’s body was recovered out of the water.

“She still had on her swimsuit,” Shannon said. “And her hair was wet. And her fingers were painted bright pink, her polish. And her fingertips were wrinkled. And they had decided her date of death was the 29th of August. For me, it’s the 28th because I know she was gone then.”

Shannon didn’t want Carissa’s memory and story to be forgotten. So four years ago, she started working with the Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas. Then, Love, Carissa was founded. It’s a non-profit that provides free life jacket loaner stations at different lakes in Kansas. The first one, at Mission Lake in Horton.

“Our number one thing is safety,” Cody Smothers said, Perry Lake Park Ranger. “The water safety is very important to us. And whenever they read that life jacket loaner board, I want them to think of that. Grab a life jacket and put it on their boat.”

To raise money to get these jackets, Shannon’s family friend, Daryl Wilhelm, decided to help. Bringing motorcycles in to raise awareness about the dangers of drowning. Calling it Scooter’s Rally, a nickname that was given to Carissa.

“I was doing it to help my friend get through something,” Daryl said. “You’ve got, you know, 1,500 bikes coming through and they see what’s going on. They hear the noise. They see all the bikes.”

In 2015, Carissa’s life was ended after tragically drowning. Shannon, didn’t want her granddaughter to be forgotten, nor did she want another family to go through what they did.

“I want her name to be associated with joy and giving,” Shannon said. “And togetherness. And just people caring about people, strangers. Because that’s what Carissa did.”

The Love, Carissa printed on the life jackets is actually Carissa’s handwriting from a note. Shannon also said she hopes to have more stations at Perry Lake. Right now there is just one.

Shannon also created a Water Warrior on Duty tag. That means, when an adult is wearing it they’re responsible for watching kids by water without being distracted by others.

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