FALL RIVER, Mass. — A woman’s body might have been left in the cloudy water of a public swimming pool for more than two days, without lifeguards, health inspectors or other swimmers noticing it, officials said Thursday.
Investigators were poring over surveillance video and conducting interviews as they tried to figure out what happened to 36-year-old Marie Joseph. The state medical examiner completed an autopsy, but the findings haven’t been made public.
“The facts appear to indicate that a woman was in the water for a number of days and not noticed by staff, patrons or other inspections that may have taken place,” said State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan, whose department oversees state-run pools.
He said he found the possibility disturbing and “a breakdown systematically somewhere.”
Joseph had gone to Veterans Memorial Pool on Sunday with a group of friends. Her body was found Tuesday night, when youngsters jumped over a fence for a clandestine swim, police said.
Authorities said she had not been reported missing. Her friends said they thought she simply walked away from the pool. Her boyfriend’s calls went unreturned, but he thought she wanted to be alone.
After the discovery, Massachusetts officials closed 24 state-run deep-water swimming pools and suspended staff at the Fall River pool. Two Fall River inspectors also were placed on paid leave.
Joseph was a native of Haiti and had five children, though only an adult son lived with her, friends said. She worked as a housekeeper at a hotel in Newport, R.I. Her boyfriend said she could swim.
Her friend Veronica Reis, 21, said she had driven Joseph to the pool on Sunday.
At some point, Joseph and a 9-year-old boy in the group went into the pool from a slide, Reis said. After they splashed into the water, the boy noticed that Joseph hadn’t come back up, Reis said.
“He … went to go tell the lifeguard,” said Reis, who talked to the 9-year-old afterward. “The lifeguard said he was going to do a pool check. … They never did that. They never did anything.”
Candela Matta, also at the pool with Joseph, said friends initially thought she simply had left. She said some of the friends waited for Joseph at the pool and a nearby park until 7 p.m. Sunday.
Investigators have spoken to the 9-year-old and the lifeguards who were on duty, said Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for Bristol County District Country Sam Sutter.
Two health inspectors visited the Fall River pool on Monday, and one of them returned Tuesday, Mayor William Flanagan said Thursday.
“The only noteworthy thing in the report listed the clarity [of the water] as cloudy,” Flanagan said.
Tasha Stokes, 28, said she visited the pool on Monday and noticed that the deep end of the pool was white and closed to swimmers.
“It was white. We went swimming in that water. There were little kids drinking that water,” said Stokes. “I’m shocked. I was swimming in water with a dead person. I think I have a lawsuit on my hands.”
The Fall River pool is 12 feet deep and employs 12 people, six of whom are lifeguards and are certified by the Red Cross.
Flanagan said the city would cooperate with a state investigation being conducted by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which runs the pool.
During his monthly radio show on WTKK-FM, Gov. Deval Patrick called the case terrible and bizarre and expressed his condolences to the family. He said he ordered an investigation into DCR procedures, adding that he hoped it would be concluded in time for the busy holiday weekend.
DCR Commissioner Edward Lambert Jr. said the 24 pools would remain closed until state officials review their infrastructure and workers’ certifications.
He said it’s possible that most pools would reopen Friday. Lambert said that the state officials have not been able to talk to Fall River pool employees because they are talking to law enforcement first.
Dr. Lauren Smith, state public health medical director, said it’s unlikely that a body in the pool would create a health risk, because the chlorine in the water would keep it safe for human contact.
“I want to reassure the public [that] as disturbing as it is to you, there are no health risks associated with this,” she said.
Herbert Callwood, Joseph’s boyfriend of eight years, said that when his girlfriend didn’t return his calls earlier this week, he just thought she felt like being alone.
Callwood, 45, said he heard about Joseph’s death on the news.
“It’s too much bear. I just want to know what happened,” Callwood said. “And why did someone leave her like that?”