Martha's Vineyard country club pleads guilty in death of 3-year-old
11th June 2022

‘They let him die’: Parents slam $100,000-a-year Martha’s Vineyard country club as it pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter over death of son, 3, who drowned when he was put in pool at swim club without his floaties

  • Henry Bowman Backer, 3, drowned in the pool of a Martha’s Vineyard country club after being left unattended without his floaties
  • His mother, Ellie, said that she told a counselor he would need the floaties when in the water
  • The Field Club pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution and to serve five years probation 
  • Stephen nor Ellie were present in court, instead their voices were heard through a heartbreaking video in which they paid tribute to their child

The general manager of an exclusive Martha’s Vineyard country club has pleaded guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of a three-year-old boy who drowned in their pool last year.

Henry Bowman Backer was not wearing any floaties when he was left alone in the pool by a counselor at the $100,000-a-year membership Boathouse & Field Club in July 2021, the court heard this week. 

When the counselor returned, little Henry had drowned. 

‘We never saw our son’s eyes open again. He was already brain dead,’ said his father Stephen Backer, in a victim statement. ‘We placed our vibrant, sweet, smart, loving boy in the care of The Field Club and they let him die.’ 

Today in Dukes County Superior Court in Barnstable, Massachusetts, Boathouse & Field Club general manager Scott Anderson pleaded guilty to negligence, wanton and reckless conduct, causing the death of Henry, on behalf of the club. 

‘We had one responsibility as an organization on that day and that was to return Henry back to his family. … and we failed on every possible level,’ Anderson told the court, reports The Boston Globe.  

The club was ordered to pay just $100,000 in restitution to the family and was placed on five years probation. The family said that they will be donating the money to a lifeguard training program named the Henry Bowman Backer Water Safety Training Fund on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.

The judge in the case, Hon. Mark Gildea said: ‘There is no sentence that can be imposed that can justify what has happened.’ 

Henry Bowman Backer was not wearing any floaties when he was left alone in the pool by a counselor at the $100,000-a-year membership Boathouse & Field Club in July 2021, the court heard this week

‘We never saw our son’s eyes open again. He was already brain dead,’ said his father Stephen Backer, in a victim statement. ‘We placed our vibrant, sweet, smart, loving boy in the care of The Field Club and they let him die’

But the family are still furious at the club for letting their little boy die.

Stephen said: ‘This is not the story of a tragic accident. This is the story of a crime.’  

‘We are making this statement because the guilty party is a corporation and we can’t look a corporation in the eye.’ 

The club, which was built as a private members club in 2008, charges members $100,000 per year for membership. Purchase of a home on the grounds comes with a club membership. Homes are priced between $2 and $4 million.

Stephen’s mother, Terry Kassel, was a member of the exclusive club, located on the Katama Peninsula in the Edgartown section of Martha’s Vineyard, according to the Globe. 

Stephen’s mother is the head of strategic human resources at Elliot Investment Management having previously worked in a similar role at Merrill Lynch. 

On Ellie’s LinkedIn page, she says that she worked at the Jewish Food Society as culinary director between 2016 and 2019. 

Ellie is a graduate of Boston College as part of the school’s class of 2002. 

Between 2015 and 2021, Stephen worked as the director of creative development at Eko, a company that makes interactive videos.  

In their the Globe’s reporting, it refers to Edgartown as ‘the island’s poshest town.’

The Bowman Backer family lives in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. 

The judge in the case, Hon. Mark Gildea said: ‘There is no sentence that can be imposed that can justify what has happened’

In the narrated video that was played to the court, Stephen and Ellie described every milestone in their son’s life

Henry’s mother Ellie said that when she signed her son up for the Kids Club, she told a counselor that her son would need floaties to play in the pool

Henry’s mother Ellie said that when she signed her son up for the Kids Club, she told a counselor that her son would need floaties to play in the pool.

The counselor told her that Henry would need to bring his own. 

On the morning he drowned, Ellie said that she clipped the floaties to her son’s bag.   

Cape & Islands assistant district attorney Elizabeth Sweeney told the court that a counselor at the Kids Club told a state trooper: ‘It was the three-year-old child’s responsibility to remember to wear his floaties.’

The prosecutor in the case said that counselors at the Kids Club had not been assigned individual children to look after nor were all adequately trained to look after young children.

In the heart wrenching video, Henry’s parents described their son’s love of music and The Beatles’ movie ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

Henry’s mother described the 14 months between their daughter, Mabel’s, birth and Henry’s death as the happiest of her life

Despite being just three, Henry could make his own Spotify playlists

The money paid by the country club will go toward setting up a life guard training program in Henry’s name

When the counselor who was playing with Henry left with the other children, no other counselor was assigned to him. 

Ellie said: ‘When I dropped Henry off at the Field’s Club’s Kids Club that Monday morning. I did not think for a second that I was putting him in danger. Why would I?’

She went on to say that she applied sunblock to her child, pinned his floaties to his backpack and hoped that he would make new friends. 

Henry never had his floaties put on him. He spent the morning playing ‘I Spy’ in the swallow end of the pool with two other girls and a counselor. 

But when the girls asked for some swimming goggles, the counselor led them away from the pool, leaving Henry on his own, the court heard. 

When they returned, they found Henry had drowned. There was no floating line separating the swallow end of the pool from the deep. 

The prosecutor said that there were two lifeguards on duty who were alternating shifts of 20 minutes. The on-duty lifeguard was folding towels when he saw little Henry floating lifeless in the pool. 

Henry was taken from the pool as the lifeguards and a club member attempted CPR but he remained unresponsive. A portable defibrillator was used on the three-year-old to no avail. 

Henry was rushed to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and then flown to Boston’ Children’s Hospital where he was pronounced dead on July 28. 

Henry was dropped off by his mother at 11:15 a.m., he was found floating in the pool at 11:33 a.m. 

Today in Dukes County Superior Court in Barnstable, Massachusetts, Boathouse & Field Club general manager Scott Anderson pleaded guilty to negligence, wanton and reckless conduct, causing the death of Henry, on behalf of the club

The club was ordered to pay just $100,000 in restitution to the family and was placed on five years probation. The family said that they will be donating the money to a lifeguard training program on Cape Cod

Ellie said: ‘We are so grateful to the DA and his team and to the state police investigation for uncovering this horrible truth.  

She continued: ‘This was not some tragic accident. It was a crime. Manslaughter. That’s a felony.’

The state police investigation found that Henry had been neglected by counselors and staff but none were named , reports The Vineyard Gazette.  

Following the phone call alerting them to the incident, Stephen said that they never heard from the country club again, not even receiving an apology.

Prior to Henry’s death, the club regularly updated its Facebook page with pictures of members enjoying amenities. 

The club didn’t update the page following the three-year-old’s death until September 6, with a post that read in part: ‘Cheers to the end of summer!’

Stephen said that despite the anger he feels toward The Field Club, ‘Rage doesn’t honor Henry’s life.’ 

Rather than lose his temper at those responsible for his son’s death, Stephen said that he would like the administration of the country club to put themselves in him and his wife’s place. 

Stephen said he wanted them to think about experiencing a loss of this magnitude due to ‘wanton and reckless criminal actions.’

The couple told the story of Henry’s life in the video, discussing his love of music. They said that despite his young age, he could already make playlists on Spotify. 

They named his favorite movie as The Beatles’ comedy ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and could even play the theme song on his keyboard.  

Ellie and Stephen, who have a daughter Mabel, are still mourning their young son and ended their victim statement saying simply they ‘love him forever.’   

In a brief statement, the family’s lawyer David Meier said: ‘From day one, the priority for Henry’s parents and family has been about the truth, about transparency, and about accountability’

Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said: ‘The criminal justice system is inadequate to deal with the pain and anguish of the loss of a child, but it can bring a measure of justice. I hope it has done so for Henry’

In a brief statement, the family’s lawyer David Meier said: ‘From day one, the priority for Henry’s parents and family has been about the truth, about transparency, and about accountability.’

The probation facing The Field Club will place limits on the water activities that the club can hold involving children under the age of six. 

The probation also prevents the club from being sold or from any transfer of ownership. 

In addition to general manager Scott Anderson, several of the club’s directors were present in court on June 10. 

The judge directed comments to them saying: ‘I didn’t know anything about the Field Club before this case. It touts exceptional and unparalleled service to its members. This didn’t happen in July 2021.’ 

Following the judge’s decision in the case, Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said: ‘The criminal justice system is inadequate to deal with the pain and anguish of the loss of a child, but it can bring a measure of justice. I hope it has done so for Henry.’  

Massachusetts law caps restitution for companies in manslaughter cases at $250,000. 

 Terry Kassel, referred to as a philanthropist in several online articles, serves on the board of various non-profits including the Israel based Start Up Nation Central and the Jewish Food Society.

According to a 2021 New York Post article, Terry Kessel is in a relationship with Elliot Management founder Paul Singer. Singer referred to in the Post article as ‘notoriously private’ has an estimated worth of around $3.6 billion.

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