Family of boy killed on water slide speaks out: 'We’re still hurting, but we're going to be OK'

Caleb Schwab died on a 168-foot-tall water slide at a Kansas park.

ByABC News
February 13, 2017, 10:26 AM

— -- The Kansas state lawmaker whose 10-year-old son was killed last August in a horrific accident on a ride at a Schlitterbahn water park spoke out for the first time about the tragedy in an interview that aired today on "Good Morning America."

"Six went to the park, and five came back," Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab said, describing the day he took his wife and four sons to the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas, on a day when admission was free for state legislators.

Scott and Michelle Schwab's son Caleb, 10, died on Aug. 7, 2016, after something went wrong when the child rode on the park's 168-foot-tall Verruckt (German for "insane") water slide. The Verruckt is the largest of its kind in the world.

Scott Schwab said as soon as they got to the water park, Caleb and his 12-year-old brother, Nathan, headed straight for the famous Verruckt ride.

Scott Schwab said he offered his standard reminder to Nathan and Caleb before they left, telling them, "Brothers stick together.

"He said, 'I know, Dad,'" Scott Schwab said of Caleb. "I said, 'Look at me. Brothers stick together.'"

With Scott and Michelle Schwab tending to their younger children, it was Nathan who waited dutifully at the bottom of the slide after the unimaginable happened. He then went and told his parents that something happened to Caleb.

"He was screaming, 'He flew from the Verruckt, he flew from the Verruckt,'" Michelle Schwab recalled.

Investigators say Caleb was somehow decapitated on the ride.

"There was a gentleman who wouldn't allow me to come close enough to see what was going on, and he just kept saying, 'Trust me, you don't want to go any further,'" Michele Schwab said. "I kind of knew in my mind that I shouldn't see it, that I probably don't want to see it."

Scott Schwab said his shock was so deep, he demanded a good Samaritan confirm the incomprehensible for him.

"I said, 'I just need to hear you say — is my son dead?' and he just shook his head," Scott Schwab said. "I need to hear it from you ... is my son dead? And he said, 'Yes, your son's dead.'"

Scott Schwab said that in the months after the tragedy, the family members, especially the three surviving brothers, soothe themselves by watching videos of Caleb. But for the parents, it can be overwhelming.

"There's times when it's like, I can't look at that right now, and there's other times when you can't sleep and you want to look at it," Scott Schwab said.

The Schwabs decided to break their silence to express their gratitude for all the support that has flooded in from around the world, according to Scott Schwab.

"We have a box of greeting cards from around the world, and we just want people to know we're grateful, and yeah, we're still hurting, but we're going to be OK," he said.

The Schwabs said they called Caleb "Monkeybear" because he so loved to snuggle. Michelle Schwab said what she will miss most about her young son was "giving him hugs."

Last month the Schwab family reached a settlement of an undisclosed amount with the park's owners and the ride's manufacturer that will go to Caleb's brothers, attorneys for the family, Mike Rader and Todd Scharnhorst, told ABC News.

"All claims against the local amusement park as well as the raft manufacturer have been resolved," the attorneys said in a statement. "The family continues to pursue claims against a Texas-based company, Henry & Sons, which constructed Verruckt, as well as claims against a consultant who evaluated the slide before being opened to the public."

Rader and Scharnhorst added, "While trying to piece their lives back together and while pursuing claims against responsible parties, the Schwabs have committed to ensuring this slide never operates again and that rules are implemented requiring close oversight of amusement parks. As a result of their efforts, the Verruckt has been decommissioned and will be dismantled once litigation concludes. The push for close governmental oversight will continue."

No criminal charges have been filed in the case.

Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts said in a statement, "All of us at Schlitterbahn have been heartbroken over the tragedy that occurred on Verruckt."

"In our 50 years of providing an environment for families and friends to gather, we've never experienced this kind of devastating event. The safety of our staff and our guests is our top priority. We are parents and grandparents ourselves, and many of us had ridden Verruckt with our own children and grandchildren over the years it operated," the statement read. "At Schlitterbahn we take safety very seriously. We support effective guidelines that increase guest and staff safety."

The statement continued, "It is our hope that, having fully cooperated with all investigative teams for all affected parties, that if additional measures are identified that could increase safety of future amusement and water park rides, that both industry and government will work together on effective solutions. Safety is and always has been our top priority. We continue to review our safety procedures and, as we do every year, enlist an outside third party to confirm that we have and continue to have best in class safety protocols at every one of our parks."