By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer
ROSELAWN - Thierno Barrie came to Cincinnati from his native Sierra Leone, Africa, to learn English and American culture so his life would be easier than his father's.
But Thierno's short life came to an end Friday evening, four months before his 16th birthday, when he drowned in an apartment complex swimming pool after saving his best friend, who was struggling to keep his head above the water in the pool's deep end.
Thierno was swimming with three friends in the Glen Meadow Apartment complex pool after a day of cleaning a neighbor's apartment and praying at a mosque. Aminata Ba, the 21-year-old sister of the boy Thierno saved, said the friends stopped by her apartment in Glen Meadow just before heading down to the pool.
"He said he was tired, so I told him to get a drink," Ba said. "He said no, that he just wanted to rest. Then they left. As he was leaving, he looked at me and smiled a very strange smile. So I told him: 'Bye, bye, my baby.'
"That was the last time I saw him."
Ba's 16-year-old brother, Abdul Aziz, told her that he grew tired in the deep end of the pool and didn't have the strength to get out of the water. That's when Thierno jumped in and helped him out. Shortly after making sure his friend was safe, Thierno slipped beneath the surface and stayed at the bottom of the pool for several minutes as the children screamed for an adult to help.
Thierno was eventually pulled from the pool by an adult and given CPR. He was still alive when an ambulance picked him up, but he died a short time after arriving at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, family members said.
Abdulai Barrie, Thierno's 44-year-old father, said he came to Cincinnati in 1999, fleeing the civil war in his homeland.
His wife and three other children now live in Guinea, a neighboring country to Sierra Leone on Africa's west coast. He sends them money every week.
"I came here to work because my country is at war, and I can't do business over there," said Barrie, who works at Quebecor World Books, a printing and graphic services company in Lebanon. "I am the only one to supply the family. Thierno was the oldest, and I wanted him to come here to learn.
"I have difficulty with English, and I wanted it to be better for him. I just bought him a computer."
Barrie said he had a routine evening Thursday with his son.
"We ate. We prayed. Then we went to bed," Barrie said. "Before we went to sleep, he set the alarm clock for me. I have to get up at 5:30 (a.m.). I went to work, and Thierno was still sleeping."
Abdulai got a call at work that his boy had been taken to the hospital. By the time he arrived, Thierno was dead.
"He was a good boy, very happy every time" you'd see him, Barrie said. "He was very religious. He went to the mosque every Friday. Sometimes, he would remind me that it was time to pray."
Rougui Athie Ba, mother of Abdul Aziz and Aminata, said Thierno was a welcomed and frequent visitor in her Glen Meadow apartment. The boys often played soccer and computer games together.
"In my apartment, Thierno was like my son," Ba said. "Anywhere my children can go in my home, he can go. He was very respectful and he did not have rebellion in his body. That's why I loved him like my own. He will always be like my own son."
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