18-Year-Old Woman Drowns While Saving Young Relatives Struggling to Swim in 'Turbulent' Water Near Dam

"She loved helping take care of her siblings and cousins, [and she] drowned saving her younger cousins," Raina Neeland's family said

Raina Neeland
Photo: GoFundMe

Tragedy struck when 18-year-old Raina Lynn Neeland and a group of her relatives visited a river in Northern Minnesota on Monday.

Neeland and seven children, made up of her siblings and cousins, were visiting Clearwater Dam when they became caught in "turbulent water" in a river near the dam and could not free themselves, the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement published to Facebook.

"[Kids] use it as a big waterslide," Sheriff Darin Halverson said, according to the Star Tribune. "[They] like to do that. ... They use tubes or whatever. Lots of times they go over on their own."

With her young relatives in distress, Neeland rushed to pull some to safety before she disappeared underwater and drowned. Witnesses told police she was underwater for about 10 minutes before her body was retrieved.

"Raina jumped in without hesitation and pulled three little ones out and kind of threw them out to the bank,” her uncle, Jeremy Neeland, told KSTP. "She’s one of a kind."

Bystanders at the river performed CPR on Neeland until emergency crews arrived, but she remained unresponsive despite their efforts.

"All life-saving measures were performed," the sheriff’s office said, "but medics were not able to resuscitate the 18-year-old."

Recent rain caused the water level of the dam to rise higher than normal this week, according to the department.

“When the water level is lower, it’s not as dangerous,” Halverson told the Star Tribune. “But it’s always dangerous when you are dealing with a dam.”

"We probably would have had multiple fatalities," he added of Neeland's actions. "The water is just churning under the dam. ... She did her part and saved who she could."

Neeland's family has started a GoFundMe page this week to raise funds for her funeral costs. The campaign has raised more than $13,000 as of Thursday evening.

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"Raina was loved by her family and friends," a description on the donation page reads. "Raina loved cooking with her grandma also she loved helping take care of her siblings and cousins."

"[She] drowned saving her younger cousins. All help will be going to help pay for all costs associated with her funeral and my family with everything," the message continued. "We are all hurting from this loss of one of our young family members. Thank you for all the support."

On social media, many praised Neeland for her heroics and called her a "hero."

"She will be remembered as a hero for her selfless act of saving the other children," one Facebook user wrote. "Saying prayers for peace and comfort her family and the children that were with her at the time."

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