STILLWATER, Minn. - The deaths of 9-year-old Jack Erenberg, of Forest Lake, and 7-year-old Annie Bahneman, of Stillwater, mirror one another, even though they died two years apart.
Both children went swimming at Lily Lake in Stillwater, and both fell sick quickly within days, from what doctors diagnosed as primary amebic meningitis.
Jack's death this week prompted Annie Bahneman's family to come forward for the first time since her death in August 2010.
"We always knew it would happen again in Minnesota, we just didn't know when. It's not necessarily Lily Lake, it's any lake, any river, it's possible," said Bridget Bahneman, of Stillwater.
She believes awareness just might have kept Annie alive.
"We were looking for the dangers you can see, and not the things you can't see," said Bahneman.
When Bahneman remembers her daughter, she first describes a rare spirit. A rare disease is never a possibility, in all the dreams a mother has for her daughter.
"She had a very memorable laugh. It was a true giggle. It was adorable," she said.
A giggle heard during her days on the beach at the cabin or near their Stillwater home. Within days, the infection silenced Annie's laughter forever.
"Our last communication with her was that she signed some things to us. She signed that she was in pain, and she wanted them to stop what they were doing," said Bahneman.
Annie was the first documented case of primary amebic meningitis in the state, and this far north in the country by 500 miles, until Jack's death.
Bahneman wants other parents to know although rare, with only one or two cases in the nation each year, the risk is real. She says her family still loves the lakes, but now uses nose plugs in fresh water, especially when it's warm. She also encourages her kids to swim in pools more often.
"We miss her so much, and we wish, I think we wish every day, we had known, because we would have perhaps made a different choice," said Bahneman. "It's 100 percent preventable, but not treatable."
A caution for their two boys, and latest blessing, five month old Iris, who had the same strawberry blonde curls of the sister she never knew.
"Our kids mention her name every day. We still read stories for her at night. We have her picture on our table so she can eat meals with us," said Bahneman.
Two years since that summer day, their family still struggles to move forward, when their little girl left so much love behind.
"It's hard every day. Every day is hard. We found it's easier to get up in the morning now and go about our daily tasks, but it never, never goes away," said Bahneman.
Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health says it is considering closing Lily Lake for the rest of the season.
Bahneman still updates Annie's CaringBridge page, where you can learn more about Annie's Life.
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