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Minneapolis boy's fall from window stokes parents' fears, neighbors' tensions

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Window fall
Police say a 5-year-old boy fell from a fourth-floor window of the Park Plaza apartment building in Minneapolis Tuesday morning. The boy was listed in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Minneapolis police are investigating an incident that left a 5-year-old boy in critical condition after he fell out of a fourth floor apartment complex window Tuesday morning on the city's north side.

It isn't clear what led up to the fall at Park Plaza Apartments. It appeared to be an accident — one that tends to repeat itself in Minnesota summers as families open their windows to get some fresh air — but authorities are investigating. Child-abuse officers are doing a routine preliminary investigation and they'll determine if proper precautions were taken, police inspector Mike Kjos said.

• Consumer Product Safety Commission: Tips for keeping kids safe around windows

Tensions simmered Tuesday at Park Plaza as women who call the complex home milled about and urged some of their friends to cool down.

"I heard the thump," said neighbor Ashley Young, one of the first people who tended to the injured boy. "When I came down here, he was laying down here like he was dead."

Young said she could still see in the window pieces of the screen that apparently had ripped open. The boy landed on a soft, grassy lawn, not concrete. Still, he was curled up in a fetal position, crying and squirming, she said. And then his eyes rolled back. 

Young said she tried to soothe and cradle him and two other adults came to help. But she said the parents of the boy stayed upstairs in their apartment.

Young, who also has a young son, remained shaken by the incident hours after the fall. Her emotions ran high when a group of women neighbors challenged Young's account and defended the boy's mother.

Another young mother who lives in the complex, Shamsa Haji, shook her head while watching the confrontation between the two groups of women. As she clutched her 2-year-old daughter on her hip, Haji called the fall "a horrible accident."

"Everyone is blaming everyone," she said. "The mother is not to be blamed. She was preparing her other children to get ready to go to daycare. It's easily an oversight of any parent when you have kids running around."

As horrific as these incidents are, they happen year after year.

About 3,300 small children across the country are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year after falling out of windows, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In a typical year, eight will die. 

Today's fall was reminiscent of the death of an infant girl in St. Paul. Two summers ago, she was playing on a bed in her family's high-rise apartment before falling out of the window. And last month, a toddler was hospitalized after falling from a second-story window in Minneapolis.

At Park Plaza, city inspectors have cited the building at 525 Humboldt Avenue North a handful of times over the past five years for matters including dirty ductwork, but not for window safety.

Authorities said there was a screen in the window. But "screens are not safety nets," Kjos said. "Even if you have a screen in, it can pop right out. It can tear. The weight of a person's hand or the weight of a person's body can still push it out."

Parents need to talk to their kids, who may be tempted to play or roughhouse near a window, said Julie Philbrook, trauma prevention specialist with Hennepin County Medical Center. Windows shouldn't be open more than four inches, she added. On warm days, like Tuesday, "we like to fly them open."  

All the education in the world can't replace constant adult supervision. The problem, experts say, is that kids make mistakes.