Wake County

Teen who drowned was creative and adventurous

A unique, amazing, overzealous, independent, headstrong, hippie with a heart of gold

Michelle and Jordana Rosoff, mother and sister of teen lifeguard Rachel Rosoff, talk about Rachel's death. Rachel died by electrocution in a pool accident in North Raleigh in September.
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Michelle and Jordana Rosoff, mother and sister of teen lifeguard Rachel Rosoff, talk about Rachel's death. Rachel died by electrocution in a pool accident in North Raleigh in September.

Rachel Rosoff was a quirky, curious teenager who acted in an improv troupe, wrote cheerful songs and dreamed of writing for “Saturday Night Live.”

She liked to write, reflecting on being the oldest child born to parents from New York and recording her thoughts on a trip to Europe.

As a younger girl, Rachel struggled to fit in. But as she matured, she embraced her creativity and looked forward to a life filled with adventures.

“I didn’t even know how talented she was until after she passed,” Rachel’s mother, Michelle Rosoff, said. “She had a bunch of stuff tucked away.”

Rachel, a 17-year-old senior at Enloe High School in Raleigh, was shocked and drowned while working as a lifeguard at the Heritage Point subdivision pool in northern Wake County on Sept. 3. The pool water was electrified when a pump motor stopped working properly and a corroded wire prevented the flow of electricity that would have tripped the circuit breaker.

The Rosoff family is trying to make sense of the tragedy, and to keep Rachel’s memory alive. They also want answers about what happened that day at the pool and are trying to figure out if someone should be held responsible for the death of a young woman with a bright future.

Rachel was an experienced lifeguard who had worked for two summers at the Bedford neighborhood pool in North Raleigh. The day she died was her first time picking up a shift at the Heritage Point pool, just south of Interstate 540 near Creedmoor Road.

An unidentified 911 caller who found Rachel’s body in the water told dispatchers Rachel had used her phone to ask someone how to check something in the pool.

The Rosoff family, represented by attorneys from the Edwards Kirby law firm and Adam Neijna in Raleigh, has not filed a lawsuit. They are waiting for the results of an investigation conducted by electrical and engineering experts hired by the attorneys to determine what happened.

“We don’t have definitive answers and we’re still looking to try and understand why this tragedy happened,” attorney William Bystrynski said.

The N.C. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office are conducting investigations into Rachel’s death.

The sheriff’s office has said no criminal activity is suspected. If the labor department determines there were safety violations, it could issue fines or citations to Aquatic Management Group, which manages the Heritage Point pool.

Representatives of Aquatic Management declined comment.

Adventurous spirit

Everywhere she went, Rachel sought adventure.

One of her favorite vacations was when the Rosoff family rented a house in Annapolis, Maryland. Instead of being cooped up in some fancy resort, as she was during a trip to the Dominican Republic, she was able to get out and explore.

“She didn’t like being confined to the resort,” her father, Jay Rosoff, said. “She likes to be adventurous.”

Last summer, Rachel visited European cities with other students as part of a trip organized by Travel for Teens. She posted on her Facebook page after returning that she thought the distance would be liberating but found instead that being away made her miss American culture.

“Like cheeseburgers, pancakes, ice water,” Rachel wrote. “Water you don’t have to pay for at restaurants.”

She had planned to return to Europe after graduating from high school, and organizers recommended that she be one of the tour’s young leaders.

While she enjoyed traveling, Rachel also found adventure close to home. She learned how to ride Raleigh’s city bus system at an early age, and she would frequently take her two siblings with her to visit friends, browse vintage shops and check out live music.

“We took the whole day (and) we went to all of the museums in downtown Raleigh,” said her 12-year-old brother, Max. “That was cool.”

To earn money, Rachel took on babysitting jobs as well as working as a lifeguard. She used part of her earnings to buy herself a laptop computer.

“She liked keeping busy and liked the independence that money gave her,” Jay Rosoff said.

Rachel loved the water and learned to swim when she was 4, her mother said. She also taught swim lessons.

The day Rachel died, Michelle tried to call her daughter but didn’t get an answer. That wasn’t unusual. Rachel wasn’t tethered to her phone, which often had a dead battery.

Like most parents, Michelle and Jay Rosoff worried about their daughter. They worried about her traveling without them. They worried about her driving a car.

But they were not prepared for such a rare accident. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has reports of 14 deaths related to electrocutions in pools from 2003 to 2014.

“We never worried about her going to work and not coming home,” Michelle Rosoff said.

College plans

Rachel struggled in middle school, unsure of her identity.

“She was always trying to fit a mold that she never fit, and had problems,” her mother said. “Then, finally, she embraced her uniquely weird self and things just started to work out for her.”

At Enloe, Rosoff auditioned and was selected to be a member of the school’s improv comedy troupe. She also joined the Food Ark, a student-run nonprofit that works to reduce hunger in the community.

She was involved in community theater productions, loved dancing and felt the need to help others.

Rosoff had been actively exploring where to go to college. She had arranged college tours and reached out to some of her old teachers and mentors for recommendations without telling her parents.

“It wasn’t until she died that they had gotten in touch with me,” said Michelle Rosoff, who has not returned to her job as a psychotherapist since her daughter died.

“I used to be really funny and cracked jokes,” she said. “I just don’t think life is so funny anymore.”

The family has attended grief counseling, and Michelle went to a support group for parents who have lost children. The Rosoffs also volunteered with a local foundation that helps deliver food to those in need.

Michelle Rosoff said she is thinking of creating a book of Rachel’s writings and starting a foundation in her memory.

“She was special,” she said. “I know every mom says that about their kid, but she really was.”

When Rachel was 12, she wrote a short essay in which she pondered death and expressed her desire to not be smart, beautiful or nice, but instead to just be alive.

In another writing, Rachel described a nightmare in which she woke up believing her mother had died. That piece of writing has haunted Michelle Rosoff.

“The way she felt when she thought I died is exactly the way I feel every day,” she said.

Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi