His backyard slide is all the excitement JJ Ronzio needs these days. The 4-year-old boy from Hanover, Massachusetts, is on the mend after he was hurt last weekend at KidZone — an inflatables center in Norwell.
"I was trying to get out, but I can't get out," he said, adding that he was scared.
Mom Kerri Ronzio says JJ and his 5-year-old sister, Kalie, scrambled up a giant obstacle course called Extreme Rush. A few minutes later, Kalie came flying down the slide. But JJ did not. It was then that Ronzio heard a muffled wailing.
"I was - I don't even — I think I just froze," said Kerri Ronzio.
Ronzio yelled for help and an employee went in and found JJ. The preschooler had slipped in a crack covered by a thin flap and had gotten wedged in over his head between the two separate pieces of inflatable connected by Velcro.
"He was all the way down," said Kerri Ronzio. "You couldn’t see him from the outside. He was literally between the two things."
The air compressors were going strong, keeping the two massive pieces pressed together. Ronzio says when they pulled him out, JJ had cuts on his face and was red and screaming.
"He could have suffocated," she said. "He was just so hot, too. Overheat, exhaustion, like passed out."
"Once it makes a seal, that little guy or gal can't draw a breath," said Norwell Fire Chief T. Andrew Reardon.
If small children are getting wedged to the point where no one can see them, Reardon said, they could also get stepped on or kicked by other kids running over them and panic.
"If the child becomes injured and can't see their way out, I think it's more of a hyperventilation and then suffocation," he said.
Kerri Ronzio says when she complained to one of the two employees on site, she got little reaction, so she shared her ordeal on social media. Within hours, more than a dozen other local parents posted that they had had similar experiences at KidZone.
One Hingham mom, who was also one of three people to lodge a complaint with the Attorney General's Office wrote, "I literally used every ounce of my strength and adrenaline to get him out."
Another parent said her son ran to a group of adults yelling that he saw fingers poking out of a crack.
"We would never open the doors if we thought there was anything unsafe or faulty," said KidZone owner Dennis Leandres, who would not meet necn for an on camera interview, but did leave a voicemail.
Leandres insists safety comes first at KidZone that he is properly licensed with the state.
Necn checked with the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety, which confirmed his license is valid. But after the inquiry, they sent inspectors to take a look.
According to a spokesperson, Leandres said he had been having problems with that part of Extreme Rush and has asked the manufacturer to design a solution. Parents say, however, it's been a problem for over a year.
"Regardless, it's a scary situation," a parent said.
"I promise you that Kidzone will make any and all changes to make our facility safe," said Leandres.
According to the state, if Leandres makes the change and posts employees to monitor Extreme Rush, he won't be in violation for the obstacle course, but he may have bigger problems. Inspectors found "several irregularities" with the building — including that it doesn't have enough ways for kids and parents to get out in an emergency - a violation Reardon calls unacceptable.
"That can't happen," said Reardon. "Shame on us that it did."
Reardon is promising surprise inspections and Norwell's building inspector, who has jurisdiction over the building itself, said as soon as the state inspectors finish their report, he will make sure the building is in compliance.
As for KidZone, Leandres sent us a late afternoon text to say he would be replacing the Extreme Rush.