Grieving mother warns about toy water beads after death of her 10-month-old daughter

Taylor Bethard would have celebrated her daughter Esther's first birthday in August.

ByNydia Han KGO logo
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Grieving mother warns others about toy water beads after child's death
Grieving mother warns about toy water beads after death of her 10-month-old daughter

NORTH PRAIRIE, Wis. -- Esther Bethard was a beautiful girl with big blue eyes and curly red hair. She would have celebrated her first birthday in August, but she died in July after ingesting a water bead from a child's activity kit.

Now, her mom is doing everything she can to keep other children safe.

"Esther was the youngest of five," said her mother, Taylor Bethard, from North Prairie, Wisconsin.

Esther Bethard

She loved watermelon and ice cream, and everyone loved her, according to Esther's mom.

"I miss watching her with all of her siblings," Bethard continued. "Her waking up and having this giant smile on her face, and lifting her arms up to be picked up."

Esther died when she was just 10 months old. Her mom found her lifeless in her crib on the morning of July 7.

"I think it's especially horrible because this was a completely avoidable tragedy," said Dan Mann, an attorney with the Philadelphia law firm Feldman Shepherd.

Mann represents the Bethard family. When asked what caused Esther's death, he didn't hesitate to answer.

"There's no doubt that it was caused by swallowing a water bead," he said.

Mann said a water bead was found in Esther's intestine. He said the water bead that she swallowed came from a Chuckle & Roar activity kit sold exclusively at Target.

Water beads are small, water-absorbing, often colorful balls of super-absorbent polymer and can grow one hundred times their original size when exposed to water, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They can lead to choking, internal injuries and even death if ingested.

Our sister station WPVI-TV warned consumers about water beads in December after speaking to the mom of 1-year-old Kennedy Mitchell.

Kennedy ended up in the hospital after swallowing a bead from the same Chuckle & Roar kit. The bead blocked Kennedy's intestine.

Target did stop selling that particular kit sometime at the beginning of the year, but Mann was able to buy others three weeks ago.

"Ten of these on Amazon," he said.

"It wasn't enough to stop selling them," Bethard said. "It didn't warn families who had previously purchased them like ourselves."

That Chuckle and Roar Ultimate Water Beads Activity kit was recalled last week after the Bethard's reported Esther's death to the CPSC.

"I don't think one recall is enough. It's not enough," Bethard said. "It's not enough to just issue one recall, wipe our hands, and hope for the best."

WPVI-TV troubleshooter Nydia Han talked to the CPSC about taking further action and recalling all water bead kits.

"I think in the rulemaking, we reassess the entire product category and see what are the appropriate rules that should apply to it," said Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric.

For now, Esther's mom is begging families to listen and learn from her family's tragedy.

"They weren't purchased for Esther. Esther never played with them," she said. "Yet this happened. Because they bounce, they roll, they hide. They're tiny."

And even after expanding, they shrink back to their original, tiny size.

"They can hide in carpet fibers, in cracks in the floor, in the baseboard," she said.

Bethard said while it's hard to re-live her daughter's death and grieve publicly she does take some comfort.

"Knowing that we can make a difference and we can give Esther a voice," she said. "It's not enough to just like hear it and take it in and make changes within your own home. We have to let other people know."

"I don't want it to happen to somebody else. It shouldn't happen to anybody else," she added.

If you've had water beads, it's advised that you vacuum and clean to make sure there aren't any still around for kids or pets to swallow.

Buffalo Games, the maker of the Chuckle & Roar kit, expressed its "deepest condolences" to Esther's family through ABC News.

The company also said the product was tested by an independent CPSC-approved lab and did meet Children's Product safety standards.

Target said it is directly reaching out to customers who bought the recalled product.

Buffalo Games Statement to ABC News

Buffalo Games expressed their "deepest condolences" to the late 10-month-old's family.

Before selling the Chuckle and Roar Ultimate Water Beads Kit, as we do with every product, Buffalo Games followed CPSC regulations and had the product tested to Children's Product Safety standards by an independent CPSC approved lab. The product passed the tests dictated by the standards, including the ASTM standards for expanding materials. The product is graded for Ages 4+, and carries a choking hazard warning on package.

Buffalo Games takes customer safety very seriously, and consumers should contact us via email, phone or through the website to return the Ultimate Water Beads to us for a full refund.

Target Full Statement

We extend our deepest sympathies to the families affected by these tragic incidents. We no longer sell this product, removing it from stores and online in November of 2022. Guests who purchased this product should immediately return it and contact Target for a full refund.

Our standard recall process has engaged, and guests who purchased the product are being contacted.

Guests will be notified by phone and by email. Notifications started last week when the recall was announced by the CPSC, again per standard recall process.