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Spring Hill family mourns loss of 1-year-old girl who drowned in pool

SPRING HILL — Frank and Magda Martin had just celebrated their daughter Mikaela's first birthday on May 14 with a party by the pool.

"She had her own cake. She was in her high chair," Magda said. "It still feels unreal. It feels like I'm going to wake up and she's going to be here."

On Friday afternoon, Magda found Mikaela floating in the pool behind their home at 8369 Belmont Road. The toddler was rushed to Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill, where she was pronounced dead about 5:40 p.m.

The family had been making dinner, Magda said, when Mikaela somehow slipped through the sliding-glass door overlooking the pool. The door, normally locked, sounds an alarm when opened, Magda said, but she didn't hear it.

"That's what's so baffling — we were so careful all the time," said Magda. "You wish you could go back in time for five minutes."

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office said Monday the investigation of the drowning remained open. Magda said it was an accident and she had nothing to hide.

Mikaela was the Martins' first child together, joined in their home by Magda's two adolescent daughters. Magda, 35, who works as a procurement assistant for a small Spring Hill company, met Frank, 63, a retired stagehand, through the popular Facebook game Farmville.

Magda was living in her native South Africa. The two talked online for months and eventually met in person in Hawaii in May 2009. They moved into the house on Belmont in July 2010. Frank, a Pennsylvanian, was tired of shoveling snow. They married on Aug. 20, 2010, in Brooksville. Magda became a permanent U.S. resident in 2011.

Mikaela was the couple's unplanned "miracle baby," said Magda.

"She was so good. She was so happy," said Frank. "The first thing she did when she woke up in the morning was smile and giggle."

Before she was 10 months old, Mikaela could walk, her parents said. She loved to say her first word, "Dada," and on Wednesday ate spaghetti by herself for the first time. Frank and Magda took pictures to send to Magda's parents in South Africa.

The little girl loved the water and played in the pool wearing a Minnie Mouse safety vest, Magda said. She had recently signed up Mikaela for swimming lessons this summer at the YMCA.

"I wanted to make sure something like this never happened," she said.

Inside the house, birthday balloons still lingered in the hallway Monday, and Frank and Magda remembered the little girl's party.

"First, she softly had her fingers in the cake and licked it. Then she leaned in and went like this," Magda said, imitating Mikaela's lunge into the cake. "She eventually got it all over herself."

Mikaela's funeral will be at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at United Church of Christ in Spring Hill.