John and Kathy Kocher were at the center of a presentation by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project to encourage young people to stay safe while swimming in Lake Michigan. It's a cause that has given them some relief and a sense of purpose in the wake of the loss of their son last July.
"It really gives us energy and it gives us a drive to do something, to do good," said John Kocher. "It's something that helps ease the pain."
The Great Lakes have seen 340 drownings in total since 2010, 68 in 2013 and 24 in Lake Michigan. That number includes five drownings in Lake Michigan so far in 2014.
Investigators said that Matthew Kocher likely tried to swim against the rip tide current that carried him from a beach in New Buffalo, Mich., out about a mile. Experts say the key is not to panic; the Great Lakes Rescue Project advises swimmers to flip, float and follow.
"It's like stop, drop and roll for when your clothing catches on fire," said Bob Pratt of the Great Lakes Rescue Project. "Flip over onto your back, which raises your mouth out of the water a little bit higher. Float to conserve your energy, and see which way the current is carrying you and then follow a safe path back to store."
Students took the message seriously.
"Lake Michigan is a very dangerous lake," said Tim Eroyara, a senior at Andrew High School. "The tides and the undertow, the water is very dangerous. SO if you can go out and get a lifeguard class, I would recommend that."
Ron Dorneker, of the Chicago Fire Department's Water Rescue Detail, further advised parents and swimmers alike.
"We're telling all people, swim at the beaches, swim by lifeguards," Dorneker said. "Parents, don't take your eyes off the kids, constant supervision with the kids."