Swimmer missing from boat in Lake Michigan after weekend drownings, rescues in Chicago, NW Ind.

14-year-old boy who drowned in East Chicago ID'd as K'Mari Mack

ByDiane Pathieu, Eric Horng, and Jasmine Minor WLS logo
Wednesday, September 6, 2023
East Chicago teen drowns in Lake Michigan, friends tried to save him
K'Mari Mack's friends said they desperately tried to save the teen when he started drowning after jumping off a break wall in East Chicago, but couldn't.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A swimmer went missing from a boat in Lake Michigan Tuesday morning, the Chicago Fire Department said.

Officials received a call after 9 a.m. for a person missing from a 27-foot boat about one mile from the shore. That person apparently went out for a swim just north of 31st Street Beach and never returned.

The Chicago Fire Department said a swimmer has gone missing in Lake Michigan after several drownings over the weekend.

CFD said it is now a recovery operation and the investigation has been turned over to police and the Coast Guard.

The search comes after a tragic end to the Labor Day weekend along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Chicago police said that a woman was pulled from Lake Michigan and is in critical condition.

Police said the 46-year-old jumped into the water at Montrose Harbor. She was rescued and rushed to Illinois Masonic Medical Center where she is in critical condition, police said.

There were two more incidents of people rescued from the water over the holiday weekend.

In East Chicago, officers responded to a teen boy that went missing in the water at around 4:30 p.m. Monday. Witnesses told police the teen jumped off the Jeorse Park breakwall on a sweltering afternoon after being warned not to by marina staff. He was with a group of about 10 friends.

The teen apparently struggled to come out of the water. The dive team recovered him a short time later, but he was unresponsive. He was taken to a local hospital, where he later died.

The East Chicago coroner identified the teen as 14-year-old K'Mari Mack.

His friends said they tried for what felt like an eternity to save him.

"He was just panicking. He was panicking too much," said friend Ayden Pence. "I had him, but like he started going down and then every time I would bring him up, I would go down."

"I jumped in, and I tried to get him on my back to push him up, but I went down. I had to get some more air," said friend Ethan Pence.

"He was a very loveable person. Like, he was the type of person, like if he came into the room and it was a dull moment or a sad moment, he was going to bring joy," said his father Kumasi Mack. "He was going to make you laugh. He was going to dance. He was going ot bring some type of good energy and vibe, so he had a good spirit."

K'Mari's family is devastated by his death. He had just started his freshman year in high school and was active in the after school program at the East Chicago Public Library, where he was a mentor to the younger kids.

"He used to call me his son," said Antavious Wilson, friend. "That's what I was known for, his son."

"He brought a calmness to the room, and he was just... there was like just a quiet dignity about him at all times," said Mary Schons of East Chicago Public Library.

"Just be wary of water," his father warned. "Water is a force to be reckoned with. It's dangerous."

Also over the holiday weekend, police confirmed that before 10:30 p.m., a witness said a 27-year-old man was with a group of people jumping into the lake near 49th Street Beach. The man never came back up.

The Marine Unit found him and rushed him to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he died.

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, which monitors drownings, 37 people have drowned in Lake Michigan so far this year. With lifeguards no longer working for the season, the message should be clear to avoid the water.

"A better message would be - entering the water may cause serious injury or death that should be replacing 'swim at your own risk' again because people are not swimming in the water, they are wading, or they don't know the risk of water or both," Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, said. "It's kind of like a get out of liability free card."

Benjamin said a good swimmer can swim 100 yards without stopping and yet, he said, 66% of drowning victims know how to swim.

"They don't think it can have any fatal consequences because they have no water safety common sense because we don't educate the public," Benjamin said.

His goal is to get water safety training in schools.

"Flip, float and follow," Benjamin said.

Kelly Moore, a beach-goer, said it is important to stay vigilant.

"It looks calm. It may not necessarily be so. You don't want to lock people out because this is a beautiful draw of Chicago. It's 26 miles of a beautiful lakefront. We would check the park district website just to see if there were any warnings." Moore said. "For me, I just want to know where the life vests are, just in case I got to grab one real quick."