CHICAGO — The mother of a child who died after being pulled from Lake Michigan over the weekend spoke out because she wants other parents to have information that she didn’t.
A beach hazard alert was issued for the Chicago area on Monday after three children drowned due to dangerous conditions.
The drowning victims over the weekend were all boys. At 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, 10-year-old Joshua Torres of Chicago was found facedown in the water about 40 yards off shore on the west side of Indiana Dunes State Park. He was was taken to Porter Regional Hospital, and airlifted to Comer Children's Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Less than an hour later, officials received a call of a juvenile missing in the same general area after witnesses saw him go under the water. Rescuers located 14-year-old Malik Freeman of Aurora within a few minutes, and he was pulled from Lake Michigan in critical condition. Freeman was treated at a Porter regional hospital and airlifted to Comer Children’s Hospital, where he later passed away.
“He was loved by so many people. He was just so kind. He was so kind,” Micah Freeman, the boy’s mother, said.
Micah Freeman and Darren Freeman still can't believe their son is gone. His mother was keeping a close eye and saw her son, a strong swimmer, throw his hand into the air. He was in trouble. Her husband, a bystander and two lifeguards rushed to help, but Malik had disappeared beneath the waves. No one could find him until it was too late.
His family is inconsolable, but also angry. When they learned that a 10-year-old had drowned an hour before their son did and that no one had been warned, they said it should have been shut down.
"They should've just told everybody to get out of the water, we're closed for the day, we just had a death," Micah Freeman said. "They didn't tell anybody what happened to that 10-year-old."
"It shouldn't be business as usual when someone loses their life," Darren Freeman said. "Malik lost his life on Saturday and the beach was open on Sunday."
Earlier in the weekend, an unidentified 14-year-old boy went under the water as he was swam by a breakwall at the pier at Waukegan Harbor with three other teens Friday evening. Fire department divers found him around 30 minutes later, and while they attempted to resuscitate him on the scene, he was later declared dead, the Lake County Coroner told the Chicago Tribune.
There have been 21 drownings in Lake Michigan so far this year, according to Dave Benjamin of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. Indiana beaches were experiencing four-foot waves and strong currents on Saturday, according to reports.
"It’s kind of a perfect recipe: warm, wind waves on a weekend to have an incident," Benjamin said.
Crowds packed the Indiana shoreline Sunday, less than 24 hours after their tragic drownings. Conservation officers say the swimming conditions were much better Sunday, with large crowds and no incidents reported.
Phil and Crystal Crawchuck were steps from where the drownings took place at Porter Beach with their four young children Sunday.
"That’s scary, but it’s a reality, but that’s why we try to keep vigilant with watching them," Crystal said.
Benjamin says children need to learn "flip, float and follow" safety rules, similar to "stop, drop and roll" they learn for fire safety.
"Flip over on your back to float. Float to keep your head above water, conserve your energy, calm yourself down from the panic of drowning, then follow a safe path out of the water," Benjamin explains.
With young kids, Benjamin said parents should practice “hands on-touch” supervision in the water. Kids also have less than a one percent chance of drowning if they’re wearing a life jacket.
To check the swim conditions at all of Chicago's beaches, go to cpdbeaches.com.