Park Board says clear signs indicate site had been closed since May tornado.
Darien M. Samson and his buddies knew the beach at Wirth Lake in Golden Valley was closed, but it was a swelteringly hot summer day and "you know how boys are," the teenager's mom, Antionette Samson, said Wednesday.
Samson, 17, started to swim across the lake in Theodore Wirth Park with some of his friends Tuesday afternoon, but he began struggling. Although his friends tried to save him, he drowned.
"Darien touched so many people," his mother said. "He was just a very outgoing boy. He loved sports. He was respectable, mannerable. Everybody and anybody he came in contact with loved him."
A spokeswoman for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said Wednesday that the beach where the teenagers were swimming has been clearly marked as closed since a tornado in May tore up a yet-to-be-completed boardwalk and scattered debris into the water.
The signs, in English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong, were affixed to two layers of bright orange snow fencing. On Tuesday afternoon, that fencing was lying on the ground, trampled by myriad rescue workers and law enforcers and their vehicles.
The closure notwithstanding, Samson and three friends headed to the beach about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Three of the four decided to swim across the lake to a submerged dock in hopes of bringing it back to the swimming area. The teenagers were just past the marked swimming area when Samson's friends noticed he wasn't with them.
The teenagers spotted Samson's hand under the water and tried to pull him up, but his feet apparently were entangled in weeds, Samson's mother said.
Divers from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office found the teen's body about 5 p.m.; it was brought to shore about 90 minutes later.
Antionette Samson said her son knew how to swim. He'd learned when he was much younger at the YMCA, she said.
"That's why it's shocking to me," she said. "He was an excellent swimmer."
Even if the beach had been open, there would not have been a lifeguard on duty at the time, said Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers. The May 22 tornado that pounded a swath of north Minneapolis also did in the boardwalk that was being constructed at the lake, she said. Cleanup crews will remove the bigger pieces of boardwalk debris from the lake and then use sonar to find underwater debris.
The destruction meant "we could not open the beach this season," Sommers said.
Samson had two older brothers and a younger sister. He was close with his stepdad, Theo Griffin, his mother said.
The teenager wanted to be "a SWAT guy," his mom said. "I think he just liked the whole adrenaline thing."