An exuberant plunge into Lake Nokomis on Wednesday turned into a frantic and futile effort to rescue a 15-year-old boy who drowned while swimming with friends.
The two-hour search by the boy’s companions, joined by passersby, the Hennepin County Water Patrol, Minneapolis police officers and firefighters, ended shortly before noon, when the body of the South High student was pulled from about 15 feet of water at 50th Beach.
The boys had come to the lake to cool off after a morning football practice at South.
Many South students did not know who had drowned, and officials — including the teen’s football coach, Lenny Sedlock — were declining to publicly release his name late Wednesday.
Sedlock was among those who broke the news to the boy’s teammates at a gathering at the high school Wednesday night, where the boy’s mother spoke to players and parents.
“We had our players and parents come and it was a time just to talk, and it was good,” Sedlock said. “We had a pretty good turnout.”
The boy’s mother came to the school and spoke to players and parents, Sedlock said. She told the other players that she was glad they had been with her son “and that it wasn’t their fault,” the coach said.
“I think that was good for them to hear.”
The scene at the lake Wednesday morning was one of desperation and emotion. Friends of the victim stood behind police tape, many of them sobbing, as the search and recovery unfolded.
Other teenagers frantically searched for their friend. A passerby ripped off her dress and jumped into the water to help them, said Laura Morris, who was walking around the lake after dropping her 5-year-old off at preschool.
Cooling off after practice
As the morning wore on, Sedlock and some of the boys’ parents arrived to grieve with them and offer what comfort they could.
The coach said the boy’s loss is a terrible blow. “He had been busting his tail all summer long in class and out of the classroom,” Sedlock said. “I’ve nothing but good things to say about him.”
In a notice posted on the South High website, Principal Ray Aponte wrote, “The student will be missed by classmates, friends and staff at South and throughout the community.” The notice said support staff were being made available to talk with grieving staff members and students.
The victim was part of a group of seven who were exercising and swimming at the beach, said Lt. Art Saunders of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Some of the teens had swum to a floating dock and the others were swimming toward it when they heard the 15-year-old cry out that he was in distress. The boys told police that he then disappeared beneath the water and they rushed to search for him. A passerby called police.
A rush to help
The beach, on the east side of the lake, near E. 50th Street, was not staffed by lifeguards at the time. It is across the lake from the larger main beach, where lifeguards were on duty and quickly ran to help.
After a search involving many people, boats, sonar equipment, poles and other rescue devices, authorities called the young people out of the water and divers completed the search. Saunders said silt stirred up by the search made the work difficult.
Lake Nokomis’ main beach is staffed by lifeguards almost continually, but the east-side beach where the teen drowned is staffed only from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, said Sarah Chillo, aquatic coordinator for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The Park Board’s website lists hours when city beaches are staffed by lifeguards, and signs at beaches warn swimmers they are there at their own risk when a lifeguard is not on hand.
The drowning left those at the usually idyllic lake somber or weeping Wednesday.
“It was devastating” to watch the search and recovery, Morris said.
Those who knew the teen used social media to announce plans for a memorial service at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Lake Nokomis beach.
The South High football team’s Facebook page contained this posting Wednesday evening:
“As we grieve the loss of our teammate and friend, we extend our love and support to the victim’s family as well as to those teammates that did their very best to save him.”