Locals watched the icy water with helplessness, as a recovery search continued Sunday for the nine-year-old boy who fell into Lake Erie on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s just so insanely tragic. And on a Family Day weekend of all the times,” said Denice McKenzie, who lives in the small, close-knit community of Peacock Point, Ont. The town is about 60 km south of Hamilton.
A search helicopter circled the water, while private citizens operated a drone hoping to spot the little boy.
Underwater search crews were at the scene, but ice conditions were too dangerous to go into the lake, Leclair said.
Boy’s sister ran for help
Police say the boy was on the ice Saturday afternoon with his eight-year-old friend and 10-year-old sister.
A wave swept the two boys into the water and the girl ran looking for help, said Const. Rodney Leclair, media relations officer with the Ontario Provincial Police.
The girl was able to flag down a car, he said, and two adults pulled the 8-year-old out of the water.
The adults could not rescue the nine-year-old, however. The ensuing search was deemed a recovery mission around 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The eight-year-old boy is home from hospital unharmed, Leclair said. Police say the other child is presumed to have drowned.
‘A happy, happy little boy’
“He was just a happy, happy little boy,” said Debbie Vallee, treasurer for the Peacock Point Cottage Owners’ Association.
She spoke inside the community hall by the lakeshore, where local residents delivered food and coffee throughout the day for people helping.
Vallee said her four-year-old granddaughter went to school with the missing boy, riding the bus with him and his sister.
Police and the family have not yet released the child’s identity.
Vallee described the child as “very, very friendly” and “open to people.” He was “inseparable” from his sister, she added.
He was a “typical little boy,” said Vallee. “He’d be the boy on the bus that would sit behind a girl and pull her ponytail.”
A thick ice shelf covered the lake on Sunday afternoon, and a boat arrived to do a sonar search.
People have been scouring the shoreline and the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter joined the efforts on Saturday, Leclair said.
Neighbours tried to help, some describing a sense of helplessness.
Leclair said the family is “devastated, obviously.”
“I can’t even imagine what they’re going through at this time,” he said.
Residents say there aren’t many children in the community, with many people coming to Peacock Point just for the summer.
McKenzie said this will be tough for kids in the town, calling the situation “unfathomable.”
The search was set to continue until nightfall Sunday, likely picking up again the next day.
Leclair stressed the importance of staying off the ice – you can never tell how thick it really is.